Can love help mend the heart? Esther FitzRandolph and Danny Pszczolkowski were both dealing with heart failure – broken hearts, if you will – and progressing through different phases of the heart transplant process when they met as patients at UR Medicine’s Strong Memorial Hospital. A romance that sparked during their hospitalizations blossomed earlier this year, and their new hearts are stronger than ever before.
Pszczolkowski (pronounced sho-KOW-ski) was waiting for a new heart in autumn 2010 at the same time FitzRandolph was hospitalized for minor complications after receiving a heart transplant. UR Medicine Heart and Vascular is the only Upstate New York program to offer comprehensive heart failure care and transplantation.
“Another (patient) came into my room telling me that I should meet this new lady on the unit. He is married so I knew he wasn’t going to chase after her,” Pszczolkowski laughed. The pair talked a few times and discovered they had much in common.
“I kept my eye on her and hoped to see more of her,” the lifelong bachelor said.
FitzRandolph was intrigued as well. She returned to her home near Buffalo, and often traveled to Strong Memorial for check-ups or testing. Each time, she visited her new friend and they talked and laughed, connecting on many levels.
She also offered encouragement, which Pszczolkowski needed. The retired postal worker waited many months for a generous gift of life, which came April 24, 2011. H. Todd Massey, M.D., heart transplant surgeon, performed both of their life-saving procedures.
During their recoveries at home, the pair crossed paths at a local cardiac rehabilitation center and bumped into each other at a blood lab. Their friendship grew stronger.
Pszczolkowski asked cardiac transplant coordinator Liz Powley, N.P., for FitzRandolph’s telephone number. “I was waiting for the right time to make my move,” he said.
Powley checked with FitzRandolph about the request and is pleased to have helped play matchmaker. “The unfortunate thing is he lost the darn number several times and I had to keep giving it to him,” Powley laughed.
The 60-somethings put a modern spin on their romance – texting each other for months – and the rest was “magic,” FitzRandolph recalled.
Heart failure cardiologist Leway Chen, M.D., M.P.H., said Cupid’s arrow can be good for the heart, citing studies that show married people live longer than single people.
“I definitely think that the two of them together has made them better, and actually they’re doing better together than they ever have,” said Chen, director of the Program in Heart Failure and Transplantation. “Our team had been seeing them individually before we learned that they were a couple and we all noticed their improvements. If it’s being in love, it works. It works for them.”