Bernard C A Heart Transplant Helps a Newark Man Keep the Song Alive

“I’m looking to get back not just to 100 percent,” Bernard says, “but 200 percent, where I come back stronger than ever.”

At 1:30 a.m., a nurse holding a glowing cell phone approached Bernard China’s hospital bed at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center (NBI) and gently woke him.

“Mr. China, Dr. Kapoor is on the line,” she said.

The 58-year-old Newark resident jolted awake. If the person on the other end was transplant cardiologist Saurabh Kapoor, MD, Interim Director of Advanced Heart Failure Treatment and Transplant at NBI and a member of RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group, it could mean only one thing.

Bernard took the phone.

“Mr. China,” Dr. Kapoor said, “we have your heart.”

Bernard barely had words. He dialed his wife, Constance, on his own phone.

“Just listen,” he said, and let Dr. Kapoor repeat his message.

Five hours earlier, Bernard had been despondent in a call with Constance. It was the evening of December 29, 2020, and he’d been in the hospital with advanced heart failure since early September, waiting for a donor heart. Constance urged him to rely on the faith they shared, she as a preacher and he as a singer with the Mighty Royal Travelers, a gospel group that has performed across the United States and has songs on the Spotify streaming music app.

“I didn’t want to hear what she was saying because I just wanted to go home,” Bernard says.

Constance insisted: “Bernard, it’s going to come.”

Now, just hours later, Dr. Kapoor explained what was to happen.

“They are going to prep you now,” he said. “I’ll see you at 7 a.m.”

Bernard raised his eyes. “When Dr. Kapoor hung up, all these people came into my room,” he says.

Stunning Diagnosis

The long road to that moment began in August 2017, when Bernard woke during the night and found it hard to breathe. Alarmed, he told Constance he was heading to the hospital, but encouraged her to stay home with their five children.

Tests at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston showed fluid buildup in his lungs—a sign of heart failure.

“With the condition my heart was in, they could not discharge me,” Bernard says. “I was stunned. I’d never had a problem with my heart before.”

Diuretic medication drained fluid from his body, but the treatment wasn’t enough. He was referred to the Advanced Heart Failure Treatment and Transplant program at NBI.

“When Bernard came to us, his heart was very weak, and he was short of breath in his normal day-to-day activities,” Dr. Kapoor says.

A weak heart does not supply the body with enough oxygen-rich blood. As a result, the body begins to retain fluid, which can back up into different organs, including the lungs. Normally, the heart’s pumping chamber ejects 65 to 75 percent of its blood with each heartbeat. Bernard’s heart was pumping just 8 percent.

Oral medications helped at first, but by November 2018, the blood-pumping capacity became so poor that Bernard was put on an intravenous drug administered continuously to help the heart contract. His condition was now serious enough that he began tests to qualify him for a heart transplant. Unfortunately, he was found to have prostate cancer, which required four months of radiation treatment before a transplant could be considered.

During that time, he also had a stroke.

“For a long time, I wasn’t eligible for a transplant because of all the other stuff going on,” he says.

Finally, around Labor Day 2020, he learned he’d qualified for the transplant list and doctors would commence their donor search.

“That was a real exciting day,” Bernard says.

The all-clear came just in time.

Another Wait Begins

“Bernard was on the cusp of cardiogenic shock, when organs can start to fail,” Dr. Kapoor says. “He was very sick and needed to stay in the hospital.”

Even the intravenous medication was failing, and Bernard was placed on a balloon pump that supported his heart until a match could be found. Thus began the long wait in the hospital.

Due to the pandemic, family visits consisted of Bernard looking out his eighth-floor window to see Constance and the kids waving from the parking lot. The momentous call telling Bernard he had a donor was joyous for Dr. Kapoor as well.

“It’s an amazing feeling to call someone who is at risk of losing everything and say we found a match,” Dr. Kapoor says.

Bernard’s transplant, which took place on December 30, was one of six transplants performed in six weeks at NBI.

“NBI has an experienced team at a high-volume center that has done more than 1,100 transplants,” Dr. Kapoor says. “Bernard has been a trouper through this ordeal and has done very well.”

Bernard now says he’s getting back to normal activities such as attending church services and easing back into singing. “I’m looking to get back not just to 100 percent,” he says, “but 200 percent, where I come back stronger than ever.”

Contact us for more information about heart care at the Advanced Heart Failure and Transplant program at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center.