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A heart built to last for the long haul

After a series of heart procedures, Harry Siska is back to enjoying his retirement.

Man in 70s on a deck with power tools, bending on one knee and smiling.
With a healthy heart, Harry is catching up on a long list of household projects.

Spend just a few minutes with retired entrepreneur Harry Siska, and you might be surprised to hear that he has a history of heart problems. The energetic 72-year-old has made many beautiful improvements to the home he shares with his wife, Vicki, in Oakdale, NY, and looks forward to regular visits with his 2-year-old granddaughter. “She has me wrapped around her little finger,” Harry said. “I see her about every other day and every weekend at Sunday dinners with the family.” Harry also enjoys golfing, working out at the gym at least three times a week, going to the beach and traveling.

When Harry was 37, he had a mild heart attack and coronary artery bypass graft surgery. About 18 years later, he was diagnosed with an aneurysm in the right coronary artery graft and underwent another bypass surgery. Then a couple of years ago, while on vacation with Vicki in Puerto Rico, he suddenly became dizzy while playing golf. After returning home, Harry started to feel like he was coming down with a cold. “That rapidly got me thinking, ‘Uh-oh, there's something really wrong here,’” so he went to his internist, Mark Siegelheim, MD, around Father’s Day of 2017. “He took one look at me and said, ‘Sit down, the ambulance will be here in five minutes.’”

Man in 70s in a white shirt looks up from a chart of stain colors.
Harry built his home’s deck—now he’s reviewing potential new colors for it.

Harry was taken to Southside Hospital, where he was diagnosed with pneumonia and spent a few days on intravenous antibiotics. Puneet Gandotra, MD, his cardiologist and vice chair of cardiology at Southside Heart & Lung, visited and told Harry the pneumonia could be the result of fluid that had built up in his lungs from underlying heart problems.

Dr. Gandotra ordered a battery of tests that included a cardiac catheterization, a procedure that thoroughly evaluates the heart and looks for blockages. Harry was diagnosed with aortic valve stenosis, or the narrowing of the aortic valve, which can have debilitating symptoms that affect normal day-to-day activities. He was scheduled to receive a transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), a minimally invasive procedure that can replace an artificial valve without the need for open-heart surgery.

But first, cardiac electrophysiologist Jason Chinitz, MD, implanted a specialized pacemaker called a cardiac resynchronization therapy pacemaker that helped regulate and optimize Harry’s heartbeat so that he could tolerate the TAVR procedure.

About two weeks later, cardiothoracic surgeon Harold Fernandez, MD, and the team performed the TAVR procedure. “The next day I was out of the hospital, and no one could believe it, including me.” At first, he was a little physically drained, but he soon found that walking helped him regain his stamina. He also avoided lifting anything for several weeks.

While he was recovering, he continued to see his doctors for follow-up appointments. At a visit with Dr. Chinitz, Harry found out that he had an arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation. Dr. Chinitz treated it with cardiac ablation, a minimally invasive procedure in which doctors freeze or burn the area of tissue that is causing the problem. “It was 100% successful,” Harry said. “Now, I’m back to playing golf and doing whatever I want to do.”

Throughout his experience at Southside Hospital, Harry managed to keep any fears about his outcomes at bay. After Harry was discharged, a nurse practitioner visited him at home several times to check on his progress—part of the hospital's Follow Your Heart program.

Man measuring wooden boards on two sawhorses in his backyard.
Harry is back to working on his backyard sanctuary.

Throughout all the medical interventions and issues Harry’s had over the years, he’s quick to say that the care he’s received at Southside Hospital has everything else beat. Right now, he’s just happy to be going for walks on nearby sandy beaches, working in his yard and feeling healthy and fit enough to plan some upcoming travel. A trip to Europe with Vicki is on the itinerary, as is another jaunt to Puerto Rico this fall.

His advice to others with heart problems is not to ignore symptoms, to be your own health advocate and to find an excellent healthcare team. “Thank God I was able to see Dr. Gandotra, Dr. Chinitz and Dr. Fernandez,” he said. “I had complete and total trust in them. They could not have been more proactive or caring.”

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