By George Capsis
In the more than five years that WestView News fought to save St. Vincent’s Hospital, one voice emerged as the spokesperson for the doctors, nurses, and hundreds of staffers that had spent years of their careers in the that massive collection of buildings that traced its history back to a small Catholic orphanage in 1849. That voice was Doctor David Kaufman and what a voice it was—precise and focused—demanding, “Save this hospital.”
I got to know Dr. Kaufman and we invited him to write for the paper. He informed me about the “cath lab,” required to save a heart attack victim in the (otherwise) few minutes they might have left to live.
Prophetically, in 1968 St. Vincent’s introduced a mobile coronary care unit that could drive to a patient who’d had a heart attack and offer emergency treatment while racing back to the hospital.
What I also learned from Dr. Kaufman was how deadly a heart attack can be. It is the number one cause of death; one person dies of a heart attack every 37 seconds. But the doctor also told me that there was a procedure that could unblock a heart in seconds by pushing a flexible tube (a catheter) up the main artery until it reached and broke up the blockage. This procedure is done in what is called a cath lab, which is a dedicated heart-specialized operating room with powerful x-ray equipment that is able to see the catheter as it makes its way up to the blockage.
The science and technique of the cath lab is now well-advanced and relatively safe, but until very recently the State Health Commissioner required a standby operating room in case the catheter pierced the artery and the chest needed to be opened for artery repair. As this makes having a cath lab prohibitively expensive, when Dr. Kaufman, and then WestView, asked for one there was silence and defensive explanations.
But WestView continued to ask and ask, and at the opening of the two floors of doctors’ offices in the Northwell Health building at the former site of St. Vincent’s emergency room entrance some months ago, President Michael Dowling, seeing me in the back, recognized me and said, “George Capsis, once our enemy now our friend.” As we went down to cut the ribbon I asked, “Are we getting the cath lab?” and he nodded yes. “We are waiting for the health commissioner’s approval. You know how hard that is.” That approval came on January 22nd at the commission meeting at 90 Church Street, and we took a photo with Executive Director Alex Hellinger and the medical staff of our new cath lab.
When I’d asked Dr. Kaufman how hospitals could allow people to die of heart attacks his reply was, “they don’t count.” Now they are counting.