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Living life to the fullest

We helped 96-year-old Jack gain a new lease on life with a minimally invasive heart valve procedure.

Smiling man in his 90s leaning out of the window of a red car.
Jack Bettiel ready to hit the road in his shiny new Italian car.

Jack Bettiel, 96, knows that life comes with no guarantees.

The longtime Bayside resident was born in Krakow, Poland, in 1923. In the late 1930s, Jack and his family were forced to leave their home by the Nazis. Jack was sent to a work camp near Plaszow, Poland, ultimately spending time in six different concentration camps before he was liberated by General George S. Patton’s 3rd Army. The rest of his family, unfortunately, suffered a different fate. They were all sent to Auschwitz. Only his sister, Cesia, lived to see the end of World War II.

“Somehow I survived the war,” he said. “I don’t know why I survived. I don’t know how I did it. But when you live through something like that, you learn you can’t take a single moment for granted.”

Over the past decades, Jack has done his utmost to live life to the fullest and cherish every moment he’s been given. He married, raised a family and made his living repairing broken television sets. He also spends his free time creating carved wood and sculpting Native American masks.

Jack will be the first to tell you that he’s lived a good life since his liberation, with lots of love and laughter. But last year, he started having trouble breathing and getting around as easily as he used to. His Northwell cardiologist, Mark Stern, MD, diagnosed an issue with his heart valve. 

Man in his home poses with colorful art.
An artist and woodworker, Jack appreciates the value of precision.

“He listened to my heart and said I should be evaluated by a valve specialist,” Jack explained. “I worried about whether it would be successful or not. I didn’t want to do it if it wasn’t going to be successful.”

Dr. Stern referred him to Bruce Rutkin, MD, director of Structural Heart Disease at the Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital in Manhasset. Dr. Rutkin confirmed that Jack had severe aortic stenosis, a condition where the aortic valve calcifies and hardens over time. Given Jack’s age, Dr. Rutkin believed he would be a good candidate for a procedure called transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), a minimally invasive method of replacing the aortic valve.

“Before this technology, the only way to address a severely narrowed aortic valve was to perform open-heart surgery and replace the damaged valve with a new one,” Dr. Rutkin said. “That sort of traditional procedure would be too dangerous for a man of Jack’s age. But the TAVR worked like a charm.” 

Dr. Rutkin and the team at the Heart Hospital were one of the first to perform TAVR in the region. They offer patients the latest treatment options, including access to landmark clinical trials—only offered by the most experienced hospitals.

“Dr. Rutkin did a beautiful job,” Jack said. “He made an inch and a half to 2-inch incision near my heart and fixed everything up and now I’m home and I feel great.”

Jack said his doctors have given him a new lease on life. A few months following the TAVR procedure, Jack said he is feeling good and ready to embrace everything life has to offer.

“I don’t have any more pain in my heart, I’m breathing just fine and I feel good. My brain is working good, too, thank God,” he said. “It’s like Dr. Stern and Dr. Rutkin gave me an extension on my life. And I plan to keep going—my barber told me if I make it to 100, he’ll give me free haircuts.”

A father and son pose on a couch in a living room.
After a successful TAVR procedure, Jack is happy to spend quality time with his son, Matt.

Jack is looking forward to getting back to his woodshop to work on his art. But, in the meantime, he is spending his free time catching up on reading, spending time with his beloved son, Matthew, and driving around in his new car. 

Jack is walking, talking proof that life, indeed, is beautiful. And he’s looking forward to what the future will bring. 

“My doctors are miracle workers and have given me the gift of life,” he said. “I don’t want to waste any of it.”