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Sitting at the desk where she designs cabinets for Lowe's customers, Elane Wahler burst into tears when she heard the news. Her husband, John, could have triple-bypass surgery at America's most renowned hospital for cardiac surgeries, and it wouldn't cost the couple a cent.

"I was so relieved. I felt so blessed," said Elane Wahler, a cabinet specialist at Lowe's in Waldorf, Md.

Tony Reynolds, a commercial sales specialist at the Lowe's in Dover, Del., knows exactly how she felt. When doctors said the mitral valve in his heart needed to be repaired, he figured he'd have to pay substantial out-of-pocket costs. Or he could travel to the Cleveland Clinic, where the procedure would cost him nothing.

"It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out," Reynolds said.

Wahler and Reynolds are two of 29 Lowe's employees and their dependents who have benefited from an alliance between Lowe's and the Cleveland Clinic. In February 2010, Lowe's announced approximately 186,000 employees and their dependents enrolled in the company's self-insured medical plan can have cardiac surgery done at the Cleveland Clinic and pay nothing. Lowe's picks up the entire tab, including travel, hotel and food expenses for the patient and a companion.

When a postcard describing the new program arrived in his mail, Reynolds didn't pay much attention. He'd never had heart problems. Less than a month later, he suspected something wasn't right. On the 40-minute drive home from work, he was often so tired, he'd stop in a parking lot to nap.

"The doctor told me my mitral valve wasn't working and if I didn't have surgery, it can damage my heart,” Reynolds said. "He said Cleveland Clinic was rated No. 1 for heart surgery. So I figured if you've got to go somewhere, you might as well go to the best."

Reynolds' wife accompanied him to Cleveland, where he had surgery on July 1. Six weeks later, he was back at work and feeling great, not only about his health but also his experience at the Cleveland Clinic. "I tell you, those people out there are tremendous," he said.

While Reynolds was returning to work, the Wahlers were getting ready to travel from Maryland to the Cleveland Clinic. During her research on the heart center, Elane learned kings and queens go there for surgery. Elane said she and her husband were treated like royalty, too.

"It didn't feel like a hospital, and they were proactive about everything," she said. "A car picked us up at the airport. The food was great. We stayed in a nice hotel. A car took us back to the airport, and there was a wheelchair waiting when we got back to Baltimore."

Elane and John were hit hard financially when he had a heart attack in 2009. "When he had his first heart attack, I was a nervous wreck," Elane said. "But with this bypass surgery, it wasn't stressful, even though it was major. Knowing we weren't going to have to pay anything for the surgery — that was a big relief."

She looks at her husband now, sees the strong, healthy man she married and is grateful for Lowe's support. "I would have expected them to look out for me, but to take care of my husband absolutely blew me away," Elane said. "When I came here to work three years ago, I was looking for health insurance, but I found a family."

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