In some people, heart disease is so relentless that it gradually destroys the heart. That was the case with Rolando Pantoja of Middlesex, who was nearing death at just 59.
"A transplant was his only option," says Margarita Camacho, MD, surgical director of cardiac transplantation and assist devices at Barnabas Health Heart Center at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. "His heart failure was so advanced and he was so frail, he almost was not a candidate for a transplant anymore."
But Rolando's strong determination to survive – coupled with Newark Beth Israel's expertise – led to a very happy outcome.
"If it wasn't for Newark Beth Israel, I wouldn't be here," says Rolando, who also praises his family for their strong support. He received his transplant in April – two-and-a-half months after joining the national waiting list for a donor heart.
A Difficult Wait
Rolando remembers those nerve-wracking weeks, not knowing when – or if – a heart would become available.
"I didn't sleep because I was afraid I was going to die," recalls the former master automotive technician, who stayed at Newark Beth Israel's nationally renowned Transplant Center while he waited – too sick to safely live at home with his wife and daughter.
While patients can easily become depressed and give up, Rolando credits the staff with helping him stay positive and keep fighting for his life.
"The way they took care of me felt like home," he says. "Everyone is so warm – from the medical team to the administration to housekeeping -- they made me feel like I wanted to keep going."
Rare Benefits for Patients
Moreover, Newark Beth Israel provided an advanced mechanism found only in top transplant centers, which both protected Rolando's health and increased his comfort. The device – an intra-aortic balloon pump – provides extra pumping power to the heart on a temporary basis. Newark Beth Israel offers a version that is inserted into the shoulder area, rather than the leg, which enables the patient to walk around.
"That was crucial to him," says Dr. Camacho, a leading transplant expert. "He didn't want to lie in bed all day."
The Transplant Center offers other advantages, too: It enables patients to take fewer medications within six months after surgery. And it provides a safer, less-invasive method for detecting new blockages in coronary arteries – using ultrasound, rather than x-rays (angiogram) that require dye injected into the heart's blood vessels.
Since the transplant, Rolando has received extensive support from Newark Beth Israel, including cardiac rehabilitation that started him on a safe exercise program, and guidance on heart-healthy eating. The staff continues to test and monitor him, to ensure his body doesn't reject the new heart.
"I feel great," says Rolando. "It's like a second chance at life."
About Barnabas Health Heart Centers – Life is better heart healthy
From our local cardiologists to our world-class transplant, valve and surgical programs, Barnabas Health has built New Jersey's largest and most comprehensive cardiac care network. But we also offer prevention and wellness programs designed to strengthen and protect those with healthy hearts. All with the hope that they'll never need our extraordinary care in the first place. For more information about the Barnabas Health Heart Centers, visit barnabashealth.org/heartcenters.