Dr. Christian Witzke, Arkady Shmurak and Dr. Alexandra Tuluca
Cardiology Surgery

Yoga Teacher, 92, ‘Much Better’ After Heart Procedures

By on 02/16/2023

Arkady Shmurak is an resilient 92-year-old who has survived many political upheavals that swept him from shore to shore.

Shmurak was born in the Ukraine and fled Nazi occupation as a teenager during the Holocaust, when most of his family was murdered. After the war, he settled in Moldova, part of the former USSR, and became an economics and marketing professor.

When the USSR collapsed, his family migrated to Israel before eventually settling in the Northeast area of Philadelphia.

For many of those migratory years, the practice of yoga gave him both the strength and serenity to keep going. He not only wanted to practice yoga, but he wanted to share the avenue that brought him so much peace in the setting of so much turmoil.

Teaching Yoga, Until He Couldn’t

Shmuruk, who speaks only Russian, eventually began teaching yoga to other Russian-speaking residents in the Bensalem area and developed a loyal following.

Over the past year, however, he became so weak and breathless that he could barely walk, much less practice or teach yoga.

Arkady’s son, Igor, recalls, “He told us that he wanted to die; he couldn’t sleep, he couldn’t walk, he couldn’t breathe.”

He slowly felt himself slipping away, and he no longer had the practice of yoga or the quality of life that had sustained him for so many years.

Shmurak was diagnosed with multiple heart conditions that included not only his coronary arteries but also multiple valves within the heart.

He was referred to the Heart and Vascular Institute at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia, now a part of Jefferson Health. There, he met the heart team, which included Christian Witzke, MD, an interventional cardiologist, and Alexandra Tuluca, MD, a heart surgeon.

After a full workup, the doctors recognized that Shmurak needed multiple interventions to treat his heart conditions. In prior years, his only option would have been open heart surgery.

Two Procedures, Then a Vote

But due to advancements in the treatment of structural heart conditions, he was offered three separate, minimally invasive procedures, which were completed over the course of five months in the spring of 2022.

Dr. Witzke first addressed the plaque that was obstructing Shmurak’s largest coronary artery and placed a stent (a narrow tube) to the keep the artery open. Dr. Tuluca and Dr. Witzke then repaired the aortic valve with a transcatheter aortic valve replacement (known as a TAVR procedure).

But after Shmurak had recovered from the two procedures and unsuccessfully attempted to manage his ongoing shortness of breath with medication, doctors determined that Shmurak’s mitral valve was the source of most of his symptoms. The procedure to fix it was more complicated and required general anesthesia.

Shmurak, his wife and two sons “took a vote on whether to do it,” his second son, Leon says. “The vote was tied 2-2.”

But Shmurak said his vote in favor carried more weight since he was the patient – and the third and final procedure, called a MitraClip, was successfully performed.

“He did fantastic,” Dr. Witzke recalls. “He was able to go home within 24 hours of the procedure and he felt an immediate improvement.”

“He’s back,” son Igor says, “not to normal yet – but much better.”

Leon says the family is grateful that their father is returning to health and reports he has begun practicing yoga once again.

Dr. Tuluca says, “I’m sure it was an intimidating process, to undergo three separate cardiac procedures, but we are so glad that Arkady and the Shmurak family trusted us in this process.

“They now have their father back and he has regained the quality of life he so desperately missed.”

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