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Dialing in a healthy heart

Precision care from Northwell Health gets radio personality back on the air

A smiling man in his late 70s slicing an avocado in his kitchen
John Marino now knows that unhealthy habits just won’t cut it.

If you’re a New York radio listener, you may be familiar with John Marino—better known as Uncle Johnny on Z100’s Elvis Duran and the Morning Show. As Uncle Johnny, John is known for telling bad jokes and mixing creative cocktails during his regular guest spot. At nearly 77, he describes himself as the “world’s oldest intern.”

A smiling man in his late 70s in his Manhattan apartment
John Marino, Z100’s “Uncle Johnny,” at home in his New York City apartment

Though animated and energetic on the air, Johnny has been contending with pain in his legs for more than a decade, which has made it difficult to walk. He first encountered the problem about 14 years ago while spending the summer on Fire Island. When he returned to his home in Manhattan and saw his doctor, Johnny learned he had plaque buildup in the blood vessels of his legs. One option was to have a surgical procedure known as peripheral artery bypass, in which doctors would bypass the clogged arteries to improve blood flow in his legs. His other option was to increase his physical activity to aid circulation. 

Johnny elected not to have the procedure and instead made lifestyle changes—a better diet and more exercise—and saw his cardiologist regularly. But after a few years, when chest pains and difficulty breathing stopped him in his tracks, he sought out the care of the experts at Lenox Hill Heart & Lung.

“I was walking down the street holding my chest. I knew something wasn’t right,” explained Johnny. 

He was referred to Mitchell Weinberg, MD, an interventional cardiologist at Lenox Hill Heart & Lung and the director of Peripheral Vascular Interventions at Northwell Health. He specializes in minimally invasive procedures to diagnose and treat plaque buildup in the arteries. After performing a diagnostic catheterization, Dr. Weinberg revealed blockages in several arteries and determined surgery would be Johnny’s best option. Dr. Weinberg sent Johnny to his colleague, and vice chair of cardiothoracic surgery, Nirav Chandrakant Patel, MD, at Lenox Hill Heart & Lung. “Dr. Patel was incredible,” said Johnny. He said, ‘We’ll take care of you.’” After thorough testing, Johnny learned he had plaque buildup in the arteries leading to his heart, greatly increasing his risk of heart attack. He needed triple bypass open heart surgery

“Although Mr. Marino was nervous, we discussed the importance of the surgery and reassured him of our experience and expertise,” said Dr. Patel. “Our team performs hundreds of these surgeries every year, and we have been recognized as one of the best cardiac programs in the country.”

Lenox Hill Heart & Lung is a recognized leader in heart care, rated by Healthgrades five years in a row as one of the 100 best heart programs in America. This distinction places the hospital among the top 5 percent of cardiac programs in the country. 

Man in his late 70s lifting weights in his apartment
John is grateful for the newfound energy and enjoys keeping in shape.

Despite Johnny’s concerns about having open-heart surgery, he describes the overall experience as fabulous. Dr. Patel and his team explained what to expect from the procedure and reassured Johnny that he'd be in good hands. They appreciated Johnny’s sense of humor. “I like to talk. I’m a joker, and everyone kept laughing. They got to know me as Uncle Johnny.”

He underwent his triple bypass at the end of November. During his weeklong hospital stay, Elvis Duran visited him and also called from the radio studio so Johnny could say hello to his fans and tell his listeners about his experience. When he returned home, he said he was visited regularly by members of his care team—part of Northwell’s Follow Your Heart program—to make sure his recovery was going to plan. 

Now, Johnny is happy to report that he has only a small scar on his chest, he’s back at work, walking regularly and starting to ease into doing push-ups, sit-ups and lifting weights. He’s also looking forward to going to Italy with Elvis and his partner. About four years ago, Johnny went to Tuscany with them, but was unable to accompany them to the Amalfi coast because of all the stairs and hills. “This time, we’re planning to go to Venice, where there will be a lot of walking. And I’ll be able to do it.”