Jeff Green finally learns how long his heart was stopped for life-saving surgery at Cleveland Clinic

Jeff Green and the Cavs

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - How do you thank the man who saved your life? By continuing on your path.

In Cleveland Cavaliers forward Jeff Green's case, professional basketball ... and using your journey to help others.

Throughout his life as a competitive athlete, Green had undergone countless physicals.

But it was the one six years ago with the Boston Celtics that changed everything.

He was diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm -- a bulge in the aorta -- the major blood vessel that feeds blood to the body.

If the artery wall tears, it can be fatal.

Green was devastated.

"It was, you name it ... every sad emotion went through my body," Green told me. "I didn't know how to react. I don't cry much, but that was the first time I really really just lost it."

Time was of the essence. This is where Dr. Lars Svensson, a world-renowned cardiac surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, comes in.

"Fortunately we operated on him before that (tear) happened," Svensson said. "When that does happen, saving patients is really difficult."

Svensson performed the five-hour surgery in January of 2012.

He said he stopped Green's heart for at least an hour during the operation, which led to a funny moment during our interview, as Green whipped his head toward Svensson during that description.

"To even say 'his heart had to stop', it's surreal," Green said with a laugh.

For the first time in his life, this phenomenal athlete, in his prime, was physically shut down.

But ... he was alive.

And he would return to the court with the Celtics the following season, where his travels would once again bring him to Cleveland, and a surprise encounter with the man who saved his life.

March 27, 2013: Ask Green what happened that night and he lights up.

"I hit the game-winning shot," Green recalled.

And wait.

It gets better.

"And I made the shot and I'm coming off the court, I was just walking off, and I get a tap on my shoulder and I turn around and it's him [Svensson] and we embraced ... it was amazing," Green said.

It wouldn't be the last time the doctor checked in on his patient.

"Yeah, yeah, we watch him on TV and my wife and kids say 'where's Jeff?'" Svensson said. "It's obviously a very special relationship."

Green agrees and marvels at the irony of now playing in Cleveland.

"To have it come full circle, to be here, play here, have the opportunity to win a Championship, to have memories come back from surgery. I'm thankful for what the people in Cleveland have done for me," Green said. "It's something I'll never forget."

They have a lasting bond.

One of a few permanent things to come out of this life-altering experience.

Another?

The 9-inch scar that covers his chest, which obviously took a while to get used to.

"After a while I started to embrace it and accept it," Green said.. "And once I did it became easier to look in the mirror and to see the 'new' Jeff."

Green now loves to show it off.

And loves to talk about it.

And, with February being American Heart Month, he wants to remind others to be at the top of their game as well.

"That was my plan ..." Green said. "To create awareness to athletes, children, parents, to have yourself checked. It can go unnoticed if you allow it to."

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