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Still sailing on after decades of cardiac issues

Robert has had many heart procedures over the years—but that won’t stop him from enjoying life.

Man in his 60s stands next to a sailboat on an overcast day.
Robert is enjoying life after his latest cardiac intervention.

A series of life-threatening heart and vascular problems over the last 15 years, culminating in treatments at Southside Heart & Lung, has not deterred 68-year-old Robert Gallo from living a full life. “The support of my wife, Renate, and my family, as well as my doctors, nurses and other providers is key in my rehabilitation,” said Robert, who lives in Sayville, NY. “It’s really a team effort.”

In 2004, Robert had coronary artery graft bypass surgery to clear three of the blocked arteries in his heart. At that time, he also had a defibrillator and pacemaker put in to regulate an arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat. Three years later, he needed his aortic valve replaced. In addition, he has had several stent placements in narrowed or blocked arteries over the last decade or so.

Then, in late 2015, the doctors at Southside diagnosed him with congestive heart failure, a serious condition where the heart is unable to pump blood efficiently. It was then that he learned that his mitral valve, which sits between the chambers on the left side of the heart, was also damaged. Thankfully, Robert was in the hands of a cardiac team at Southside Heart & Lung who were able to work together to treat his advanced heart disease. Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Southside Heart & Lung and Surgical Director of Heart Failure at Northwell Health, Harold Fernandez, MD, performed mitral valve replacement surgery to replace Robert’s valve.

Man in his 60s walks on a dock next to tied-up boats.
Robert reflects on everything he’s been through—and the exciting future ahead.

Because Robert was still having problems with his arrhythmia—episodes would sometimes wake him up at night—he saw cardiac electrophysiologist Jason Chinitz, MD, in the fall of 2017 for a cardiac ablation, a procedure that pinpoints and destroys an area of cardiac tissue that is causing the irregular heart rhythm. “It helped tremendously, but I still had some episodes,” said Robert, adding that this is why Dr. Chinitz recommended a second ablation in February of 2019 because he had more arrhythmias coming from a different part of his heart. The procedure worked like a charm—no more arrhythmias—but Dr. Chinitz noticed something else that was concerning.

As Dr. Chinitz was moving the catheter through an artery in the thigh and toward the heart chamber, he felt a pulsating in Robert’s stomach. “He thought this was really suspicious—it turned out to be an abdominal aortic aneurysm,” said Robert. “It was one of the largest aneurysms the doctors had ever seen.”

Luis Davila-Santini, MD, recommended using a minimally invasive approach for endovascular abdominal aortic repair (EVAR). Rather than making a small incision in the groin, Dr. Santini performed the procedure through needle access to thread a catheter that would deliver a stent to the abdominal aneurysm, supporting the aorta and creating a new path for blood flow.

Through it all, Robert has been working closely with his primary cardiologist, Jean Cacciabaudo, MD, and relies on her advice. Despite being in and out of the hospital over the years, Robert refuses to give up on life, or enjoying it. He’s always made his family and his interests a priority. “While all this is going on, your life is continuing,” said Robert. “Both my kids got engaged. In fact, I was in the hospital just before my daughter got married, and the staff all knew that I had to dance with her at the wedding.”

Today, his approach to life is thinking about which activities will contribute to his rehabilitation. “When it’s not rehabilitative, I try not to do it,” said Robert. As a result, he has cut back on his hours working as a lawyer in family court and carefully listens to his body. “I don’t have a problem lying down for half an hour if I need to.” He also makes time for exercise, working out at the gym five days a week and goes sailing with his friend. “The Great South Bay is just absolutely stunning to be on. It’s great being out there in the sun.”

Two men enjoy an afternoon out on the water in a boat.
Robert, shown here with his friend Anthony, enjoying an afternoon out on the bay.

Seeing a therapist to talk about contending with serious medical interventions is beneficial as well. “If you have a counselor, a priest or a friend to talk to, it helps,” explained Robert. So is keeping an open line of communication with your health providers. “Doctors at Southside Hospital sat with me, they talked with me and they wanted to know my opinion,” said Robert. “I really felt involved, which when you're that vulnerable, is a great feeling.”