New Jersey man hasn’t skipped a beat since heart transplant: ‘One of the doctors couldn’t believe I existed’

Steve Weitzen smiles from his bed at Mount Sinai Hospital on March 10, the day before his miraculous heart transplant and 60th birthday.
Steve Weitzen smiles from his bed at Mount Sinai Hospital on March 10, the day before his miraculous heart transplant and 60th birthday.

Steve Weitzen celebrated his 61st birthday this March with his fiancée, Dede, a decadent chocolate cake, and something most people take for granted— a healthy, beating heart.
Born with a congenital defect that blocked electrical signals from traveling around the essential organ, Weitzen spent his whole life defying the odds.
“[Doctors] told my parents that I would likely never walk,” he said.
Despite those dire predictions, Weitzen learned to walk, run and play like any other child, only slightly aware of his limitations. He remembers how his mother would worry: She would yell down from the upper-floor window of the family’s apartment in the Boulevard Houses in East New York, Brooklyn, telling Weitzen to take a rest from playing outside with his friends.
“I would say, ‘What do I need a break for?’ She was just worried that I was running around too much,” he said. “My parents were frankly scared out of their minds.”
“No doctor would ever allow me to play on a team, because they were afraid I was going to die on the field or the court. So my childhood was spent being held back from doing some things," he recalled.
In a theme that would define his life, Weitzen, who now lives in Randolph, N.J., found a work-around, playing sports like Ping-Pong and tennis that didn’t require doctor’s notes.
But when he was 30, doctors found that Weitzen’s heartbeat was so slow he could have died anytime in his sleep. They fitted him with a pacemaker.
“It worked beautifully. I never had a problem,” he said. He was able to continue his career as a corporate lawyer in Manhattan, and keep up his active lifestyle.
Steve Weitzen one year later, at his home in Randolph, New Jersey
Steve Weitzen one year later, at his home in Randolph, New Jersey(Obtained by the Daily News)
Real trouble came again in 2018. “I came home from work one day, and I thought let me take the next day off, I didn’t feel very well,” Weitzen recalled. “It turned out I had a staph infection in my blood. I’m told by my doctor I had a 50-50 chance of living.”
Weitzen spent the next several months in and out of the operating room, getting his pacemaker removed then reimplanted, and dealing with a slew of complications. After he had two separate strokes — caused by worsening blood clots — doctors decided to take a drastic step.
“They said we’re going to take out your heart. I said, ‘How are you going to do that? Don’t you need a heart to live?’ ” he said.
Dr. Sean Pinney, the director of heart failure and transplantation for the Mount Sinai Health System, remembers Weitzen’s heart was so weak from so many years of stress that it simply couldn’t be saved.
“The perfect solution was to do a heart transplant, and to take the diseased heart out and replace it with a new beating heart,” he said.
Easier said than done: A heart transplant requires a healthy, beating heart to be donated from someone else, and conditions just right for the whole procedure to work. But Weitzen couldn’t go on living with his own heart while he waited for a donor to be found, so doctors hooked him up to a total artificial heart — essentially a pump that mimics the function of the real organ by pushing air in and blood out of two plastic ventricles.
“I was very very sick after they put it in,” said Weitzen, who was facing an indefinite hospital stay until he could get a new heart. Just a few weeks later, though, and mere days before his 60th birthday, he got the incredible news that doctors had found a donor.
“My fiancée and I looked at each other like this could possibly happen," he said.
Still, Weitzen was far from out of the woods. “I was delirious, I really thought I was going to die. I thought a lot of times going into these surgeries that I wasn’t going to make it, but I really thought it was the end.”

The cutting-edge operation lasted between six and eight hours, requiring tremendous coordination from the Mount Sinai staff. “As we often say, it’s the ultimate team sport,” said Pinney. Only about 120 centers across the country can perform full heart transplants.

In the year since his new life began, Weitzen has not skipped a beat — getting back in shape, spending time with his family in New Jersey, and doling out advice to other transplant patients, which he says gives him a lot of satisfaction.

He’s also taken the time to write a fictionalized version of his life, appropriately titled “A Change of Heart.”

“It’s a miracle, to be so sick and to be restored to full health and vitality,” said Pinney, who has been a cardiologist for 26 years. “I’ve been fortunate to take care of hundreds and hundreds of transplant patients and I remember them all … but Steven’s [story] is really special.”

“One of the doctors couldn’t believe I existed,” Weitzen said, referring to his many brushes with death. Shortly after his transplant, he reached out to his donor’s family, telling them in a letter how grateful he is for their most precious gift.

“It’s going to give me the ability to see my children grow up and my grandchildren grow up,” he said. “I’m part of life. That’s the most remarkable thing about all of this.”

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