Heart surgery

Paterson NJ woman has open heart surgery and has a new outlook on life


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PATERSON – People were shocked when Maheh Zamee, 23, of Paterson, told them about his plans for the summer vacation between college semesters.

“They said, ‘You are too young to have open heart surgery,’” she recalls. “‘You should wait until you are older.’ “

But if Zamee had delayed the valve replacement surgery, she probably wouldn’t have lived to get much older, according to her heart surgeon. During the July 7 operation at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, said Dr Paul Stelzer, he discovered that Zamee had a much more severe aneurysm than tests indicated.

“I’m so glad we didn’t wait another year,” said Stelzer. “It would have exploded.”

Instead of becoming another heart disease victim, the young woman, who grew up in Paterson, is entering her second year of classes at Rutgers University on Wednesday to earn a master’s degree in social work.

“Before the operation I didn’t know it was that bad, but when I found out I was shocked,” she said. “It forced me to examine my life. I look at it differently now. Death does not discriminate, no matter how old you are. Age is just a number if you have health issues.

Zamee was born in Bangladesh and her parents learned when she was very young that she had an abnormal aortic valve. By the late 1990s, most places in Bangladesh lacked medical facilities capable of providing the care she needed, she said. The only option in her home country was in the capital, Dhaka, but her family lived nine hours away, she added.

Zamee was 3 years old when his family immigrated to Kissimmee, Florida. They then moved to Paterson, joining the city’s large Bangladeshi immigrant population. She had several minor surgeries in her youth, but mostly felt as healthy as anyone else, with no restrictions on her activities, she recalls.

“I was asymptomatic,” she said. “I was healthy outside.”

Zamee went through Paterson’s School 5, then graduated from Passaic County Technical Institute and eventually received a bachelor’s degree from Rutgers. She went for regular check-ups for her heart problem, but the defective valve had little impact on her day-to-day life.

So when tests last February showed she would need a heart valve replacement, Zamee opted out of having the operation in her first year of graduate school. Stelzer and her other doctors decided she should get something called the Ross procedure, which would replace her faulty aortic heart valve with her own pulmonary valve and use a donor valve instead of the pulmonary valve.

Stelzer stated that Ross’s first procedure was performed in 1967 and that he first performed valve replacement surgery in the 1980s. The surgeon keeps a log of all Ross procedures he has performed. , a record that shows Zamee was his 757th patient. After his surgery in early July, he said, he added five more people to that list.

“It’s fun getting messages like, ‘It’s been 25 years now, Doc. Thank you very much, ”he said.

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Zamee was younger than most of his Ross procedure patients, Stelzer said. Their average age is 43, he said.

“She has a lot of emotional strength,” the surgeon said of Zamee.

During her first year of graduate school, Zamee said, she was also working full-time as a social worker for the Arab-American Family Support Center in Long Island City, Queens. The post required her to take buses and subways to different parts of New York City, making house calls to families, she said. The job was demanding and, looking back, she said, it probably exhausted her.

Zamee said she decided not to work full time while she finished her master’s degree.

“I want to take better care of myself,” she said.

As part of her graduate studies, Zamee will be a social work intern at a school for disabled children in Little Falls. She said she looked forward to it and expects her own recent medical experience to help her understand the children’s situation.

Joe Malinconico is editor of Paterson Press.

Email: [email protected]


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