Clark Howard getting aortic valve replacement surgery

He can’t do his Clark’s Christmas Kids events at area Walmart stores in person for the first time.
Clark Howard at the annual Care-a-Thon for AFLAC Cancer Center on July 31, 2021. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Clark Howard at the annual Care-a-Thon for AFLAC Cancer Center on July 31, 2021. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Atlanta veteran TV and podcast host Clark Howard is undergoing heart surgery on Dec. 6.

Howard, who has a consumer advice podcast five days a week and contributes daily hits to multiple TV stations including WSB-TV, said he has known he has had a defective aortic valve since he was a teenager.

“My valve has never functioned properly,” Howard said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Sunday evening. “Over time, it deteriorates. Mine is at a point where it could kill me at any moment.”

Howard said the aortic valve has three entry and exit points called leaflets. One of Howard’s leaflets is defective so the heart has to work harder than it should. “I exercise so much that I’ve compensated for most of that until now,” he said.

He was placed in queue for surgery in October and the cardiothoracic surgeon Vinod Thourani was able to schedule him for the Dec. 6 surgery at Piedmont Hospital.

Howard will not have open-heart surgery, which would take three to six months to recover. (Howard noted that retired WSB-TV meteorologist Glenn Burns survived this procedure back in 2016.)

Instead, Thourani will use a catheter and install a replacement cow valve in his heart through an artery. Not only is this far less invasive but recovery time is far faster, Howard said. An existing version of this procedure was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2011, but this new version has not yet been approved, he noted.

“They need guinea pigs,” Howard said. “I signed up to be a guinea pig. If it works, I’ll have a fully functioning aortic valve.”

What Howard is getting isn’t a full cow valve, he said. “It’s part metal, part fabric, part cow,” he noted. “It’s a really crazy looking thing.”

He said if all goes well, he will be able to resume work next month. Howard ended his syndicated radio gig after 23 years in 2020. He said his podcast generates three times as much money as radio syndication did in its final two years.

Howard first revealed the news on news/talk WSB radio Sunday afternoon while promoting his 33rd annual Clark’s Christmas Kids donation event at a Walmart in Roswell in which people provide Christmas gifts to about 8,000 foster children statewide. He spoke remotely to WSB’s Belinda Skelton, who was doing the on-air show in person, because his doctors forbade him from being around so many people three days before surgery.

“I’m such a retail politician,” he said. “I love being there. I just can’t.”

He said Clark’s Christmas Kids has been around so long, it runs like a well-oiled machine with or without him.

Until the pandemic, they largely relied on people coming to Walmarts around town to buy gifts. But now a majority of gifts are purchased online at clarkschristmaskids.com. He said more wealthy donors have helped fund the gifts in recent years. On average, three gifts for each foster child cost around $150 to $200, he said. So donors will give about $1.6 million in gifts this year.

The next two in-person events on Dec. 9 and 10 will not include Howard but his wife Lane and his three kids will be on air.

  • 9 a.m.-noon Saturday, Dec. 9, Walmart, 2635 Pleasant Hill Road, Duluth
  • 1-3 p.m. Sunday, December 10, Walmart, 210 Cobb Parkway SE, Marietta

Howard said they used to do 10 in-person events. Online donations means they only have to do three.

The good news is there are fewer foster kids in the 130 counties he serves than there were a few years ago, when it peaked at closer to 12,000 children.

Howard said he knows he won’t live forever and he is setting up the operation so it outlasts him. He also said he won’t care if the name of the event changes after he passes. “I couldn’t care less,” he said. “I’ve had enough accolades.”

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