Heart-Bypass Patient Climbing High Thanks to Mount Sinai Cardiac Surgeon

Arun Sinha had one goal: to climb Mount Everest.

For nearly a decade, he kept this goal in sight. Arun, who is now 59, was in shape and often walked 50 flights of stairs a day at work for exercise. He planned and prepared to take this once in a lifetime journey in 2018.

There was only one thing standing in his way: medical clearance from a physician.

It was at the doctor’s office that Arun learned that he had several severely blocked arteries. He could not be cleared for the trip. In disbelief, he sought a second opinion. Then a third, fourth, fifth, until eventually he had visited 15 cardiologists. They all told him he couldn’t make the journey and his only option is emergency heart surgery.

“I literally consulted with 15 doctors, 15 doctors in three continents, not only one,” he said in an ABC7 report on his journey, “hoping that these doctors are trained differently and they will look at my case in different ways.”

Arun finally turned to Valentin Fuster, MD, PhD, Director of Mount Sinai Heart and Physician-in-Chief of The Mount Sinai Hospital, and John Puskas, MD, Chair of Cardiovascular Surgery at Mount Sinai Morningside, Mount Sinai Downtown, and Mount Sinai West, who concurred with the diagnosis. “No sensible physician would recommend that level of physical exertion at a low oxygen, high altitude environment, with those kind of blockages,” Dr. Puskas said.

Dr. Puskas is a world leader in minimally invasive robotic surgery and performs many such procedures, but in Arun’s case, a blockage in the left anterior descending artery was “intramyocardial”—buried deep in the muscle of the heart. So Dr. Puskas performed open-heart surgery. “All three main arteries required bypass, and one required two bypasses,” he said.

Arun’s surgery was a success, and took place on the same day he would have climbed Mount Everest Base Camp.

In the early days after surgery, Arun could barely walk. He had to start from scratch and begin exercising and conditioning. The setback didn’t deter Arun from his goal. He was determined to climb again. For months, he spent his time getting back into shape. Eventually, he signed up to climb Mount Kilimanjaro this past summer/fall.

However, the spread of COVID-19 forced him to cancel his trip. Traveling to Tanzania during a pandemic simply was not an option.

Ever-resilient, Arun came up with a backup plan. He began seeking remote locations where he could hike and maintain social distancing. He decided to embark on the Appalachian Trail. When Arun began hiking the trail, he realized just how difficult the trek would be after heart surgery. Despite some intense downpours along the way, Arun never gave up.

Though he was unable to go with them to Mount Everest, Arun’s climbing group joined him for support on his hiking journey. In September 2020 Arun completed a 100-mile hike over 26 rugged mountains and about 20,000 elevation gain along the Appalachian Trail, similar to Mount Everest Base Camp—an achievement for any hiker, not to mention one who has had multiple bypass surgery.

In 2021, three years after his surgery at Mount Sinai Morningside, Arun met another challenge, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa.

"We climbed the peak, Uhuru peak—that is about 19,400 feet," he said in an interview with News12.  "It's the hardest thing I've ever done in my entire life, but it was worth it. Every second was worth it."

Dr. Puskas expressed pride in his patient. "He's a very motivated person who wants to live life to the fullest, and we’re delighted he’s been able to do that."

To read more about Arun’s journey, click here.