Jerry K Two Times Lucky with Weight Loss Surgery and a Heart Transplant

“With my new heart, I feel better than I’ve ever felt”

In late 2019, Jerry Kubu, 61, was at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center (NBI) with a serious heart condition when he got a very important call. It was from the heart transplant team at NBI.

The caller said, simply, “Jerry, are you ready?” Jerry replied, “Yes. How long until we do it?” Caller: “About six hours.”

For almost a year, the Bridgewater resident and a broad variety of specialists at NBI had been working very hard to keep his heart functioning. Jerry had a type of heart failure called low ejection fraction, or EF, meaning that his heart could no longer pump (eject) enough blood to meet his body’s needs.

“For years, my doctors had been trying everything medically possible to avoid the need for a heart transplant,” he recalls. “At one point I was involved with a clinical trial for a drug to increase the EF percentage. We hoped for the best but prepared in case a transplant was needed. In the meantime, I also had another problem: my weight.” He weighed 280 pounds—a major obstacle for a complex surgery like a heart transplant.

“Obesity can be a deal-breaker for a heart transplant,” says Margarita Camacho, MD, Surgical Director of NBI’s Advanced Heart Failure Treatment and Transplant Program and Jerry’s surgeon. “We know that obesity increases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis [hardening of the arteries], and other conditions. Those risks don’t change if you have a new heart.”

Jerry would need to lose at least 80 pounds before a transplant was a possibility, but his challenges were great. “Diet and exercise can be very difficult for someone with a heart condition,” says Alan Saber, MD, Director of the Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery Program at NBI.

“However, bariatric surgery makes any subsequent surgery less risky,” Dr. Saber explains. “Morbidly obese patients who need orthopedic surgery or heart surgery will benefit greatly from bariatric surgery first.”

Teams In Place

Many obese patients are turned away from heart transplant programs and other surgeries, such as orthopedic surgery, Dr. Saber says, because hospitals lack the expertise to address multiple health issues.

NBI, however, has medical teams in many specialties including strong heart transplant and bariatric (weight loss) surgery programs—who are highly experienced in working together to address the many challenges each patient might have. 

“Bariatric surgery is complex, and heart transplant surgery is complex,” Dr. Camacho says. “It’s terrific that we have the teams and systems in place so all these specialists can work together.”

Jerry would need that experience urgently as his heart condition continued to deteriorate and weight loss became the top priority. “My cardiologist and I decided on bariatric surgery,” Jerry says. “Within about 15 minutes, my doctor had Dr. Saber in the room with us to begin setting up the tests I would need. I was astounded by how quickly that happened.”

Jerry’s bariatric surgery—a sleeve gastrectomy, in which a large portion of the stomach is removed so that it holds less food—was successful. By August 2019, he’d lost almost 100 pounds.

Unfortunately, his heart condition had continued to worsen. His condition meant that he was placed near the top of the heart transplant list. He waited only three weeks before getting the call that a donor's heart was on the way to NBI.

“Everyone at NBI had prepared me well, so I knew what to expect,” he says. “But when the time actually came, then it hit me. I was nervous.”

Anne Frederickson
Margarita Camacho, MD
Anne Frederickson
Alan Saber, MD

A New Life

Jerry’s confidence and trust soared, however, as the team wheeled him toward the operating suite. There he saw, lining the hallway, his nurses, other members of his transplant team, and his family.

“They were smiling, dancing, waving, and clapping for me, excited for me,” he says. “I heard them say, ‘You got this!’ ‘We love you!’ ‘You got this!’ It was a tremendous thing they did. It put me in a good place.”

Newark Beth Israel's Advanced Heart Failure Treatment and Transplant team is one of only a dozen centers in the nation that has performed more than 1,100 heart transplants and is ranked among the top 15 programs in the country. Jerry was in good hands.

The heart transplant was a success. Jerry returned home after just three weeks in the hospital.

“With my new heart, I feel better than I’ve ever felt,” he says. “Even months after the transplant, I noticed more and more things I could do.”

More important, he says, he has a new perspective on life. His success after two major surgeries in a six-month span led to what he calls an “epiphany.”

“Every one of the people I got to know at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center gave me confidence,” Jerry says. “I knew I could trust everything that they did. But what they gave me was beyond medical care. It was powerful.”

Today, when people tell him how great he’s doing, he says he has nothing to do with it. “It was the surgeons and all the people at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center that did great,” he says. “Each of them, with the power of the spirit of God, is part of my success.”

To learn more about heart transplants and bariatric surgery, visit Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, request an appointment or call (973) 926-7000.