A Father-to-Be Has a Heart Attack, Unaware, and Receives Life-Saving Heart Surgery at Mount Sinai Fuster Heart Hospital

In early March 2023, Reish Baboolal started to feel unusually tired and short of breath while carrying out regular activities such as walking up stairs, or lifting light objects. This was unusual for Reish, who watches his diet and exercises regularly, but he thought his symptoms might be related to a possible respiratory infection, or his being under an unusual amount of stress at the time. However, within a few days, the symptoms became severe enough for him to call in sick over the weekend. On the advice of his boss at Mount Sinai West, Reish went to see his primary care doctor early the next week.

“The doctor told me you need to go to the emergency room—and that was when I realized something was really wrong,” Reish says.

Reish walked himself to the emergency room at Mount Sinai Queens, where doctors immediately ran a series of tests. An electrocardiogram (EKG) and a blood test confirmed that he had suffered a heart attack at some time over the last several days. “I was healthy. I exercise. I eat properly,” Reish says. “I wasn’t expecting this.”

It is important is to look out for symptoms such as severe shortness of breath or chest pain and to seek help immediately, says George Syros, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine (Cardiology) at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. For example, a relatively young patient should not feel out of breath when they walk or exercise. “I’ve seen particularly male patients ignoring their symptoms. They say, ‘Oh it’s nothing. Don’t worry about it,’” Dr. Syros told TODAY.com. “When they come in, they’re coming in late. This is really important: If you have symptoms, please seek help.”

An urgent case for triple bypass heart surgery

On March 11, Reish was transferred to The Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. Further tests revealed that his heart had been seriously weakened by the heart attack, and fluid was building up in his lungs, indicating congestive heart failure. Reish had a significantly reduced ejection fraction, a measure of the rate at which blood is pumped out with each heartbeat. A coronary angiogram found three extensive blockages in his coronary arteries. Reish would need to undergo triple bypass heart surgery. 

On hearing that he would need major heart surgery, Reish was very worried, especially since his wife was expecting their first child that fall. “My main concern was my wife and my baby, because this was my first and only baby. And it was scary: I was worried about being able to take care of them.”

Ahmed El-Eshmawi, MBChB, Associate Professor of Cardiovascular Surgery at Icahn Mount Sinai, oversaw Reish’s surgery and treatment. “When he came to us, he was already in congestive heart failure, and his ejection fraction was about 20 percent (a normal ejection fraction is above 55 percent). Because of his relatively young age, we were positive we could restore most of his cardiac function with an urgent triple bypass,” Dr. El-Eshmawi says. “However, before we did that, we carried out some extensive medical optimization to get rid of the extra fluid in his body. We also used an intra-aortic balloon pump to help support his cardiac function while carrying out the surgery. These steps are almost as important as the surgery itself—to help reduce the level of risk involved.”

The surgery took place on March 16 and lasted approximately five hours. Dr. El-Eshmawi was very pleased with Reish’s initial response. “He had excellent revascularization, meaning that when we resumed the blood flow to the heart, we saw an immediate level of recovery of the heart muscle function, which is always a good sign.”

“My wife being there—and being pregnant—it gave me hope”

After the surgery, Reish spent four days recovering in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), where his wife and his brother visited him regularly. “My wife would come and spend the entire day with me. She knew I needed her moral support, and with her being there—and being pregnant—it gave me hope.” Her visits helped to inspire him to work with the physiotherapy team to build up his strength. By the fifth day, he was able to walk a short distance and was transferred out of the ICU.  Reish recalls that the experience was both exhausting and frightening, but the physicians and staff made considerable efforts to support and reassure him.

“Dr. El-Eshmawi was very thorough and accommodating in explaining everything to me in layman’s terms. He would show me diagrams and make sketches to help me understand,” Reish says. “And the nurses and support staff were very empathetic—they felt like family. And they weren’t just concerned about me, they also kept asking my wife how she was doing.”

Reish was able to return home on March 25.  Over the next few weeks, his wife ensured he was well looked after. “She bathed me, fed me, gave me my medicine. She did everything that was necessary to make sure I made a full recovery.”

He returned for a follow-up visit the next month with Dr. Syros. “After surgery, there had been some concern that his heart might need the assistance of an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD),” Dr. Syros says. “However, the regime of medications we put him on eventually led to his heart recovering most of its strength, without the need for any further interventions.”

New baby is “an inspiration”

Reish went back on light duty at work in June and was able to return to full work duty the following month. However, a few weeks later, his wife was admitted to hospital for an emergency Cesarean section. Their baby daughter was delivered safely, but she needed to remain in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for a number of weeks. Reish adapted his own rehabilitation regime to help with these difficult circumstances, and would walk to the NICU each day before work.

“While my wife was recovering from her C-section, I took breast milk to the NICU every day,’ Reish says. “I took the bus, then walked 10 minutes to the hospital, and then 10 minutes back to the bus to go home. I then would walk another 10 minutes to the train station to go to work. So in a way, my baby coming early helped with my recovery. Because that walking was giving me some of the exercise I needed to do for my rehabilitation.” His daughter remains an inspiration for him to keep on track with his medications and to stay active. “My baby’s going seven months now. I look forward every day to coming home to her.”

Dr. El-Eshmawi says Reish’s case was particularly noteworthy because of his family circumstances. “I saw him with his wife at the bedside, and she was pregnant. Now, I take responsibility for patients every day, but here I also felt responsible for a family, a future child,” he says. “These types of patients are usually older, so it’s not usual for me that a patient’s wife is pregnant. This case was very unique.”

Reish is keen to share his story to encourage others to be mindful of their health. “Don’t take your life for granted. Don’t take your health for granted, even if you think you’re doing everything right,” he says. “I thought I was healthy, and yet something still happened.”