Couple brought together by heart transplants at Strong

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SHAFAQNA- Esther FitzRandolph, 68, lay on a gurney in a Strong Hospital operating room, waiting to exchange her weary heart for a healthy one.

A lifetime of heart trouble and illness, several anxious months and a miracle of an organ donation had led to this.

“Is it perfect?” FitzRandolph heard the surgeon ask someone. “I don’t want it unless it’s perfect.” Then she fell asleep.

— August 2010

Daniel Pszczolkowski, 68, watched as Strong Hospital health personnel stuck him full of IVs. His hospital room was cleaned up after a “farewell before surgery” party his family held for him the day before.

Pszczolkowski’s new heart almost didn’t come in time. He had coded — gone into cardiac arrest — twice in the hospital weeks before.

But a heart had somehow arrived, and Pszczolkowski thought of his family, waving goodbye after his party, as he was wheeled down the hall toward the operating room.

— April 2011

***

FitzRandolph and Pszczolkowski lost their biological hearts in Strong hospital rooms eight months apart, but on Saturday they pledged their lives to each other in a hospital commitment ceremony — Strong Hospital’s first such ceremony between two heart transplant patients.

The two met while FitzRandolph was back in the hospital in January 2011 for transplant complications. Her friend John, who was also waiting for a heart, said he had someone for her to meet.

“There was such a connection from the moment I met Dan,” she said. “We thought about things the same way.”

Pszczolkowski, whose health was deteriorating as he waited for a heart, wasn’t so sure about matchmaking at his age.

“I didn’t know how was I was going to turn out,” he said, adding that while FitzRandolph was “a great lady,” he wasn’t looking for a relationship. “But John said, ‘You never know what’s going to happen in the future.’ 

Strong Heart transplant coordinator Liz Powley monitored both patients during their recovery periods and, knowing that John was trying to trying to get them together, would drop not-so-subtle hints during appointments.

“I would ask Esther, ‘Have you talked to Danny recently?’ ” Powley said. “And to Danny, ‘Esther’s a great cook … have you had her waffles?’ 

Powley gave FitzRandolph’s phone number to Pszczolkowski three times, because he kept losing it, she said. The two would text each other for months, brushing shoulders occasionally at rehab and blood lab appointments while recovering at home — FitzRandolph in West Seneca, Erie County, and Pszczolkowski in Cheektowaga, Erie County.

Finally, Dan decided to make a move earlier this year.

“He showed up at my door one day to see how I was doing,” FitzRandolph said. “and we never stopped talking. I don’t think we’ve been apart since that day.”

One day Powley walked into an exam room for an appointment with FitzRandolph, and Pszczolkowski was there, holding her hand. “I was so happy,” Powley said. “But I think it would have happened with or without me.”

Dr. Lewey Chen, a Strong Hospital cardiologist who handled both cases, said he noticed an inexplicable upswing in Pszczolkowski’s physical state around the time the couple started to get to know each other.

“I said, ‘How is he doing this?’ ” Chen said, adding that when he saw the two of them holding hands in the exam room, he had his answer. “I put two and two together and realized … they have both been doing better lately.”

Robin Carter, FitzRandolph’s daughter, said her mom hasn’t seemed so happy in a long time. FitzRandolph was in and out of the hospital her whole life with serious illnesses or heart issues, but she never let her own ill health get in the way of raising her children or grandchildren, Carter said.

“She would deal with depression, but now, even when she’s sick, you can hear the happiness in her voice,” she said. “It’s because Danny’s by her side.”

The couple know what it’s like to go through major transplants where other sacrificial individuals — the organ donors — are needed to exchange life for life, said Pszczolkowski.

“If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t be here,” he said, adding that he and FitzRandolph now promote the benefits of organ donation whenever they can.

Powley and about 70 of the couple’s family members and friends were present for Saturday’s ceremony in the hospital’s Interfaith Chapel — several floors away from where the couple first met. FitzRandolph wore a veil,Pszczolkowski a musical necktie.

“You’ve got a new heart and you don’t want to waste it,” Pszczolkowski said. “Every day is a blessing.”

Source : http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2014/11/29/heart-transplants-strong-hospital-commitment-ceremony/19670023/

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