Specialty: Heart Failure and Transplantation
Practice: Westchester Heart & Vascular
Hospital: Westchester Medical Center
While Alan Gass, MD, may treat a few mild to moderate heart-failure patients from time to time, as medical director of Westchester Medical Center’s heart-transplant and mechanical circulatory support program, the bulk of his work is caring for patients with the sickest hearts from across the state who are in dire need of a transplant. “We take on the most desperate patients, yet we are able to successfully treat over 90 percent,” says Gass. “We give them a second opportunity to live, and that’s the part of my job I love!”
Most of these patients will end up with an extended hospital stay while they await their new hearts, and Gass uses this time to get to know his patients, to talk to them about spirituality, eating well, exercising, and generally taking care of themselves. “I’m a strong believer in the connection between body, mind, and spirit,” Gass explains.
Are we heart-smart in Westchester?
Yes, I really get the feeling that Westchester County stays at the forefront of health. This is a community with a healthy mindset. You can see that in the number of runners, walkers, and bikers. You can see the focus on healthy eating in the prevalence of farm-to-table restaurants and juice bars. People are active, aware, and educated, so they really participate in their care — coming from working in a city hospital, I know it isn’t always that way. And this translates into the demographics of our transplant population. I just don’t see a lot of patients for heart transplant from our immediate backyard. Westchester residents are staying off of my operating table.
Any exciting new medicines or technologies that have helped your patients in recent years?
There is a new medication called Entresto, which was FDA-approved about a year and half ago, that will represent a paradigm shift in the treatment of heart failure. The data shows it will lead to less worsening of heart failure, fewer hospital admissions for heart failure, and a significant impact on survival. After years in development, it has finally become available to my patients. I’ve been using this in my practice for over a year and have more than 100 patients on this medication right now. It may even put me out of business, but that’s fine with me.
Can you predict which of your patients will have the best recovery?
Every one of my patients is getting a normal, new, young heart. So why do some patients do well and others don’t? I think it’s a combination of mind, body, and spirit. When I look at my heart-transplant patients, it has so much to do with their faith, their belief, and their ability to change their lifestyle to get healthy. I can almost predict, going into a transplant, which patients will do extremely well. Those are the ones who believe they can do well, the ones who start to exercise, quit smoking, et cetera. And that’s what I try to teach my patients while they are waiting for a transplant.