Bob P Bob’s Open Heart Surgery Journey

“I can’t sing the praises of the entire staff of Cooperman Barnabas enough.”

“The day of my heart failure was a sneak attack,” Bob Pignatelli recalls. “I thought I was just starting to feel my age of 69, I did not know that anything was really ever going on.”

Bob, information technology specialist, for RWJBarnabas Health, had just come home after work, when he suddenly noticed that his hands, arms, legs, and feet were starting to swell.

It was Bob’s wife of 37 years, a retired nurse, who he credits with helping save his life that day. “I asked her thoughts on what was happening,” he said. “She told me I was retaining fluid, but I think she recognized it as heart failure right away.”

Soon after, Bob started hyperventilating and couldn’t breathe. “I never remotely had ever felt like that before, it was scary. I must had even shouted once or twice, ‘I’m dying’. I was really convinced that this was it and I wasn’t going to make it as we waited for EMS to arrive.”

About a week after the incident, Bob visited Sabino R. Torre, MD, a cardiologist with Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center and a member of RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group. Dr. Torre discovered that in addition to Bob’s aortic valve, his mitral valve also needed to be repaired.

“I was feeling okay when I was at the visit,” Bob said. However, he knew it was highly likely that he could go into heart failure again, so he set up an appointment with Arash Salemi, MD, FACS, a cardiac surgeon with Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center and Clinical Chairman of Cardiothoracic Surgery of RWJBarnabas Health - Northern Region.

They discussed performing open heart surgery on both valves at one time. “He explained everything very thoroughly,” shared Bob.

Dr. Salemi shared that, “While there are minimally invasive techniques available for aortic valve replacement such as Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR), all the surgeries that we employ for degenerative disease of the mitral valve are typically open-heart surgical procedures. Our surgical incisions may vary from case to case, but surgical repairs are all ‘open’ procedures.”

Bob continued, “When I got home, I started to get very scared, and hesitant. About two weeks later, I called the office, and said I needed to talk with Dr. Salemi again. He was kind enough to meet with me, and this time I went in with even more questions asking about this, that, recovery, what was going to happen, everything.”

Feeling more confident, Bob proceeded with his appointment for cardiac surgery at CBMC. He started undergoing a series of pre-operative tests and check-ups.

Surgery Day: September 26, 2023
Bob was surrounded by his wife, daughter, and son, before heading into the operating room. His procedure lasted around the typical four hours. Dr. Salemi replaced the aortic valve with a tissue value, more specifically, a pig valve, and repaired the mitral valve. “We aim to provide a life-long repair [of the valves], one that’s durable and long-lasting,” said Dr. Salemi.

After making sure he was stable, his family was allowed to visit. “It was just incredible. I can’t say enough about Dr. Salemi, about the physicians and the nurse practitioners, the team was wonderful,” Bob said.

Bob shared that this was the first time he was a patient, and he was very happy that it worked out as well as it did. “I know I would never hesitate to come back myself, but I also wouldn’t hesitate to honestly tell people or colleagues that this is a great place to come.”

He described the care he experienced following surgery in the Cardio Thoracic Intensive Care Unit (CTICU), run by Clinical Director Russini Floresca, MSN, RN, CCREN, CEN, as “second to none.”

“Night nurses Jordan and Tommy were tremendous when I needed it most. During the day Rowena and Juliet were equally as wonderful and took great care of me. I wish I remembered everyone’s name.”

By day three Bob had moved to the CTICU Step Down Unit.

In Step Down, the crew, led by Erin Parvin, MBA, RN, PCCN, Clinical Director,could not have been better,” Bob expressed. “Names that I remember the most include Danielle, Jennifer, Hayley and Michelle. Again, too many names for me to remember but everyone was great. They, along with the respiratory therapy and physical therapy teams, got me in the best shape I needed to be in to complete my stay and function at home upon my discharge.”

After six weeks of recovery at home, Bob started the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center. “I need to mention Maureen Smith’s great staff at Cardiac Rehab. Danielle, Danny, Steve, Christine, Ralph, Colleen, Gina, and Lauren from the dietary department had to deal with me for 12 weeks. It was a tremendous experience, and they put me on a great path.”

“I can’t sing the praises of the entire staff of Cooperman Barnabas enough. It was just incredible, and it wasn’t because I was an employee, it was because I was a patient in need. The care was just stupendous, and I am sure it wasn’t just because I was a full-time employee around here. I did not have one negative experience. It was just the CBMC way,” expressed Bob.

“I am very happy to be back in the building full-time,” said Bob who gives credit to the entire staff at CBMC for him being able to be back working and celebrating his 45th work anniversary. “I may not feel like I’m 24 like when I first started working here, but I feel very, very good,” shared Bob.

About CBMC’s Heart, Vascular and Thoracic Care
No one plans on heart problems. But everyone should have a plan for them. Make a plan for your heart health at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center. Our multidisciplinary team of experts provide comprehensive, compassionate care.

Learn more about our programs and specialties, which include diagnosis, treatment, and continued support for people living with cardiovascular and thoracic conditions.