Feb 23, 2023 February is Heart Month

Getting Back in the Game:
Avid Pickleball Player; Father of Three on the Mend Following Emergency Cardiac Care at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and Somerset

(New Brunswick, NJ) - Pickleball may have saved Rick Alessandri’s life.

The first hint that Rick had that something may be wrong with his heart came while he was playing the highly popular sport early last year.

During the first 15 minutes of each match, Rick felt a tightness in his chest and got winded easily. Being a self-avowed Type-A personality who played matches for four hours every weekend, Rick would push through the discomfort and finish the match with no issues. At first, he didn’t think the discomfort was serious and he chalked it up to being on the cusp of turning 60 and needing to get in better shape.

Despite his tolerance for discomfort while playing, the chest tightness and shortness of breath wouldn’t go away. Rick scheduled his annual check-up in August 2022 with his primary care physician. After he described his symptoms and she examined him further, she recommended that he have a nuclear stress test to determine if there were any blockages in the arteries carrying blood to his heart.

Rick scheduled the test with Jason Hall, MD, a cardiologist with Medicor Cardiology Group who is also an Attending Cardiologist at RWJUH Somerset. The test revealed several blockages, but a more definitive cardiac catheterization procedure was needed to determine their severity.

Rick AlessandriIn November, Rick had a cardiac catheterization at RWJUH Somerset’s Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory, which offers emergency and elective coronary angioplasty, cardiac catheterizations and pacemaker implantations, including the world’s smallest leadless pacemaker.

About 10 minutes into the procedure, Dr. Daniel Fung, an Interventional Cardiologist with RWJUH Somerset and the Medicorp Cardiology Group, stopped and told him there was a problem: four of Rick’s coronary arteries were significantly blocked (100, 90, 90 and 80 percent). He needed cardiac bypass surgery as soon as possible.

He was taken to RWJUH, a center of excellence in cardiovascular surgery that provides expertise in all facets of surgery including off-pump coronary bypass grafting, complex valvular surgery, including the latest minimally invasive and robotic approaches, and heart transplant.

Once there, he met his surgeon, Manabu Takebe, MD, a Cardiothoracic Surgeon at RWJUH and Assistant Professor of Surgery at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, for the first time that afternoon. Dr. Takebe told him they would need to perform quadruple bypass surgery. Rick was brought into surgery the next day and thankfully, it went well.

“Initially when we evaluate these cases, we try to determine if we can take minimally invasive measures to address the problem,” Dr. Takebe explained. “Because of the complexity and severity of Rick’s coronary artery disease, we decided that we needed to perform surgery immediately. He came through it well. If he continues to eat well, exercise and stick to the plan that is given to him in cardiac rehabilitation, he should return to a normal, active lifestyle.”

Rick AlessandriIn Rick’s case, he benefitted from the RWJBarnabas Health network of care where clinical teams at RWJUH and RWJUH Somerset working seamlessly together to diagnose the problem as soon as possible and ensure that he was transferred swiftly to a highly specialized cardiovascular surgery center of excellence to receive the higher levels of care he needed urgently.

Although he doesn’t have a family history of heart disease, Rick understood the gravity of his diagnosis. He lost a high school friend suddenly to a heart attack during the past year. Unlike Rick, his friend experienced no symptoms or warning signs before his fatal attack.

Rick has nothing but praise for the hospital teams who cared for him. He was impressed with the professionalism, expertise and speed with which his case was addressed and the follow-up care.

“I cannot say enough about the nurses and the aftercare I received,” Rick said. “All of the doctors and nurses kept my kids updated and checked on me regularly to make sure everything went well.”

A father of three who is an executive recruiter in the sports industry, Rick continues his recovery and will start cardiac rehabilitation soon. His most recent stress test showed no post-surgery issues.

He is “chomping at the bit” to get back to playing pickleball and would like to resume his popular cheesesteak reviews on TikTok under the name Ricky Cheesesteaks, which he launched during the pandemic lockdown. However, he’s still figuring out a way to align sharing these reviews with maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle.

Rick believes his personal heart health journey can help others.

“My message is to trust your instincts and don’t take chances with your health. I got lucky, but my friend did not,” Rick says. “Go for regular check-ups, exercise and maintain a healthy diet. You can still enjoy foods you like, but you need to have a balance and stay active.”

About Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital

Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH), an RWJBarnabas Health Facility, is a 614-bed academic medical center that is New Jersey’s largest academic medical center through its deep partnership with Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. RWJUH is the flagship Cancer Hospital of Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, and other Centers of Excellence include cardiovascular care from minimally invasive heart surgery to transplantation, cancer care, stroke care, neuroscience, orthopedics, bariatric surgery and women’s and children’s care including The Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (www.bmsch.org). A Level 1 Trauma Center and the first designated Pediatric Trauma Center in the state, RWJUH’s New Brunswick campus serves as a national resource in its ground-breaking approaches to emergency preparedness.

For more Information visit us online at www.rwjbh.org/newbrunswick.

Contact: Peter Haigney
RWJUH Public Relations
(732) 937-8568