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Holocaust survivor has life-saving TAVR procedure

Jack Betteil shares his stories of surviving Holocaust concentration camps, aortic stenosis and an innovative valve replacement that returned him to his favorite hobbies.

Jack Betteil can talk for hours about his vivid memories of surviving concentration camps during the Holocaust. His stories are worth a listen.

Among his captivating anecdotes, he remembers the day he was liberated from the Ebensee concentration camp in Austria.

"The guards with machine guns were all gone from the towers," the 95-year-old Bayside resident said. "I was outside and thought there was something funny here. It was like 5 or 6 in the morning, and a little tank came in the middle of the camp and shot the machine gun up in the air. It turned and went back.

"About an hour later, huge American tanks came into our camp" - freedom at last, ending five long years of being held in six different camps.

Recently, Mr. Beittel spoke about his experiences after an innovative procedure called transcatheter valve replacement (TAVR) relieved aortic stenosis and saved his life.

Captured

At 16, Mr. Beittel planned to flee his native Poland with his father, Maurycy, his mother, Roza, and sisters Cesia and Salusia.

They were too late.

"There was no place to run," Mr. Betteil said. The Nazis locked up his entire family in the Krakow ghetto before they were transported to camps. His parents and Salusia later died in the gas chambers in Auschwitz.

Mr. Betteil, though, survived and kept pushing. He was sent to Plaszow, then to Mauthausen in Austria, then to Melk and finally to Ebensee.

"It was very difficult for me to complain about anything to him," said Matthew Beittel, his son. "He would say, 'well, you had food today. You have your parents. You have your home. He really taught me what was important in life."

Horrific conditions

After the Nazis invaded Stalingrad in 1943, Mr. Betteil said prisoners of war were brought to his camp; one offered him a deal. Mr. Betteil exchanged his last cigarette with two Russian inmates for what he thought was a piece of meat.

"He said he worked in the kitchen. I thought it was a fantastic deal," Mr. Betteil said. "There was a stove in the middle of the barrack. I cooked it and started to eat it.

"One of them came to me and said 'you know what you just ate? One of your brothers, a human piece of flesh.'"

Finding freedom

Mr. Betteil was liberated by Gen. George Patton's Third Army. He was 70 pounds and felt he had "one week left" after more than 11,000 people were killed at Ebensee.

He said the US soldiers were extremely nice and shared their rations after freeing him. He was taken to Italy, where he lived in a displaced person's camp and discovered that Cesia also survived.

After a year, he joined her in immigrating to New York. He studied electronics at the RCA Institute and opened his own TV repair shop on 163rd St. in Flushing. And he fixed more than 40 TVs and donated to the children's ward at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center.

Relieving aortic stenosis

In November 2017, Mr. Betteil felt fatigued. He was short of breath and became limited in his activities, which included creating art, carving wood and sculpting Native American statues. He couldn't walk up a flight of stairs.

Mr. Betteil suffered from aortic stenosis, an age-related condition where the aortic valve calcifies and diseases. It can be fatal and there are more than 200,000 new cases each year in the US.

Mr. Betteil needed to act quickly. And Bruce Rutkin, MD, director, structural heart disease, performed the TAVR procedure in April at the Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital at North Shore University Hospital.

"It's really about the patient, their attitude, their cognitive function, their support system, their physical strength," Dr. Rutkin said. "We don't look at the number. For someone who is 94 and looks as good as he does, the reality is that his plumbing inside is 94 years old, which means there is more risk."

Mr. Betteil calls Dr. Rutkin and his care team "magicians" and "life-savers."

"We thought that was it," said Matthew Betteil. "We went through a battery of tests and our fingers were crossed the whole time. My father is so resilient he passed all of the tests with flying colors."

What happens during aortic stenosis?

Transcatheter valve replacement has become a viable option for those with aortic stenosis and an alternative to open-heart surgery.

A normal aortic valve includes three leaflets (cusps) that open and close to let blood flow through the heart and into the body. During aortic stenosis, the valve becomes diseased, the leaflets deteriorate and are not as thin, pliable and flexible as normal.

Age calcifies the valve, thickening the leaflets, which brings the valve to a near halt. This can cause angina, syncope and even heart failure.

"You can live with this a long time without symptoms," Dr. Rutkin said. "When symptoms occur and the valve is not promptly replaced, those patients don't survive. That's why we encourage our clinicians in the community to educate their patients about the condition. You don't want to wait until the symptoms become debilitating before intervening."

Since 2012, Northwell Health has performed more than 2,300 TAVR procedures across five hospitals.

TAVR has produced quality outcomes for those with aortic stenosis.
Find out more about the treatment and if it's right for you.
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