ATLANTA -- Columbus Cottonmouths coach and general manager Jerome Bechard has always been known for his kind and generous heart.
Now Bechard's heart is also healthy.
Bechard underwent open-heart surgery Thursday morning at Emory University Hospital. Renowned aortic surgeon Dr. Edward P. Chen performed the six-hour procedure to correct a congenital defect.
Bechard was born with an aortic stenosis. The most common cause of aortic stenosis is a congenital bicuspid valve, which consists of only two cusps, or flaps, rather than the usual three. A bicuspid valve is prone to the formation of calcium deposits, which leads to aortic stenosis. During surgery, Bechard's aortic valve was replaced.
Bechard's stenosis was diagnosed during his ECHL days in Birmingham. He played with the Bulls for four seasons, beginning in 1992. Bechard came to Columbus from Birmingham.
The disease progressed over the last 20 years. Recently, symptoms were preventing Bechard from living the active lifestyle to which he's accustomed.
"Fatigue and shortness of breath upon exertion are the symptoms," Bechard's wife, Rhonda, said. "He wanted to go ahead and have the surgery now while he's young and healthy so he can get back to working out and doing things again."
The surgery began at 9:12 a.m. and ended almost exactly six hours later. Bechard was moved to the intensive care unit, where he remained through the night and into today. He should be moved to a room sometime today.
Rhonda Bechard was able to see him early Thursday evening. She said Jerome Bechard was awake and responsive to commands.
The length of Bechard's hospital stay is uncertain. He could be released early next week.
Owner Wanda Amos, team chaplain Rev. Jay Bailey and family friends joined Rhonda Bechard at Emory during the surgery.