Retired Ithaca Teacher Gets New Heart at Strong Memorial Hospital

April 24, 2014

Linda and Fred Knewstub in a photo taken before Fred received a new heart last week.

When the Boston Marathon runners began their 26.2-mile trek Monday, Fred Knewstub joined in the excitement. Less than a week after receiving a new heart, marathon runner Knewstub joined his peers with heart failure and walked a lap around a Strong Memorial Hospital care unit

“The whole gang was cheering for me as I made it around the loop,” said Knewstub, a retired Ithaca middle school teacher. “It was a great moment.”

Knewstub received the gift of life April 16, after waiting for 10 months at UR Medicine’s Strong Memorial. Transplant surgeon H. Todd Massey, M.D., led the team that provided the life-saving heart transplant.  The UR Medicine Program in Heart Failure and Transplantation is the only comprehensive heart failure and transplant service in upstate New York. It is a national leader in research efforts to further the treatment of heart failure and return patients that suffer from heart failure to healthy and productive lives.

“We are so thankful for the generosity of the donor and their family for the gift of life,” said Linda Knewstub, his wife. “It’s not just a heart for Fred, but it’s a gift to his family, friends and community who care about him. Our prayers have been answered.”

Through the months of waiting, Knewstub walked several miles a day to keep himself fit for the possibility of the surgery at any time, and to pass the time. And Monday’s “victory lap,” of sorts, was very special for Knewstub and others on the heart failure and transplantation unit who await similar fate.

“After nearly a year of waiting and exercising regularly, Mr. Knewstub received the gift he was waiting for with a perfect match,” heart failure cardiologist Eugene Storozynsky, M.D., Ph.D. “He is doing very well and I am sure that he will be able to resume his daily walks as soon as he is cleared from his surgical precautions.”

The Trumansburg resident is a cancer survivor, overcoming lymphoma in the 80s, and has faced heart disease for more than a decade.  He was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, or a weakening of the heart muscle, most likely from the chemotherapy he received for his cancer, doctors believe.  Ithaca cardiologist Malcolm Brand, M.D., managed his disease for years and last year Knewstub’s heart began to fail – forcing him to stop running 25 to 30 miles a week – and Storozynsky provided the specialized care he needed.

Storozynsky leads UR Medicine’s Cardio Oncology Program, a specialized program for patients who suffer cardiotoxicity following treatment with some chemotherapy medications.  

The couple is grateful for “the tremendous support we’ve received from the community – our friends,  neighbors and the school district -- for the many cards, prayers, meals and kind gestures “that helped us and our whole family,” Knewstub said. Beverly J. Martin Elementary School children sent him nearly 1,000 hand-folded paper cranes in an effort to make his wish for a new heart come true.

“We are overjoyed for Fred to receive this wonderful gift.  But we can’t help but think about the others, who we’ve come to know over the last year, who are also waiting for a heart,” Linda Knewstub said.

There is a dire shortage of organs for transplant and New York has one of the lowest donor registry rates in the country. However his hometown is located in Tompkins County, where 40 percent of adults are registered organ donors.  That is the highest rate of any county in the state. 

 In New York, there are 10,000 people waiting for organs, more than 112,000 in the country. To register as an organ donor, go to www.donorrecovery.org

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Leslie White
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