Marty and Joe Friends For Life

These two really listen to the advice we’ve given them and are active participants in keeping themselves healthy.

How two gentlemen from Verona are staying healthy together.

Though you wouldn’t know it by their energy and fit physiques, friends Marty Rubin, 92, and Joe Galasso, 83, both required lifesaving heart procedures at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center (CBMC).

Their health and vigor are a testament to their dedication to taking care of themselves, says the cardiologist who treated them both, Gary Rogal, MD, Medical Director for RWJBarnabas Health Cardiovascular Services and a member of RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group.

“I tell all of my patients that 50 percent of keeping you healthy is me, but the other half is you,” says Dr. Rogal. “These two really listen to the advice we’ve given them and are active participants in keeping themselves healthy.”

Staying Fit Together

Marty and Joe, who are residents of a condominium complex in Verona, first met 15 years ago when Joe and his wife, Becky, moved into the complex. (Marty and his wife, Marilyn, have lived there since 1980.)

“We met down at the pool,” Joe recalls. “I saw this guy swimming, and he just swam and swam and never stopped. I was amazed and we started talking, and we became really good friends.” The two bonded over their shared memories of growing up in Newark.

Joe started doing laps regularly too, and the two began supporting each other during their workouts. “Even though we do our laps at different times, we like to watch each other swim and help the other person count laps,” says Marty. “Joe is a lovely, reliable, smart and wonderful person.”

Joe also has lots of praise for Marty: “Here’s a guy in his 90s who does 40 laps a day, is in remarkable shape, reads four books a week and even mentors young people,” he says.

Lifesaving Heart Care

Marty’s heart issues surfaced around 15 years ago, when he experienced a two-day episode of fatigue. At the recommendation of his internist, Marty made an appointment with Dr. Rogal. Marty’s heart was beating too slowly, Dr. Rogal found, and he would require a pacemaker—a small device surgically implanted in the chest that helps regulate heartbeat by sending electrical signals. “After receiving my pacemaker, I got my energy back right away,” Marty recalls.

In 2008, Marty required another procedure at CBMC (then known as Saint Barnabas Medical Center)—coronary bypass surgery due to four clogged arteries.

Patients who undergo bypass surgery at CBMC are often discharged from the hospital in less than a week, though a full recovery can take a few months. “Once I recuperated, I got back to my routine and to swimming and exercising” says Marty.

In November of 2019, Marty needed a third heart surgery, this time for aortic stenosis, a narrowing of the heart valve. He underwent a minimally invasive surgery called transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), in which a catheter is inserted into the leg or chest and guided to the heart. The procedure was performed by Arash Salemi, MD, Clinical Chairman of Cardiothoracic Surgery at RWJBarnabas Health, Professor of Surgery at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and a member of RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group. Marty was able to go home the next day. “I felt fine and there was no recuperation time at all,” he says.

Coincidentally, Joe also had heart valve issues and required surgery for aortic stenosis. However, because of the large size of his aorta, he wasn’t a candidate for the TAVR method. In August 2020, Joe underwent open aortic valve replacement, in which the valve is replaced through open heart surgery, performed by Dr. Salemi.

Joe was also experiencing atrial fibrillation (AFib), an irregular heartbeat that can lead to serious complications such as stroke. During the valve surgery, a surgical device called an AtriClip to “clip,” or close, his atrial appendage to prevent blood flow there, was implanted. This allowed him to stop taking blood thinners.

Joe’s surgery was also a success. He was discharged in less than a week and says he felt back to normal within a month.

“The experiences these two men had are a perfect example of our approach at Cooperman Barnabas,” says Dr. Salemi. “We treat every patient as an individual, so they receive care that is specifically tailored to their needs.”

Age is no barrier. “You’re never too old to receive advanced cardiac care that will greatly enhance your quality of life,” says Dr. Salemi.

Enjoying Life

Today, Marty and Joe continue to stay active and refuse to let age slow them down. When not swimming or working out in the building’s gym (Marty likes the treadmill and Joe prefers the elliptical), the pals enjoy going out to dinner with their wives and having parties and barbecues with friends. Marty also loves taking vacations to Martha’s Vineyard with his large family, including nine great-grandchildren, while Joe and his wife like to take cruises around the world.

“Some people give up on life and healthy existence at a certain point in time, and these two guys have not done that,” says Dr. Rogal. “They’re social, active and live life to its fullest.”

Think Positive For Heart Health

Research has found a clear link between a positive attitude and a healthier heart. One study showed this finding is even true for people with a family history of heart disease; another, that it’s true for people with risk factors such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Consciously practice gratitude to develop a healthier outlook, advises the American Heart Association. Take at least five minutes daily to consider all your body does for you, the food you’ve eaten to nourish yourself, the activity you enjoyed that day, the people you look forward to connecting with and the gift of time.

Whoever your heart beats for, our hearts beat for you. Connect with a top cardiovascular specialist at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center.