Back to the Drums After COVID-19 and Heart Surgery

Ed Bettinelli, 63, is a professional drummer, a drum instructor, and a marathoner and loves a one-on-one game of basketball. “I’ve always kept myself in shape,” he says. “I had no idea I had a heart problem.”

However, in November 2019, Ed had a painful attack of angina—collapsing on the floor of his home. Ed came to Mount Sinai, where he found out that he had a 100 percent blockage in a critical artery on the left side of the heart, as well as several major blockages in other blood vessels. Ed needed urgent treatment, and a stent was placed by interventional cardiologist Joseph Sweeny, MD, at The Mount Sinai Hospital. Next, a complex robotic bypass was to be performed at Mount Sinai Morningside by John D. Puskas, MD, a world leader in such procedures.

However, that is when COVID-19 hit New York City. All elective surgeries were put on hold—including Ed’s bypass surgery. Ed’s case was deemed “elective” since he had grown new “collateral” vessels to compensate for the blocked one. Yet Dr. Puskas anxiously monitored Ed’s condition on a regular basis.

Meanwhile, Ed developed COVID-19.  His situation was perilous, because the outcomes of those with both COVID-19 and underlying conditions is statistically worse. Quarantined in a separate part of his home away from his family, Ed fought through recurring fevers and overwhelming fatigue.

Slowly he recovered, only to learn in April that his parents had also come down with the virus. And sadly, his father passed away shortly afterward. “By the grace of God, he lived long enough for me to tell him how much I loved him," Ed told CNN.

The wave of COVID-19 peaked and slowly began to ebb. By June, the Mount Sinai team got the go-ahead to resume elective heart surgeries. Near the top of the list was Ed Bettinelli. “He was the very first patient who had COVID-19 that we operated on, and he was one of the first patients for whom we did any cardiac surgery after the peak passed here in New York,” Dr. Puskas says. “In fact, I would be willing to bet that he’s the first person on the planet to have recovered from COVID-19 and then have robotic bypass surgery.”

The minimally invasive robotic bypass procedure that Ed received is not widely available. The team at Mount Sinai Heart Morningside specializes in minimally invasive procedures, and Dr. Puskas, Chair of Cardiovascular Surgery at Mount Sinai Morningside is renowned for his pioneering techniques.

The next day after his surgery, Ed was up and walking around. And to the surprise and amusement of his team, Ed had brought his drumsticks and a popular percussion instrument that he invented called the Thumb Thang®.  “He's drumming on his meal tray, on his metal bed,” Dr. Puskas with a laugh, “which was pretty entertaining for everybody involved.”

Now Ed is back at home in Dobbs Ferry, with his wife of 24 years, who happens to work at Mount Sinai. And he has returned to teaching drumming. “I’m a lucky man” he says. “I have a wonderful immediate and extended family and many good friends. I’ve spent my whole life doing what I truly love to do. I’m entering a new stage of my life healthy and happy. The beat goes on!