Winning the Battle Against Heart Defects

When Justin was born with multiple heart defects 38 years ago, most children like him didn’t live to adulthood. Fortunately, an early repair worked for many years. And when Justin’s cardiac problems resurfaced in 2012, RWJBarnabas Health provided the complex care he needed to survive – and resume his active life as a school principal, husband and father.

“They saved my life,” says Justin, referring to the Center for Adult Congenital Heart Disease at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center (NBIMC), an RWJBarnabas Health facility.

Justin started having symptoms about two years ago, including shortness of breath and a racing pulse. He went to NBIMC, where doctors performed open heart surgery to replace a severely damaged heart valve. Specialists also made a series of incisions – known as the Maze procedure – in an effort to correct his irregular heartbeat.

When the fast, uneven beats continued, the cardiology team implanted a pacemaker and defibrillator to automatically regulate Justin’s heartbeat.

About a year later, the replacement valve failed, which sometimes occurs in such situations. But rather than have Justin undergo another open heart surgery, NBIMC doctors conducted a less invasive procedure. They inserted a new type of device – the Melody valve – through a vein in the groin. The hospital is the only center in New Jersey to offer this leading-edge treatment.

“I feel great,” says the Pequannock resident, who also credits his wife Allison for her steadfast support. “I live a normal life. I run around with my daughter and my nieces and nephews.”

Looking ahead, Justin knows he’ll eventually need another open-heart surgery when the Melody valve wears out.

“I’m OK with that,” says the dedicated dad of 4-year-old Maya. “I tell my daughter all the time, I’m going to walk her down the aisle. I have plenty of reasons to fight this disease.”