Revolutionary Heart Pump Powers
the Man Who Runs Cyclone Rollercoaster in Coney Island
Gerald, 66 of Staten Island, has been passionate about running the Cyclone rollercoaster
at Coney Island for 35 years. With the world’s most advanced ventricular
assist device (VAD) replacing the pumping action of his heart, he will
be at his post again this year when the amusement park opens on Sunday, March 28.
“When I am not managing the ride, I am thinking about managing the
ride,” said Gerald. “It is important to be able to work while
I wait for my transplant.”
Diagnosed with end-stage heart failure, Gerald’s heart stopped in
December 2009 at a family birthday party. His health declined quickly
and his wife and daughters thought it was the end until doctors at the
Heart Failure Treatment and Transplant Program at Newark Beth Israel Medical
Center implanted a revolutionary VAD to support Gerald’s heart while
he waits for the heart transplant he needs.
The VAD known as the DuraHeart is the most technologically advanced heart
pump currently in clinical study in the United States. The Heart Center
at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center is only the fourth program in the
country to implant it and the only center in New Jersey offering this
extraordinary treatment for end-stage heart failure.
Gerald has never ridden the coaster, but it is not because he is afraid
of heights. “It’s the drop I don’t like,” he said.
Over the years he walked every inch of the track many times. Born and
raised in the shadow of the world’s most famous rollercoaster, Gerald
was hired in 1975 to help renovate of the old ride and hasn’t missed
an opening day since. Today, he is Manager of the Cyclone and still enjoys
watching young and old enjoy the thrill.
Gerald is among more than 6,000 people who have received VADs in the United
States. Newark Beth Israel Medical Center is one of the nation’s
most experienced and active implant centers. Since they implanted NJ’s
first VAD in 1993, cardiologists and cardiac surgeons at the Heart Center
at Newark Beth Israel continue to advance research in the field and broaden
use of the devices. Experts from other heart centers in the region come
to Newark Beth Israel to receive training and gain competence in the use
of a variety of VADs.
“Once reserved as a treatment of last resort for people with end-stage
heart failure, the latest generation of pumps is enhancing the quality
of life for people with less severe heart failure,” explained Mark
J. Zucker, MD, JD, Director of Heart Failure Treatment and Transplant
at the Heart Center at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center who has been
involved with the application of mechanical assist devices since the 1980s.
“Potentially, more than 40,000 Americans will need a heart transplant
and only about 2,500 donor hearts are available each year. We are compelled
to explore alternative treatments for advanced heart failure.”
Gerald’s small, silent DuraHeart is a stark contrast to the first
clunky heart pumps that whirred and ticked and rarely lasted for more
than several months. Weighing nearly four pounds, the early devices were
so big that they were only suitable for patients with a large frame, which
excluded most women from this treatment option. Furthermore, their complex
function and maintenance often kept patients hospitalized for as long
as the pump remained implanted.
The DuraHeart represents several leaps forward in heart pump technology.
For example, the two moving parts that comprise the three-inch-diameter
pump are separated by electromagnetic levitation that eliminates mechanical
friction and prevents damage to delicate blood cells as they flow through
the pump. The DuraHeart even has the capability to speed up or slow down
in response to the body’s changing activity level and the native
heart’s ability to carry the load.
The newest VADs can be a bridge to transplant or provide therapy for people
who are not eligible for a transplant. “Mechanical circulatory assist
devices have advanced so dramatically in the last two decades that the
field of cardiology is seeing a rapid expansion of this therapy,”
said Margarita Camacho, MD, Surgical Director of Cardiac Transplant and
Assist Devices, Heart Center at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. Dr.
Camacho chairs the Society of Thoracic Surgeons national Workforce on
the Surgical Treatment of End Stage Cardiopulmonary Disease and is spearheading
simulated computer VAD training. “Today’s VADs have the potential
to function for up to three to five years and perhaps longer while people
resume active lives at home,” she noted.
Unlike other centers that provide limited VAD implantation, Newark Beth
Israel’s comprehensive VAD services are completely integrated with
its heart transplant program, ensuring that each patient is thoroughly
and continually evaluated or all treatment options. Newark Beth Israel’s
heart transplant program ranks among nation’s top ten by volume
and has consistently achieved short- and long-term graft survival rates
that meet or match national benchmarks.