Val Chmerkovskiy Surprises Young Heart Patient – and Gives Her the Coolest Salsa Lesson Ever!
"I was a little nervous," Chmerkovskiy tells PEOPLE. "I was hoping she wasn't going to be like, 'Aww man, this is the younger brother!"
Val Chmerkovskiy may have recently scored the coveted mirror ball trophy, along with his partner Rumer Willis, as this season’s Dancing with the Stars champs, but according to the professional dancer, that experience pales in comparison with the spin he got to take on Tuesday with another champion.
Chmerkovskiy surprised Gianna Schupler – a 14-year-old competitive dancer who almost died from a previously undiagnosed heart defect – at a press conference celebrating her remarkable recovery, on Long Island, New York, on June 2. After Schupler showed off her fancy footwork for reporters, Chmerkovskiy, 29, popped out and asked if she could possibly give him any dancing tips, which caused the young national dance champion to run into his arms and burst into a fit of giggles.
“Dancing with the Stars was a huge celebration for myself and and my partner, but this is a celebration of a kid overcoming challenges … ” Chmerkovskiy tells PEOPLE. “This is way cooler.”
And Schupler seems to agree. “I’m in shock right now,” says Schupler, who showed Chmerkovskiy some of her tap moves and then let him lead the way on the floor with a little salsa dancing. “This is the coolest thing ever,” she says. “Is it really happening?”
After collapsing five times in three years and being told repeatedly by doctors it was simply dehydration and the strain of her maturing body becoming a woman, Schupler’s parents brought her to Dr. David Meyer, a pediatric cardiologist at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York. Dr. Meyer detected a rare heart defect that Schupler had apparently been born with and did surgery to repair it.
Less than four months after having the life-saving surgery, Schupler, who woke up from the operation asking when she could dance again, went on to win two national dance titles.
“I think she’s more of an inspiration to me than I am to her,” says Chmerkovskiy. “Just how courageous she’s been and how strong she’s been throughout this fight is remarkable. She’s been championing dance through her whole journey and I m very proud of that. Any time I can help a kid get through a challenge with music and dance, I’m all for it.”
The one thing Chmerkovskiy was a bit worried about? That Schupler would be disappointed to see him and not his brother Maksim.
“I was a little nervous,” says Chmerkovskiy. “I was hoping she wasn’t going to be like, ‘Aww man, this is the younger brother!’ ”
No way, Schupler tells PEOPLE. “I’m very happy with this brother!”