Dr. Margarita Camacho, a leading cardiothoracic surgeon at Newark Beth Israel Hospital, completed her 650th career heart transplant on a Newark South Ward Resident.
According to Beth Israel Hospital officials, Mr. Derrick Baker is home for Father’s Day, after the 34-year-old father of five (children ages 17, 14, 11, 8, and 4) from the South Ward of Newark, NJ, received a heart transplant.
He was discharged on Tuesday after waiting in the hospital for six weeks. He has no history of heart disease, in fact, even though he grew up and lives just blocks away from the hospital, this is the first time he has ever been a patient.
Berth Israel Hospital official said in December 2020, he came to the hospital’s emergency department with shortness of breath and stomach pains.
He was diagnosed with heart failure and his condition progressed rapidly. Derrick was in and out of the hospital for weeks at a time, in March, he was placed on the transplant list and by April, his heart was functioning at just 5%, his kidneys and liver function were affected and he would have to wait in the hospital for his transplant.
Officials said on Memorial Day, Derrick finally got his new heart and the surgery was performed by New Jersey’s best-kept secret, Dr. Margarita Camacho.
With 650 heart transplants, officials said Dr. Camacho has personally performed more transplants than 80 percent of the transplant teams in the nation.
Dr. Camacho’s interest in medicine started at a young age. She is a first-generation woman of the Philippines and without her parents, she remarks, she wouldn’t be where she is today.
Dr. Camacho started at the Cleveland Clinic, got recruited to the New York Medical College, and studied at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
It was in 2005 that she found herself attracted to the cardiothoracic program at Beth Israel. In 2017, the hospital accomplished its 1000th heart transplant. As of this year, they are over 1100.
Her love of cardiothoracic medicine began with an interest in heart failure and physiology. This evolved into a fascination with heart transplants and mechanical heart pumps.
Why this specific field? Dr. Camacho stated, “It doesn’t get more impactful than putting a new heart in someone.”
Why so many surgeries? “Each surgery performed is a life saved.” She says that her thirst and drive for doing so many transplants come from knowing that the more she can do, the more people she can help.
One of Dr. Camacho’s favorite things about her job is getting to speak to the families. For cardiothoracic patients, in particular, a close relationship is typically made with their doctor.
Due to the duration of the surgery and recovery, Beth Israel provides living arrangements for the families, including a kitchenette to make the process more comfortable. She says that after the surgery, the patients' emotions are palpable because the situation can be very overwhelming. “To give them that life back,” she laments, “it’s just an amazing feeling.”
In between putting hearts into patients, Dr. Camacho takes the time to educate others. The hospital boasts an accredited cardiothoracic fellowship and she assists in the training of upcoming surgeons.
The education does not just stop at the hospital. Dr. Camacho also speaks with high school students virtually to promote the importance of health, heart transplants, and donations. Her reach has extended as far as China.
Dr. Camacho ensured to make it known that she does not perform these transplants alone.
She performs with a team that consists of eight or nine people, including an anesthesiologist, a CRNA, two perfusionists, a circulating nurse, a scrub tech, and a first and second assistant.
She referred to them as impressive and said, “Without them, there’s no way I could’ve accomplished this.” When referring to the staff, she says,
“People are like a family here.” She entrusted the hospital with the care of her father on two separate occasions, the last being an aortic heart valve surgery last year.
She joyously reports that he is currently healthily living his life.
Entering Ms. Camacho’s office, you are greeted by her six certifications, tokens of appreciation on her desk, and a smiling teddy bear in scrubs.
When asked about her plans for the future, she says that she plans to continue to perform transplants for the next few years, and just recently brought on a partner to assist her. She does not see herself slowing down yet and said, “Even if I did it only once in my life, it would’ve been a privilege.”