"There is no connection between alcoholism or alcohol abuse and aortic valve problems," he said. "It is also very unlikely that his past alcohol abuse has affected his heart because we see him having been fully functional and fine before this."
Williams' current problem with his aortic valve may even be congenital; Gardner and Shemin agreed that even slightly deformed aortic valves can function normally until patients reach middle age, after which symptoms surface for some.
Shemin said that while there are a number of ways that the surgery can be performed, all involve cutting the faulty valve out and replacing it. During the procedure, doctors will hook Williams up to a machine that will keep Williams' blood oxygenated and flowing through his body, allowing them to stop Williams' heart for part of the three- to four-hour procedure.
"It is necessary to stop the heart to protect the mucles of the heart when you're doing the replacement," Shemin said.
Despite the serious-sounding nature of this part of the procedure, however, Shemin said that most patients are well enough two weeks after the surgery to walk a mile -- and are completely recovered after just four to six weeks.
"These operations restore people back to their totally normal life activities and abilities to do things," he said. "Almost always it restores them back to a totally normal lifespan."
Gardner said that it is likely that Williams will have surgery sometime within the next couple of weeks, and the procedure will probably involve the replacement of Williams' own valve with a mechanical valve or one made from pig or cow tissue.
Nancy Quade contributed to this report.