At the time, Steve Ciani, a born-and-bred Brooklyn bus driver of 33 years, didn’t know that November 13th, 2006 would be the last time he’d ever set foot on his bus. “But,” he says, “it was either luck or divine intervention that kept me off the road.”
At 11:30 in the morning, he should have been starting his usual bus route. By 11:45am, he would have been on a highway bound for Manhattan. But on that cold Thursday morning, 10 minutes before he was supposed to start his workday, Steve found out that his bus was having mechanical difficulties. Instead of being out on the road, he was stuck in the bus terminal working with the mechanic to find out why.
As Steve sat behind the wheel of the bus listening to the mechanic’s requests to turn on the ignition and push down on the accelerator, he knew something wasn’t right. “I just kind of lost control of myself,” he recalls. “I felt everything squeeze down really hard.” The mechanic noticed that Steve wasn’t following his directions and walked to the front of the bus to find Steve conscious – but shaking, sweating and extremely upset.
“People talk about the symptoms of a heart attack. I wasn’t in pain, I didn’t have any numbness – I wasn’t having any of the typical symptoms whatsoever.” Steve had noticed a slight fluttering in his chest during the previous months, but he didn’t give it a second thought. That fluttering turned out to be a ventricular arrhythmia.
Most ventricular arrhythmias start in areas of the heart that have been injured from a previous heart attack. Although it’s uncommon for ventricular arrhythmias to appear in normal heart tissue, Steve displayed abnormal electrical activity which impaired the regular beating of his heart.
Steve was rushed to a Manhattan hospital where he was stabilized. He was given the option of staying at that hospital to receive treatment, or finding a doctor on his own. After speaking to his wife, Steve decided to consult with his general practitioner, Dr. Benjamin Lifshitz, a physician affiliated with Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn.
Dr. Lifshitz referred Steve to cardiologist Dr. Yisachar Greenberg, Director of Electrophysiology at Maimonides. Dr. Greenberg diagnosed him with a very rapid, irregular heart rhythm called short-coupled polymorphic ventricular tachycardia. Dr. Greenberg determined that the safest treatment for Steve’s rare and life-threatening condition was to implant an internal defibrillator.
An implantable defibrillator has the ability to quickly recognize abnormal, rapid heartbeats and deliver a shock to the heart to correct the abnormality. The small device not only regulates the heart if an arrhythmia occurs, but also tracks and reports any vital information to the medical center through a wireless transmitter. “It’s a life saver. I’m carrying it around like a little insurance policy in my chest,” Steve says.
Since his surgery, Steve visits Maimonides for follow-up appointments every 4 to 6 months. However, if he cannot make it to the hospital, Steve uses a home telemetry machine to transmit data to an online database where Maimonides physicians can monitor his heart.
With education on how to manage his condition, understanding what to expect from his treatment, and encouragement from his family and the Maimonides team, Steve Ciani no longer feels like he has to worry about his arrhythmia or the implanted device. “I’m back to thinking about the Jets, the Giants and the Yankees,” he says.
“It seems strange to say that I feel fortunate, but I do. I could’ve wound up in a lot of different places and I’m fortunate to have wound up at Maimonides Medical Center with Dr. Greenberg and his team. I couldn’t be happier with the way things turned out.”