Patient Care

Mohawk Valley Man 'On the Ropes,' Gets New Heart

Jan. 13, 2017

Herkimer County resident Jim Pugliese has seen young boxers take incredible blows and rally for a win in the ring. You could say he’s experienced the same situation. The 64-year-old Mohawk Valley man suffered heart failure and received a new heart, a second chance at life, two weeks ago at UR Medicine’s Strong Memorial Hospital.

“I’m so grateful for my future,” said the Utica native. He now lives in Herkimer with his wife, Donna.  “I worried that I’d run out of time before a new heart came,” he said. Pugliese worked for many years as a boxing manager

UR Medicine Chief of Cardiac Surgery, Sunil Prasad, M.D., performed the life-saving surgery Dec. 29 at Strong Memorial, which offers Upstate New York’s only comprehensive heart failure and transplant program.

Jeffrey Alexis, M.D.

Pugliese’s heart troubles began in 1995 when he suffered a devastating heart attack. For the next 21 years, he took medication and endured several procedures to open up vessels in his heart under the care of Hugh Macisaac, M.D., of Upstate New York Cardiology. About five years ago his heart began to fail and Pugliese needed specialty care from experts in UR Medicine’s Program in Heart Failure and Transplantation.

Transplant cardiologist Jeffrey Alexis. M.D., has managed and closely monitored Pugliese’s heart function and added him to the waiting list for a new heart.

He was hospitalized on Dec. 12 and Pugliese knew it could be months before he could get a new heart.

Sunil Prasad, M.D.

Just two weeks later, transplant surgeon Prasad “surprised” him with news that a matching heart was available.       

“It was really a miracle and everything I could ask for,” Pugliese said. “I would like to thank the donor for the incredible gift they’ve given me.”

He will continue his recovery at home, in Herkimer, supported by his wife and family. They have three grown sons and seven grandchildren.

“We are always proud to see patients thrive after a heart transplant,” Alexis said. Specialists in the Program in Heart Failure and Transplantation will closely monitor Pugliese’s recovery and heart function for the rest of his life.

Gift of life

Organ transplantation success stories are not possible without the generosity of organ donors.

New York has poor participation in organ donation, ranking last among the 50 states. As a result, residents can wait months or years for a match.

According to the Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network, the organ procurement organization affiliated with the University of Rochester Medical Center and SUNY Upstate Medical University, there are 10,000 people in the state waiting for organ transplants, including about 450 people on waiting lists for a new heart, liver, kidney or pancreas transplant at Strong Memorial Hospital.

FLDRN coordinates organ donation in 20 counties with a population of 2.4 million, serving 38 hospitals in the Finger Lakes region, central and northern New York. You can register as an organ donor online at or at the Department of Health, Department of Motor Vehicles or Board of Elections.