Ierachmiel Daskal, MD, was on the Somers Point Bridge in the middle of a typical 40-mile bicycle outing, when he realized he couldn’t keep up.
Sure, he was 80 years old and some members of his bike group were 30 years his junior, but it never happened before. He’d been riding with them every weekend, through bitter cold and blazing heat, for many years.
“I simply could not breathe,” says Dr. Daskal, longtime former Chair of the Department of Pathology at Einstein Healthcare Network, of the incident in August of 2020. “I thought, ‘I’m done.’ It was very devastating to me.”
Dr. Daskal had been diagnosed five years earlier with aortic valve stenosis, a narrowing of the valve in the large blood vessel branching off the heart, which reduces blood flow and taxes the heart. He had nursed it along, trying to avoid or delay surgery. Clearly, the time had come.
Research Points to Einstein
Dr. Daskal began to research his options and determined that he needed open heart surgery to replace or repair the valve, ruling out less invasive procedures. He was at Einstein for 25 years before retiring in 2008, but he investigated all of his options, including other hospitals with respected heart surgeons.
Everything he learned pointed him to Einstein.
Einstein cardiothoracic surgeon Alexandra Tuluca, MD, was not only uniformly regarded as an exceptionally talented and skillful surgeon, but she had an unrelated qualification that sealed the deal, Dr. Daskal says.
“I was born in Romania and I speak and write Romanian and I was very excited to learn Dr. Tuluca is also Romanian.”
Dr. Daskal had open heart surgery at Einstein on May 11. He’s effusive about the compassionate care he received from Dr. Tuluca; cardiologist Christian Witzke, MD; Chair of Anesthesiology Richard Fine, MD; anesthesiologist Mansoor Husain, MD; CCU nurses and everyone else involved.
“It was an incredibly positive experience,” he says. And it was eye-opening.
Dr. Daskal had never been a patient at the hospital before. “Now, being on the other side, I realized how patient-centric Einstein is,” he says. “For me, it was quite an awakening and so refreshing to see the other side of Einstein. The nursing care was nothing less than exceptional.”
He also was surprised that post-surgical pain was so minimal that he took no opioids and was home in three days.
In recent years, Dr. Daskal has given up running, roller blading and concentrated on less physically taxing activities. He walks with his wife. An artist by hobby, he enjoys painting landscapes.
He’s also a collector of antique travelogues, maps of the Holy Land and Haggadahs – a Haggadah is a guidebook used for conducting the Passover Seder. He has over 1,000. The oldest, from Venice, dates back to 1583.
“This is my passion and obsession,” he says of his collections, which have received media coverage.
Getting Back to Cycling
Dr. Daskal has been an avid bicyclist since he took a solo three-day bike trip at the age of 13 in Israel, where he lived with his family after emigrating from Romania.
He attended college and obtained a PhD in molecular biology at McGill University and did post-graduate studies at the Baylor College of Medicine – the home of celebrated heart surgeon Michael DeBakey. The fact that Dr. Tuluca also completed a fellowship training at Baylor reinforced Dr. Daskal’s belief that she was exceptional.
Dr. Daskal is recovering well in a 12-week cardiac rehabilitation program and can’t wait to rejoin his bike group. “I see the group every week passing by my balcony and I realize how much I miss riding,” he says, vowing to be riding with them again by the end of September.
“Dr. Tuluca promised me that she will take care of me,” he says. “I’m living proof of her exceptional skills and expertise, and that she kept her promise. I’m ever grateful to her.”
Find out more about heart surgery at Einstein.