Jim H Advanced Heart Pump Technology at Robert Wood Johnson University

“I have significantly reduced my stress,” Hart said. “When you go through something like this, it changes how you see the world. I purposefully don’t get stressed about the things that I used to.”

Son’s CPR Training, Save South Brunswick Father’s Life

(New Brunswick, NJ) - Knowing what to do when a medical emergency strikes is critical to survival. Whether it is CPR or basic first-aid training, being able to act quickly and effectively before help arrives can be the difference between life and death.

Thankfully for Jim Hart, his son, Daniel, had just completed CPR training at his middle school and knew exactly what to do when his father suffered a near fatal heart attack in February 2023. As a result, Hart can share his story today while educating others about the importance of receiving CPR training.

A series of circumstances had to fall exactly into place for Jim to survive. In addition to his son’s knowledge of CPR, first responders were equipped with an AED (automated external defibrillator) device to shock his heart back into rhythm twice en-route to the hospital. Jim was also close to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH), an RWJBarnabas Health facility, and a nationally recognized center of excellence in cardiovascular care. There, he had access to expert cardiologists, cardiac surgeons, and advanced technology such as the Impella CP heart pump, which helped save his life.

Jim had just finished coaching his sons’ basketball game and was driving home to the family’s South Brunswick home when he started experiencing severe, crushing chest pain.

“My sons told me that I was almost crying in pain and the car was swerving around the road,” Hart recalled. “Somehow we made it home. I got out of the car, stumbled to the front steps and collapsed.”

Because of his recent CPR training, Daniel recognized the signs of a heart attack and knew what to do when his father collapsed. Another factor in Hart’s favor was that his emergency occurred on a Saturday and his older son, Samuel, was home at the time. Samuel was able to help Daniel bring their father inside and position him correctly so both could effectively perform CPR and maintain a pulse while his youngest son, Gabriel, called 9-1-1 to summon first responders.

“I don’t remember coaching the game or driving home at all,” Hart said. “Fortunately, Daniel had CPR training three months before and he knew the signs of a heart attack.”

When Hart arrived at RWJUH, his heart’s ejection fraction (the percentage of the total amount of blood in the heart that is pumped out with each heartbeat) was measured at 10. A normal ejection fraction is 50 percent or higher. Below 40 percent means the heart isn't pumping enough blood and may be failing. Doctors there also determined that Jim’s attack was due to total blockage of one of the main arteries leading to his heart.

According to Ramzan Zakir, MD, Director of High-Risk PCI and Research at RWJUH and Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, doctors immediately implanted the Impella CP device to support Jim’s heart.

Impella CP with SmartAssist, one of the world’s smallest heart pumps, provides minimally invasive, temporary support for patients with heart failure that allows the heart to rest and recover. Impella CP stabilizes the patient's hemodynamics, unloads the left ventricle and allows for native heart recovery.

“His ejection fraction was really poor,” Dr. Zakir explained. “The pump pulls the blood out of the heart and pumps it to the rest of the body to support the other vital organs and unloads the heart. Given the cardiac arrest, his heart wasn’t moving or pumping at that time. The Impella saved his life.”

Dr. Zakir noted that there have been many recent advances in heart pump technology and the Impella CP is in that category. He said the Impella CP gives much more support to the heart than previous generations of these devices.

Once Dr. Zakir implanted the Impella device, Jim’s condition improved. Dr. Zakir then placed two stents in the blocked artery to open it and restore blood flow. Dr. Zakir believes that Hart’s outcome is an excellent example of what is often referred to as the chain of survival which extends from CPR training to first responders to expert care at RWJUH.

“It’s a great example of the excellent care he received from his son performing CPR to first responders arriving quickly with an AED, to the Emergency Department, Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory, the Impella Coordinator, Cardiothoracic Surgery and the care provided by our CVICU (Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit) at RWJUH,” Dr. Zakir said.

Hart added, “Nine out of ten people with this type of blockage who have a heart attack outside of the hospital, don’t survive. I work from home Monday through Friday and I’m alone there most times and would have been dead had it happened then. Everyone had to be here to save my life – I’m very thankful for that. I’m also thankful that Daniel’s school had the wisdom to start CPR training for 8th graders.”

Hart, 48, had little or no history of heart disease in his family. He doesn’t smoke or drink and tried to exercise regularly before his attack. He attributes the heart attack to the stress he was under leading up to that day. He was working full-time at the church where he’s an Assistant Pastor, completing a doctoral program at Rutgers, teaching at Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Social Work (where he currently teaches) coaching his boys’ basketball team and had recently completed a move to a new home for his family.

Now, he has changed his diet to include healthier choices like salads, fruit and Greek yogurt, he continues to exercise and most important, he has a different outlook on life.

“I have significantly reduced my stress,” Hart said. “When you go through something like this, it changes how you see the world. I purposefully don’t get stressed about the things that I used to.”

Pastor, professor and most important, husband and father. All of these words describe Hart. You can now add CPR advocate to that list. It’s the reason Hart is still here to share his story and it’s the reason he can continue being all those things to the people who care about him most.

“I have become an ambassador for the American Heart Association,” Hart noted. “I want to share my story so others understand how important it is to know CPR. I share my story at schools, and will do media interviews, anything it takes so more people receive training. I will volunteer with them for the rest of my life. I lived because of this.”

Learn more about Heart and Vascular services at RWJUH.