A 65-year-old man who was stabbed in the heart with an ice pick during a robbery Saturday night was in serious but stable condition yesterday thanks to the shock-trauma team at the Washington Hospital Center's Medstar unit.

James McNelis, attacked outside his home in the 1400 block of Montague Street NW, lost his wallet, $120 and nearly his life when the ice pick lodged in his heart.

But he was lucky, because the ice pick was not removed after the stabbing, said Dr. Bikram Paul, associate director of the shock-trauma team.

"When he arrived the ice pick was sticking through the breastbone," Paul said. "You could see it moving, pulsating as the heart contracts."

Paul said paramedics put tape around the ice pick to hold it in place because if a stabbing instrument falls out or is pulled out, the patient may "bleed into shock."

An ambulance rushed McNelis to the hospital shortly after 10:30 p.m., according to police. The Medstar unit then issued an emergency code, quickly summoning a team of three nurses and five doctors, including a surgical resident, anesthesiologist, nurse anesthetist and a special shock-trauma surgeon.

McNelis "was conscious and alert," Paul said. "We checked his vital signs and he had not gone into shock. He was very scared." McNelis' age was a concern, Paul said, because older people usually don't survive very long if they go into shock.

"It was just like open heart surgery," Paul said. "After cutting the breast bone, an assistant held the pick intact so it wouldn't move." The ice pick, according to the doctor, had created a tiny hole in the heart's left ventricle, which was repaired with stiches.

District police said yesterday they have no suspects in the case.