Mark C Three Good Reasons to Live

"It had been so long since I’d felt that good.”

Thanks to Timely Cardiac Care, a Colonia Man Is Here for His Grandchildren

Last year, Mark Christian, 62, of Colonia, knew something was wrong. He’d long had high blood pressure, but recently he had begun to have dizzy spells and weakness. Mark went to his primary care physician, who did a nuclear stress test, put him on a Holter monitor (a portable device that measures heart activity) for a time, and prescribed a new blood pressure medicine.

During the week before Easter 2019, he and his wife, Mary Jane, went to the supermarket one night to buy food for the family’s holiday dinner. Mark felt so lightheaded that he had to leave the supermarket and go sit in the car. He figured he simply had to wait for his new medicine to begin to take effect.

Frank Iacovone, MD
Frank Iacovone, MD

Mary Jane Christian, RN, BSN, MS, wasn’t so sure. She works as Administrative Director of Compliant Documentation for the northern region of the RWJBarnabas Health system, of which Clara Maass Medical Center (CMMC) is a member. Mary Jane told CMMC cardiologist Frank Iacovone, MD, about Mark’s symptoms. “I’d like to see him here right away,” said Dr. Iacovone.

Two aspects of Mark’s condition concerned Dr. Iacovone: “Mark had been given water pills [diuretics] to take, but when I examined him, his lungs were clear and there were no signs of excess water volume,” he says. “The fact that he was passing out and also experiencing shortness of breath indicated a blockage in his arteries.”

Mark was scheduled for a cardiac catheterization the very next day. In this procedure, a long tube is inserted in an artery, either through the leg or arm, and threaded to the heart.

Mark’s procedure indicated three major blockages in the right coronary artery. On the afternoon of Good Friday, Dr. Iacovone placed three stents (small tubes) in Mark’s heart and adjusted his medications. Mark was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit for monitoring.

“The morning after the stent procedure, I felt relief in my chest—as if somebody had had their arms tightly around me, and that was gone,” Mark remembers. “I wasn’t dizzy or short of breath. It had been so long since I’d felt that good.”

“The right coronary artery supplies the electrical system of the heart,” Dr. Iacovone explains. “If the heart is not getting enough oxygen-rich blood through the artery, the heart rate slows down, and the patient passes out.”

By Monday, Mark was experiencing dizziness again.

Joaquim Correia, MD, an electrophysiologist and cardiologist at CMMC, walked him around the ICU, but Mark’s heart rate continued to be low—a sign the heart’s electrical system was not yet working properly.

Joaquim Correia, MD
Joaquim Correia, MD

Turning the Corner

Dr. Correia and Dr. Iacovone agreed that Mark should have a pacemaker implanted. This small device, implanted in the chest, uses electrical pulses to help the heartbeat at a normal rate.

The procedure was done on the Tuesday after Easter, which happened to be Mark’s 61st birthday. The cath lab staff made sure to sing “Happy Birthday,” a simple song that now carried much greater meaning for him.

In cardiac rehab, Mark was nervous about doing something that would hurt his pacemaker, but the cardiac rehab nurses talked him through it.

“Throughout this whole ordeal, I’ve been saying that Clara Maass is the place I want to be for treatment,” Mark says. “I was adamant that I did not want to be transferred anywhere else. Everybody there was incredible—the doctors, the people in the cath lab, nurses, physical therapists, cardiac rehab nurses, pharmacists, security guards. Everybody communicated clearly about what was going on, provided excellent care, and made me feel comfortable. I knew I was in good hands and would be fine.”

“My background is in critical care, so I understood what was happening,” Mary Jane says. “But it’s very different when your husband is the patient and is faced with a life-threatening situation.

“The staff at Clara Maass did everything right, from admission to discharge, the entire time Mark was an inpatient. That,” she says with a smile, “is a big compliment, coming from a nurse.”

Mark is now back to his job as a supervisor in global logistics. He is eating healthier, has lost weight, and continues to exercise. He completed a follow-up stress test in June 2020 and was grateful for excellent results.

Lessons Learned


“If Mary Jane hadn’t scheduled me for the appointment with Dr. Iacovone, I would have waited until my next appointment with my regular doctor, which would have been on June 8th, 2019,” Mark says. “But my new doctors tell me I probably wouldn’t have lasted for another week.”

The Christians have taken important lessons from this close call.

“From now on, I wouldn’t hesitate to go for a second opinion. I was a good patient, doing what I was told and going along with the program,” Mark says. “But now I realize that my body was telling me something major was wrong, and the medicines I was taking weren’t helping.”

“Listen to your body, speak up for yourself, and don’t be afraid to go for a second opinion,” advises Mary Jane.

“If it wasn’t for Mary Jane’s action, I wouldn’t be here today,” says Mark. “I’m so grateful to be here for my wife, my children, and my wonderful grandchildren.

“When we got married, I told Mary Jane that I wanted to be sure my grandchildren would have grandparents around because I never had them,” he says. “I love my three grandchildren with all of my heart, and now there’s another one on the way. I want to be here to spend time with them and make memories, whether it’s running around with them, getting down on my knees to play, or making them laugh. Now it’s all good. We have a lot of life ahead of us, thanks to a second opinion leading to a second chance.”

Your heart doesn’t beat just for you. Get it checked. To reach a cardiovascular specialist, request an appointment or call (888) 724-7123