Human Interest

Both born with a rare heart condition, they’ve grown from NICU neighbors to college roommates

Tate Lewis and Seth Rippentrop were born just weeks apart in 2002. Both had been diagnosed in the womb with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a condition in which the left side of the heart has not formed correctly. Now, they are juniors together at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Both Lewis and Rippentrop were each given a 40% chance of survival as the condition can be fatal if left untreated, according to Dr. Steve Leonard, a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon who treated Lewis at Children’s Health.

“It’s a defect that is uniformly fatal if it’s not taken care of within the first few days of life,” Leonard told Good Morning America.


Both boys’ mothers were afraid of losing their sons when they learned of their diagnoses. Cheri Lewis said she was “terrified” and Kimberly Rippentrop said she prayed for God to let her son come home for just one night. The boys required numerous surgeries and treatment, including reconstructing the right side of the heart.

The families met in the neonatal intensive care unit, where they were neighbors. The boys beat the odds against them and grew to be close friends, going to summer camp for heart patients together and even attending college together, where they are roommates. Despite the knowledge that they will experience lifelong complications from their condition, they are hopeful about the future and have a positive outlook on life.

Lewis, who had five open heart surgeries and a stroke, explained, “This was something we were born with and so we have to treat it with care but also we have to live life as well and set goals.”

He told NBC, “I just live day to day blessed to be here and excited looking into the future and not worrying about what’s next because I don’t define that, God defines that. For those of you worried ‘What’s next,’ understand there’s nothing that says you can or can’t do something.”

Rippentrop, who required three surgeries, added, “We’ve already defied so many odds and we’ve already gone against so many expectations of what our life was going to be like so it makes me really hopeful for the future.”

He told NBC, “I think it’s easy to get caught up with what’s a guarantee and what’s not and just the uncertainty about the future, but one — no one really has a guarantee on anything, and two — we’re both already 21. We weren’t expected to live past birth. Every day we have is a gift from God. We’ve already defied so many odds — how many more will we defy?”

Unfortunately, abortion advocates see hypoplastic left heart syndrome as a justification for abortion. Kimberly Rippentrop told Live Action News, “Back then (2002) my doctor would’ve had no problem aborting Seth. I never would’ve considered it. They tell young moms, ‘your child will have a life of hospitals, medications and procedures.’ Yes, a few meds each day, a few procedures here and there, annual checkups. No big deal. They told us Seth would be small and frail for his age and would have learning disabilities. He’s 6’-3” and consistently on the Dean’s List seeking Suma Cum Laude and majoring in Astrophysics. People are aborting these ‘imperfect’ babies all the time out of fear. Babies who could be just like Seth and Tate, thriving and living amazing lives. It’s absolutely heartbreaking.”

In 2017, news broke that a couple who hired a surrogate pressured the woman to abort the baby after he was diagnosed with hypoplastic left heart syndrome. An attorney for the surrogate explained that doctors never suggested abortion because the condition can be treated. In 2017, the first in-utero surgery was carried out on a baby with hypoplastic left heart syndrome at 29 weeks.

The surrogate refused the abortion, and at birth, the baby was placed in the custody of his biological parents. At first, they appeared ready to refuse surgery and treatment for their son but eventually decided to allow him to receive care.

Editor’s Note 10/25/23: Article was updated to add a quote from Kimberly Rippentrop. 

Correction 10/24/23: This article previously stated the friends are attending The University of Dallas as freshman, but they are currently attending The University of Texas at Dallas as juniors. We regret the error.

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