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Back on the move in the city he loves

After emergency cardiac surgery, Richard is back to being a busy New Yorker—and loving every minute.

Man with backpack walking outside of museum.
Walking with pep in his step, Richard enjoys the sights of New York City.

Richard Gitter is a big believer in keeping busy.

He worked in the leather business for 50 years. But when the industry moved offshore, he was out of a job. Other people may have considered retirement at that point, but not Richard.

“Retirement just isn’t part of my DNA,” he joked. “I needed to find something else to do with my time or else I would have gone crazy.” So he got into real estate—and has been helping people buy and rent spaces and places around the city ever since. 

“I meet a lot of interesting people,” Richard said. “There are a lot of young people in the industry, so it keeps me feeling younger.”

Portrait of older man with backpack.
Still working a few days a week, Richard’s happy to be healthy again.

Two years ago, at 82, Richard was working in his office when he started experiencing chest pain. Having had previous heart issues decades before that required surgery, Richard was well aware that the pain spelled trouble. He asked one of his colleagues to call an ambulance, and to alert his wife, Lory. Soon after being loaded onto the ambulance, he blacked out. Lory said she is so grateful they took him to Lenox Hill Heart & Lung and into the care of cardiothoracic surgeons Derek Brinster, MD, and Jonathan Hemli, MD. “That turned out to be very, very lucky for him,” she said.

First, Richard was cared for in Lenox Hill’s emergency department. There, Dr. Hemli explained to the Gitters that Richard was experiencing an aortic dissection, a tear of the heart’s main artery that often proves fatal.

“My heart was solid and good,” Richard said. “It was the plumbing around it that was having problems, apparently.”

Dr. Hemli told Lory that Richard would need immediate surgery to repair the aorta. Lory said he took the time, even in the emergency department setting, to talk her through the procedure and answer every one of her questions.

“He was very calm and very forthright,” she said. “He even drew me pictures of what they would do in the operating room.”

During an eight-hour procedure, the surgeons repaired Richard’s aortic arch. He was then transferred to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) to recuperate, where he continued to receive the highest quality care, according to Lory.

“Everyone we met at Lenox Hill was professional, encouraging and very kind. They were compassionate but didn’t try to sugarcoat the situation,” she said. “Most importantly, they took exceptional care of Richard—because of their expertise, Dr. Brinster and Dr. Hemli were able to successfully treat him, despite his age and previous heart condition.”

Nearly two years after the procedure, Richard is back on his feet, back to being busy—and back in his real estate office. Even after his surgery, retirement is still not on the table. He works a few days a week and makes sure there is always time for friends, family and New York City cultural activities.

“We have a home in Vermont that we like to go to,” Lory said. “We go back and forth quite a bit.”

“Though my skiing days are over!” Richard interrupted.

Smiling older man in purple button-down shirt sits on couch in his living room.
To relax, Richard and his wife, Lory, love spending time with their grandchildren.

“That’s true,” she laughed. “But we go and enjoy the scenery. We also like to spend time with our 15-month-old granddaughter who lives here in the city, as well as our 20-year-old grandsons who live out of state. But life, for us, is really about taking advantage of things here in the city.

Richard is grateful to Dr. Brinster and Dr. Hemli, as well as the entire Lenox Hill Heart & Lung team, for giving him more time to do all the things he loves to do—and to live out his golden years healthy, happy and of course, as he prefers, always on the move.

“I’m not going to say I’m living on borrowed time, but they gifted me a new life,” he said. “I’m enjoying my children, grandchildren, my wife and the city, and it’s all thanks to the amazing job that they did. Really, they did me a big favor. I’m a lucky guy, and I know it.”