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Keeping high school sweethearts together with lifesaving heart care

George and Cindy’s love story continues, thanks to top cardiac care in eastern Long Island

A middle-aged man and woman kayak in beautiful blue waters. Each holds an oar.
George and Cindy go kayaking near their home in Westhampton.

After 46 years of marriage, George and Cindy Schmidt still do just about everything together—whether it’s hiking the stunning trails in Hawaii during regular trips to visit family or kayaking the quaint waters near their home in Westhampton, New York.

Life was filled with love and happiness for these high school sweethearts, and their outlook on the future was bright. But all of this was threatened when, after running a routine three miles on the treadmill, 65-year-old George felt a strange tightness in his upper chest. Alarmed, he made an appointment with cardiologist Dr. Babu Easow.

 “After examining me, Dr. Easow felt pretty sure that there was something going on that needed to be addressed—and quickly,” recalls George.

Dr. Easow recommended cardiac catheterization, a procedure in which a long, thin tube is inserted into the heart to determine how well it’s supplied by blood vessels. George was reluctant. He had recently endured chemotherapy for an unrelated cancer and was apprehensive about undergoing more tests and procedures. He left the appointment with Cindy by his side, undecided about what to do next.

A married couple in their 60's sits on a bench outside and enjoys the quaint beauty of nature.
George and Cindy love spending time outdoors.

“Dr. Easow actually called us at home and reiterated how important it was I went for the catheterization,” says George. “The personalized attention was assuring and comforting. After our discussion, I decided to take his advice.”

It was a crucial decision that ended up saving George’s life.      

During the procedure with Dr. Stanley Katz—an interventional cardiologist at Peconic Bay Medical Center—it was discovered that plaque in George’s arteries had hardened into calcium, causing four severe blockages in his heart. Bypass surgery wasn’t an option due to his past chemotherapy, and the calcium buildup was so bad that Dr. Katz couldn’t put stents in.

More resources were needed, so he decided to transfer George via ambulance to Southside Hospital, which is among the top 10 percent in the U.S. for coronary interventional procedures in 2018, according to Healthgrades. There, he’d be treated by Dr. Puneet Gandotra, vice chair of cardiology at Southside Heart & Lung.

“Dr. Katz held my hand and assured me that Dr. Gandotra is one of the best in this field and would take good care of my husband,” says Cindy. “His confidence and approachability helped keep me and George calm during a scary and uncertain time.”

George arrived at Southside, where Dr. Gandotra performed the first of what would be a two-part procedure the following morning. He used advanced minimally invasive techniques—only available at hospitals with proven expertise—so he could clear the first two arteries and place stents without having to open George’s chest. Due to the severity of the blockages (which the doctor says are usually seen in patients in their 80s), it was a long and intricate procedure, but everything went well. Thanks to the minimally invasive approach, George had minimal pain and scarring and was able to leave the hospital the very next day. “Within a few days of being home, I was feeling good,” he says.

George’s remaining blockage was a chronic total occlusion, an artery that is 100 percent blocked. Southside is one of the only centers in New York that has the ability to open these types of blockages. One February day, as a snow storm was brewing, the team at Southside trekked in to make sure George received his second and final procedure. Although challenging, the artery was successfully opened.

George was able to return home, where he had a smooth recovery. He’s back to exercising regularly, including walking three miles a day. He’ll continue having checkups with Dr. Gandotra twice a year, all the while enjoying a normal, healthy life. He’s looking forward to spending more time with his wife, as well as their four kids and 12 grandkids.

A middle-aged couple stands in living room and holds up a giant photo of their kids and grandkids.
The happy couple proudly shows off their family tree.

“I truly believe George wouldn’t be here with our family today if it wasn’t for the incredible care he received at Peconic Bay and Southside—it saved his life,” says Cindy. “And you couldn’t meet nicer people; from the doctors to the nurses, everyone was attentive and happy to answer any questions we had.”

“It’s great to know we have this capability on Long Island, especially on the east end; it’s very comforting to have something like this so close by,” says George. “I still can’t believe how quickly they got me back on my feet. I feel very fortunate.”

A middle-aged couple holds hands and walks down a sun-lit nature trail together.
George and Cindy look forward to a bright future.

Quality and outcomes

Advanced technology, highly ranked care

Our cardiac care has been recognized by various organizations including Healthgrades, the New York State Department of Health and the Society of Thoracic Surgeons. And that exceptional care doesn't end when you leave the hospital.

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