Shaun White’s Heart Condition Story

Published March 1, 2023

Shaun White is a household name and an inspiration to many throughout the world, including – and perhaps especially – the one in 100 children born with congenital heart disease each year.shaun-white-child-skateboarding-ramp-jump 

The five-time Olympian and Olympic gold medalist in half-pipe snowboarding was a guest at the Children’s HeartLink Global Gathering in 2022. Shaun shared his story of having the heart condition Tetralogy of Fallot (TOF), which required two open-heart surgeries before the age of one. 

“It [congenital heart disease] was a big part of my life when I was a lot younger,” he said. “I was told I couldn’t do certain things, but honestly my parents let me find my own boundaries, and of course, I just wanted to fly. I wanted to be in the air.” 

Shaun has lived his whole life with congenital heart disease, and now uses his platform to spread awareness.  

1 in 100 children is born with congenital heart disease. Most lack access to the care they need. You can help us change that.


Watch Shaun‘s interview at the 2022 Children’s HeartLink Global Gathering:

What heart condition does Shaun White have? Shaun-White-Childhood-Pink-Shirt

Shaun has Tetralogy of Fallot (TOF), a complex type of congenital heart disease (CHD) that is present at birth. The heart structure of children born with TOF restricts blood flow from the heart to other parts of the body, commonly causing their skin to turn blue, indicating that not enough oxygen is being carried through the blood.  

This happened to Shaun when he was a baby. He was rushed to the emergency room and diagnosed. 

While there is no cure for CHD, those with access to heart care can have operations to repair their heart and allow them to live a long life and thrive. Shaun received immediate care for his heart condition and went on to live an active and energetic childhood. He said finding the sports of skateboarding and snowboarding gave him the outlet he needed. 

“Something about having this experience at a young age really put a fight in me,” he said. “I was always driven. Through snowboarding and these sports, I actually got to excel and focus all that energy.”

Heart conditions can be repaired or fixed but those living with congenital heart disease require lifelong care. For Shaun, heart monitoring for his condition has been a part of his life since he was young. He still undergoes regular testing to care for his heart and one day will need a valve replacement. 

Photo credit: Chris Wellhausen

Shaun White: Heart condition, the Olympics & telling his story 

Shaun’s first Olympic games were in Torino in 2006. He was 19 years old and hid the fact that he had a heart condition. He didn’t want his heart defect, overcoming the odds and open-heart surgery to overshadow his first Olympic games. He wanted to share his story on his own terms. 

He returned to the Olympics in Vancouver in 2010, where he once again won gold in the snowboard halfpipe event. He decided it was time to talk about his congenital heart disease.

“It was really incredible for me to experience that and to have that as part of my life and to share that story,” Shaun said.  

Shaun shared that people reach out to him via social media and mail letters to share their own stories about facing a CHD diagnosis, either for themselves or their child. They talk about how Shaun has helped them gain confidence in going into open-heart surgery and a lifetime of monitoring and treatment for their own heart condition. 

Photo credit: Chris Wellhausen

While Shaun retired from snowboarding in 2022, he has turned his attention to Whitespace, his snowboarding and lifestyle brand, and toward sharing his story to make a difference in the world. 

Shaun is a proud member of the zipper club. He’s honored to share his story with others, like at the Children’s HeartLink event in 2022. It’s a way to give back that can give children around the world access to care like he received. See how you can join Shaun in supporting Children’s HeartLink. 

Congenital Heart Disease: How Children’s HeartLink expands access to heart care 

One in every 100 children is born with CHD, which equates to about 1.3 million children born around the world each year. It is the most common birth defect and the birth defect that causes the most infant deaths. But with access to screening and treatment, a child born with CHD can thrive and live a long life. 

In most underserved regions of the world, however, parents have nowhere to turn for appropriate medical care when their child is born with CHD. In fact, only one in 10 of children born with CHD has access to care. Children’s HeartLink is working to change that. 

We use a capacity-building model built on medical volunteers training doctors, nurses and health care professionals in hospitals in low- and middle-income countries to build, improve and maintain their own pediatric cardiac care programs. 

These partner hospitals work towards becoming Children’s HeartLink Centers of Excellence by developing their skills, gaining expertise to treat even the most complex cases, improving patient outcomes and treating more children who have CHD.  

Once a partner hospital becomes a Children’s HeartLink Center of Excellence, doctors and nurses are then qualified to train their peers in underserved communities and advocate for heart care locally and globally. More Children’s HeartLink Centers of Excellence ultimately leads to more children having access to heart screenings and lifesaving care. 

We thank Shaun for sharing his story with us and using his platform to bring awareness to the need for expanding heart care access to the millions of children around the world born without the access to care he had.  

We want as many children as possible with CHD to receive care. Here are three ways to get involved with Children’s HeartLink’s:

– Learn more about Children’s HeartLink

– Subscribe to our newsletter

– Donate to help support our mission

About Shaun White
Shaun White is an American athlete who is regarded as one of the greatest action sports athletes of all time. A five-time Olympian, Shaun won gold medals in the half-pipe event in 2006, 2010, and 2018. He is one of the most decorated athletes in X Games history, becoming the first athlete to compete in both the Winter and Summer games and has won 15 gold medals, an all-time X Games record. Shaun announced his retirement from the sport of snowboarding prior to competing in the 2022 Beijing Winter games, his fifth and final Olympics. Born in San Diego, California, he turned professional at the age of 13. At 7, Shaun signed his first sponsorship deal with Burton Snowboards. His current and past endorsement deals include or have included Burton, Oakley, Target, Red Bull, Hewlett-Packard, American Express, CELSIUS, Masters App, KRAVE Jerky, Ralph Lauren and OMEGA. Shaun has been named among Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s 100 Most Powerful and Marketable Athletes, Forbes’ Most Valuable Sports Brands and 30 Under 30, among others. He has won 11 ESPY Awards throughout his career. Shaun has helmed the Air + Style festival of music and snowboarding since 2014, when he took ownership and moved it from Austria to Los Angeles. Born with a Tetralogy of Fallot, a congenital heart defect for which he required two open-heart operations before the age of one, Shaun is an advocate for children battling illness and is an active supporter of St. Jude’s Children’s Research Center, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and Make-A-Wish Foundation. In January 2022, Shaun announced the launch of his own active lifestyle brand, Whitespace. The company celebrated the launch with 50 limited edition signed snowboards, which sold out in minutes. Snowboards and a line of outerwear, snowboard hard-goods, athletic equipment and streetwear apparel will be released October 2022. 
About Congenital Heart Disease
One out of 100 babies is born with congenital heart disease worldwide. Congenital heart disease is due to an abnormality in the structure of the heart. A child born in an area with access to pediatric heart care will likely survive and go on to live a healthy and active life. Sadly, for 9 in 10 of these children, they lack access to high quality care because it is not available or too expensive. Children’s HeartLink is working to change that by training in-country pediatric heart teams to treat children in Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Malaysia and Vietnam. 
About Children’s HeartLink
Children’s HeartLink saves children’s lives by transforming pediatric heart care in underserved parts of the world. The global nonprofit organization (NGO), partners medical volunteers from top teaching and research institutions with doctors, nurses and health care professionals in Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Malaysia and Vietnam to develop or improve pediatric cardiac care programs. Since 1969, the organization has reached more than 1.5 million children.