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Holocaust survivor thanks doctors who did lifesaving heart procedure

With a fervent will to live, 95-year-old Holocaust survivor Jack Betteil underwent heart surgery to repair his aortic stenosis in April, and on Thursday, July 19, 2018, he, his son Matthew, and his surgeon sat down to discuss the procedure and Betteil's remarkable life.   Credit: Howard Schnapp

A 95-year-old Holocaust survivor on Thursday thanked the Long Island doctors who saved his life, using a procedure that enabled him to avoid risky open-heart surgery.

“Doctor, you’re a magician,” Jack Betteil said to Dr. Bruce Rutkin at a news conference at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset. “Right now, I know why I survived. Because of this man here.”

North Shore doctors diagnosed Betteil in November with aortic stenosis, a condition in which calcium builds up in the aortic valve to the heart. This reduces blood flow, making breathing difficult and decreasing energy levels, doctors said.

“I couldn’t even make the stairs one flight up,” Betteil recalled.

If left untreated, patient survival rates steeply decrease, Rutkin said. But due to Betteil’s advanced age, doctors decided against surgically replacing the valve.

Instead, they suggested he undergo a Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement Procedure, or TAVR, an alternative treatment that is minimally invasive. Doctors at North Shore have done the procedure on about 1,100 patients since it was introduced seven years ago.

Betteil successfully underwent the procedure April 18 after doing intense screening.

“We went through a battery of tests and our fingers were crossed all the way through,” said Jack Betteil’s son, Matthew, who was at the news conference. “My father’s so resilient, he passed the tests with flying colors.”

Rutkin and his team inserted a metal valve into Jack Betteil’s diseased valve through an intravenous catheter. The synthetic valve then locks on to the diseased tissue, ensuring correct opening and closing of the valve, Rutkin said.

“It’s obviously incredibly gratifying to do what we do,” Rutkin said. “This is an extraordinary case.”

Betteil, born in Krakow, was 16 when World War II broke out, and he was sent to six different concentration camps before being liberated by the U.S. Army in 1945 at the Ebensee camp in Austria, officials said. Many of his family members, including his grandparents and little sister, did not survive.

Sitting in the pristine hospital conference room, Jack Betteil told stories of his time in the camps, recalling how he once dumped a pail of excrement on Nazi officials as an act of defiance.

“I think I survived partially because I had a good sense of humor,” Jack Betteil said.

Since moving to America in 1947, he worked as a television repairman and also creates artwork, such as wood carvings and oil paintings, inspired by Native American art, Matthew Betteil said.

The new valve has allowed Jack Betteil to make plans for the future. He said he is most excited by the prospect of the free haircut his barber promised him for his 100th birthday.


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