Heart-Stopping Saga Ends Happily for Westwood, NJ, Man

Sam Selvam

December 28, 2022

Sam Selvam’s family gave him a mug that crystallizes his steely calmness in a single phrase: “In case of emergency, ask Sam.” When the 50-year-old Westwood, New Jersey, man realized he was having a heart attack in January 2022, he channeled this inborn composure. After taking an aspirin, Sam made two phone calls to ensure his 12-year-old would have transportation to and from sports practices. Then he called 911.

“It’s what I tell my boys: Think before you do something, and make sure you’re ready for any situation. Do good; be good,” says Sam, a corporate real estate consultant. “I was raised to always be prepared.”

But little could actually prepare Sam for what would unfold over the coming days. When first responders met him outside his home, he collapsed, suffering more sharp, debilitating chest pain. CPR kept him alive until his ambulance reached Pascack Valley Medical Center, where his condition became dire when another round of severe symptoms hit. Close to death, Sam was immediately airlifted by helicopter to Hackensack University Medical Center, where specialists blended expertise, the latest cardiovascular technology and medications to help him not only live, but thrive.

When Sam arrived at Hackensack, he was in cardiogenic shock. Hisheart was so weak it could not pump blood to the tissues. It was an all-hands-on-deck situation to make sure he had more than a 50/50 chance of surviving.

Heart Pump Allows Healing

Admittedly, Sam’s lifestyle choices had placed his heart at risk. A pack-a-day smoker since his youth, the father of two also ate poorly. “Bacon was an appetizer and dessert for me, and I drank soda nonstop,” he recalls. But Sam’s prediabetes was in check, and he stayed active with his boys, often playing soccer and shooting baskets.

To shore up Sam’s failing heart, which was pumping blood at only 15 percent of capacity, an interventional cardiologist threaded a tiny pump called an Impella device into the heart through blood vessels in his leg. The device temporarily takes over the work of the organ to keep blood circulating properly while the heart rests and heals. The cardiac catheterization team also inserted a cage-like stent to open the left anterior descending artery—often dubbed the “widowmaker”—near Sam’s heart where plaque had ruptured, creating the clot that triggered Sam’s extensive heart attack episode.

Sam’s heart was still struggling. He was upgraded to a second, stronger Impella pump that could provide even more heart support, which was implanted by cardiac surgeon Yuriy Dudiy, M.D. “Collaboration among multiple specialists and access to advanced devices like the Impella technologies enable us to treat life-threatening escalation in the sickest patients,” says Dr. Dudiy. 

Sam’s organs had been without proper oxygen during his cardiac crisis, resulting in kidney failure. He underwent dialysis treatments to compensate for his kidney failure and filter waste from his body. Medications to bolster his heart’s pumping ability enabled doctors to remove the Impella before Sam was discharged nearly one month after his saga began.

Vital and Strong

Committed to living a healthier lifestyle, Sam drinks much more water than soda these days and no longer smokes. His kidneys fully recovered, helping him regain his vitality and even hike with his sons at the Grand Canyon. Within a few months, he was also back on the soccer field in an annual parents vs. kids game. “I ran for 30 minutes straight and felt great,” he says.

Sam takes an array of daily medications and has frequent follow-up visits with cardiologist Kanika Mody, M.D., who specializes in heart failure and transplantation cardiology. His heart still pumps with less force than normal, but Dr. Mody is encouraged by how well he’s doing.

“He’s gotten a lot stronger and has a great attitude,” Dr. Mody says. “As long as he follows the plan, he should do really well and won’t need more medications. He’s young, with an active family, and he wants to be part of that. That makes it so fruitful when you see these outcomes.”

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

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