In September 2013, my doctor sent me to a cardiologist because he didn’t like how my EKG looked during my annual physical exam. It was “off” for a 41-year-old man. It was a good thing he did. The cardiologist discovered a bicuspid aortic valve [A normal heart has three leaflets, not two.] More testing revealed a large aneurysm in my ascending aorta [a bulge in the part of the aorta closest to the heart]. He suggested I consult with Dr. Paul Corso and Dr. Ammar Bafi at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

Frankly, I was concerned about the big and busy image of the Hospital Center. Could it possibly have a world-class heart surgery wing? After meeting with Drs. Bafi and Corso, my wife Allison, and I sprinted across the country searching for the best doctor and hospital: Northwestern, the Cleveland Clinic, and Suburban Hospital in Bethesda. Friends and family recommended doctors in New York, Philadelphia, and even at Stanford.

While all those hospitals have terrific reputations, with a one-year-old son, it would have placed an enormous amount of stress on my wife to have the surgery performed elsewhere. So I called Dr. Bafi back. For 20 minutes, he clearly and confidently explained how the surgery would work. I was convinced.

The entire time, the best doctor, nurses and physicians assistants, and efficient hospital staff were in our backyard. I have no regrets about the choice we made.

I was terrified the day of the surgery, but everyone from the check-in staff and the team who prepped me for surgery were comforting and compassionate. The food was fine, but my appetite wasn’t.

Two years later, when I think of Dr. Bafi smiling and confident in the middle of the operating room, looking like there was no place he would rather be, my eyes well up with tears. Thanks to Dr. Bafi and the Hospital Center, I’m alive and healthier, and back to chasing after our lively three-year-old son, Reid.

Jonathan Kaplan is the communications officer for the Washington, D.C., office of the Open Society Foundations.