Ed Hartz, eighty-two, is a very familiar face around town. He lived in Ithaca for many years while his children were growing up, and although he has moved south to warmer climes, he and his wife, Judy, return every summer to a cottage on the lake, south of Aurora. While his summers are typically busy with family events, golf, and other outdoor activities, the summer of 2013 held other things in store. Hartz was born with a heart murmur, which his doctors reminded him of every time he had a routine physical. But about eight years ago his primary care physician in Wilmington, North Carolina, asked Hartz to see a cardiologist. It turned out that the aortic valve, which moves blood out of the heart and into the largest artery in the body, was not opening the way it should. The cardiologist advised Hartz to seek immediate attention if he ever experienced any discomfort.
“I’m an outdoor person and I like to hike. But this summer, while I was mowing the lawn, I got short of breath,” Hartz recalls. “I’d mow for fifteen minutes and then sit down and rest for fifteen minutes. My wife was concerned and she got in touch with my son, Greg. He recommended that I see Dr. Singh, which I did.” He adds, “Dr. Singh is an outstanding doctor and person.”
Dr. Amit Singh is a cardiologist with Ithaca Cardiology of Cayuga Medical Associates. He is a fellow of both the American College of Cardiology and the American Society of Nuclear Cardiology, and is the medical director of the Cayuga Heart Institute at Cayuga Medical Center. Singh met with Hartz at the beginning of July, performed an echocardiogram, and saw his patient again two days later.
“Mr. Hartz’s echocardiogram showed critical stenosis (or narrowing) and his aortic valve was barely opening. This condition sets a person up for congestive heart failure and the possibility of sudden death. I told him he was in serious trouble and that he needed valve-replacement surgery right away,” says Singh. “I recommended that he have Dr. Ron Kirshner at the Sands-Constellation Heart Institute (SCHI) in Rochester perform the surgery.” Cayuga Medical Center is affiliated with SCHI at Rochester General Hospital, which is a heart-surgery center of the Cleveland Clinic and is recognized as one of the leading cardiothoracic surgery centers in the nation. One of the valuable benefits of this affiliation is that local patients like Ed Hartz, who require open-heart surgery, are scheduled immediately at SCHI.
Hartz says he went home with instructions to sit down and do absolutely nothing; he understood his situation was very serious and he was not to exert himself in any way. He talked everything over with members of his family and made the decision to stay here for his care rather than return to Wilmington.
“Before valve-replacement surgery we always do a heart catheterization so the surgeon performing the open heart surgery knows ahead of time what all of the issues are before he opens up the patient’s chest,” Singh explains. His colleague Dr. Malcolm Brand performed the cardiac catheterization and found multiple blocked arteries in addition to the aortic valve stenosis. “I called Dr. Kirshner on my cell phone,” says Singh, “and we got Mr. Hartz scheduled for surgery right away. Dr. Kirshner performed two bypasses and he replaced the aortic valve. It was seamless care.”
Eighty-two and going strong
“My experience at Cayuga Medical Center was very positive,” says Hartz. “The registered nurses who prepared me for the catheterization were very professional and personable. There was some humor and they kept things light. I was very impressed with them and with Dr. Brand. I felt no duress and little discomfort.
“I also had a very good experience in Rochester,” he continues. “Dr. Singh had told me they have one of the lowest infection rates in the country and that they were affiliated with the Cleveland Clinic, so I took his advice to go there for my surgery. I healed up very well. I can see now why Dr. Singh feels so positive about Dr. Kirshner, who I understand is one of the best heart surgeons in the country.”
After returning to Ithaca from Rochester, Hartz was eager to begin cardiac rehabilitation as soon as he was able. He went to the Cayuga Center for Healthy Living and entered the program there. “I was very impressed,” he says. “The facility is outstanding and the nurses were knowledgeable and friendly.” Patients undergoing cardiac rehabilitation at the Island Health Center are closely monitored by registered nurses. Stephanie Agurkis, RN, and Sally Maragni, RN, kept a close watch throughout his cardiac exercise regimen. “They took my blood pressure and watched my heartbeats during my workouts,” says Hartz. “They wanted to be sure I felt good and was not in any discomfort.”
Ed and Judy Hartz are now back in their winter digs in North Carolina and he says he feels really good. His leg still hurts a bit where they removed the vein for the bypass surgery but his heart is better than ever. He is volunteering twice a week at a food-processing center for the homeless and on Thursdays he volunteers at the hospital. Church activities also take up some time, so he’s pretty busy.
Looking back on his experience last summer, Hartz is grateful for the care and compassion he received at a difficult time. “One thing you have to have as a patient is confidence in the people who treat you and in where you’ll be because it puts you at ease. The people who cared for me last summer gave me confidence in what they were doing. Dr. Singh knew what I should have done, where I should go, he knew Dr. Kirshner, and they both knew exactly what to do.”
Ed Hartz was in the right place at the right time. “I knew I was where I ought to be,” he says, “and I feel so fortunate I was there.”