J.C. Montgomery’s career rewards him with standing ovations eight times a week. Now, he’s the one giving applause — to the people who saved his life: his wife, his cardiologist and the staff at Holy Name.
The Broadway actor, who stars as the Sultan in Disney’s hit show “Aladdin,” had always been in top physical shape, eating well and exercising before each of his performances. At 63, he jogs, crushes the elliptical and, in the summer, rides his electric bike from his home in Teaneck to the New York City theater, a 14-mile trek each way. His health numbers reflected his healthy lifestyle — easily passing a physical only weeks before he suffered a massive heart attack.
“Later, my doctor said the chances of me having a heart attack were about the same as winning the lottery — there was just no indication beforehand,” Montgomery said. “He also said I had the kind of heart attack where one-third of patients don’t make it to the ambulance.”
It happened on a Saturday morning in October 2022 — Montgomery and his wife, Kim Montgomery, were going out for breakfast.
Before they left the house, he suddenly felt like he had a vise around his chest and started sweating. He told Kim whatever it was would pass when she asked if he was OK. But then, he fell to his knees and his arms felt heavy. Ignoring his protests, Kim called an ambulance.
Within minutes, he was at Holy Name, where everyone in the emergency department “worked like lightning,” Montgomery said. Dr. Tariqshah Syed, chief of cardiology, recognized that a small piece of plaque was blocking an artery to his heart, causing a heart attack. Because of the blockage, only half of his heart was working, a condition that most people don’t survive. Dr. Syed prepared him for an angioplasty, a procedure to open the artery and insert a stent to restore blood flow.
“Time was critical,” Syed said. “His physical condition helped, but, if he had waited any longer to get to the hospital, he wouldn’t have made it.”
As soon as Syed opened the blockage, Montgomery felt the vise release its grip.
“Dr. Syed saved my life, and so did my wife. Guys — my advice, listen to your wives, they’re so much smarter than us,” he said with a laugh. “I would have waited for this to pass and instead, I would have passed.”
Montgomery came through his ordeal better than expected — his heart function significantly improved. But, he needed time to recover physically and emotionally. He was angry, depressed and frustrated that he had a heart attack after working all his life to stay fit.
“I really hated the label — that I was someone who had a heart attack,” he said. “I was pretty depressed, and then my wife pointed out that I survived because I was in good shape. She really helped me through this and got me looking forward. Having a heart attack won’t define me — it was just part of my journey.”
Three months later, J.C. Montgomery returned to the bright lights of Broadway with a renewed commitment to heart-healthy eating and fitness. He’s dropped about 20 pounds and is back to his daily workouts.
“Walking back on that stage, I knew I owed those moments to Dr. Syed and the Holy Name team. They’re the ones who deserve the ovation.”