A Chance Encounter
A twist of fate led 82-year-old Joseph Lamberto to the cardiologist at CBMC that would cure him of heart and kidney disease— and ultimately change his life.
They say some people come into your life for a reason, and for Joseph Lamberto, the doctor he met by chance at a hospital saved his life. Joseph, 82, had been in and out of another area hospital over the course of six months for a bevy of medical issues, including aortic stenosis (narrowing of the heart valve) and kidney failure. His cardiologist there prescribed diuretics to clear out all the retained fluid as a consequence of heart failure, but that was only a temporary solution and lead to other issues like kidney failure as a side effect of the diuretics.
In May 2022, Darshan Godkar, M.D., structural/interventional cardiologist and director of radial interventions at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center (CBMC), happened to be covering for another doctor during one of Joseph’s visits and looked over his medical records and the results of his echocardiogram to see if he could find a culprit for his recurrent episodes of heart failure, bloating and discomfort. “I realized that for the last few years, the patient had a heart valve (aortic valve) that wasn’t working properly,” Dr. Godkar says. “If the valve is not fixed, the heart can’t pump blood forward and it backs up into the lungs.” Joseph was admitted to CBMC, where he underwent an urgent angiogram and CT scan and was given a week or so to let his kidneys recover.
Then, in June 2022, Joseph underwent transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) with Dr. Godkar and Arash Salemi, M.D., clinical chairman of cardiothoracic surgery, RWJBarnabas Health, Northern Region. TAVR is a minimally-invasive procedure that replaces the old heart valve with a new one and essentially cures the patient’s aortic stenosis. “The moment it was done, he said he got a new lease on life,” says Dr. Godkar. “He felt like he was drowning every day, but now he could breathe and walk.
Joseph spent just one night in the hospital and recovered well. “I was very comfortable, I could get up, walk around, and I just felt great,” he says. “I didn’t have any of the symptoms that I was experiencing before the surgery.” But he was still suffering from an unrelated condition called atrial fibrillation, a rapid heart rate that can cause poor blood flow, heart failure and stroke. He was being treated with blood thinners, which in older patients can prevent strokes but result in gastrointestinal bleeds. So, Joseph inquired with Dr. Godkar about the Watchman procedure, which he found out about through a friend who had done it and, by chance again, read about in Dr. Godkar’s office.
“In our heart, we have a useless pocket in the left atrial appendage,” Dr. Godkar explains. “This is where all the clots form in patients with atrial fibrillation. The Watchman is implanted into the left appendage and blocks off this opening, and over time, the body forms a skin over the device so the pocket closes itself off and eliminates the risk of clot formation.” Joseph underwent this procedure in January 2023. “As a result of these surgeries, Joseph has recovered from heart failure, which eliminated his need for diuretics, thus facilitating a speedy recovery from kidney failure,” says the doctor. “Plus, stopping blood thinners means he’s no longer bleeding and has freedom from recurrent hospital admissions. Instead of blood thinners, he’s only taking baby aspirin.”
Joseph feels great and has more energy than he’s had in years. He comes to the office regularly for follow-ups with Dr. Godkar, but he hasn’t been admitted to the hospital once in the last six months after undergoing these two minimally invasive procedures at CBMC.
“I told my wife, Grace, that I feel like I could get a job,” Joseph says. “The problem is I’ll only last until about 12 or 1 p.m. and then I’ll start to feel my 82 years!” He adds that he plans to join a gym this year, and his goal is to get down to his high school weight of 200 pounds.
“I can’t say enough about Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center and Dr. Godkar,” Joseph says. “They saved my life.”
To learn more about our structural heart program at CBMC or for more information, call 973-322-8258 or rwjbh.org/heart.