Heart of an Innovator
Charles Donohue’s life was on the line—again. Sixteen years after his heart attack, doctors found a life-threatening blockage in a hard-to-reach artery supplying most of his body’s blood. He had to make a choice. Would he try a new state of the art technology—despite being one of the first patients to do so?
Knowing he was at the only Hudson County hospital certified to accomplish such a delicate procedure, he let his medical team use a small catheter incision to clear the artery and insert a tiny Impella heart pump into place. A day later he was home, confident he’d put his heart in the hands of the best. Getting to that point wasn’t a simple decision, but it was a well informed one.
“This device has only been approved by the USDA since 2008. It’s new and coming to the forefront,” Charles said. “JCMC selected me, because I have a heart condition, and it’s the only hospital in the county certified to do the procedure. They’re aggressive and progressive as a hospital. And their timing was very good.”
That timing was influenced by Charles’ extremely serious situation, and by his interventional cardiologist, Preston Hupart, DO. The two men had developed a trusting patient-doctor relationship over the course of 17 years. Now, withDr. Hupart serving as the JCMC Director of the Catheterization Lab, he was able to offer a life-sustaining new treatment.
“The Impella device provides temporary support for the heart muscle. It’s a tiny pump inside a catheter that’s normally inserted through a patient’s groin (and then into their heart),” Hupart said. “This minimally invasive procedure is typically performed to sustain a patient’s weak heart in order to perform another major surgery. It’s relatively new in the U.S., but it’s becoming more popular for high risk patients in dire need: those experiencing severe heart failure as a prelude to death.”
Charles was considered “high risk” due to weak heart tissue and the fact that he’d had prior bypass surgery following a heart attack in 1997 that resulted in an unusual graft.
“Ideally, a bypass will go from one artery to another. In some cases, it goes from one artery to two others. In Charles’ case, his bypass goes from one artery to four others,” Hupart explained. “The severe blockage in his bypass graft was affecting four arteries, so he was in severe danger.”
That’s when he was presented with the option: would he be the first to use an Impella at a Hudson County hospital? “JCMC had acquired it three weeks before I arrived but hadn’t used it. They only expected to use it 10-12 times a year, but had the foresight to have it on hand in the cases where it would be helpful,” Charles said. “They gave me the option. It was a high-risk procedure, my life was on the line, and I had to make the choice.”
He studied the hospital’s credentials and checked with people who’d used the Impella at other hospitals, including at Mt. Sinai and at the Cleveland Clinic. The fact that the JCMC surgical team had trained for a week in Chicago to learn the surgery gave him confidence.
“That tells you something about them: they’ll send staff across country to learn and be prepared for everything—even a procedure they’ll hardly ever need to use.”
Dr. Hupart says there’s always a first time for everything.
“Obviously, this doesn’t mean we’re unprepared,” he said. “I’ve done tens of thousands of other procedures, and was certain he was ready to do the surgery after attending the Chicago seminar.”
The result: a two-hour procedure that went well, with Charles back home in a day and out for dinner and a movie the next evening.
As a North Bergen resident for the past 12 years who works as a chief financial officer, Charles grew up in Hudson County but hadn’t experienced JCMC as a patient. He’d traveled regionally, nationally and globally—and frequently researched tertiary healthcare needs for his family.
“I’d had very little contact with Jersey City Medical Center. I was clueless about whether it was better than the next hospital,” Charles said. “When I came here for my initial cardiac catheterization, I was comfortable with the place—and that comfort level was reinforced by the level of care from the staff and surgeons.”
Had he not been seen here initially, he’s not sure where he would’ve gone. He just knows he couldn’t have stayed close to home in Hudson County.
“I’d recommend JCMC—not only for the progressive, aggressive approaches,” Charles said.“I thought the staff was superb. They were very thorough. I had six different nurses doing things simultaneously, and no one stepping on each other’s toes or getting in each other’s way. They worked together to make my experience better and more comfortable.”
It reflects the fact that JCMC, as Hudson County’s only comprehensive Heart Center, is the only local source for full service cardiac catheterization and a fully licensed angioplasty program. But it also reflects the top flight nature of its surgeons.
“When you develop a level of trust with a patient, you make your decisions based on what you truly believe is best for each patient,” Dr. Hupart said. “You find the right way to approach it.”
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