Patient Care

Buffalo Men Receive Cherished Gifts for Christmas – New Hearts

Dec. 24, 2015
Nancy and Frank Pluta, left, and Karen and Jerry Galuszka met in a support group for people living with mechanical pumps for heart failure.

Two Buffalo-area men had the same priceless gift atop their holiday wish lists this year: time. Time to give back to their spouses, who have helped them through a challenging diagnosis; time to watch their grandkids grow; time to live life to the fullest.

Christmas came early for Jerry Galuszka and Frank Pluta, because they received life-saving heart transplants at UR Medicine’s Strong Memorial Hospital.

“There’s no way to fully express our gratitude to the families who generously supported organ donation and saved their lives,” Karen Galuszka said, squeezing her husband’s hand. They have five grown children and five grandchildren.

Surgeon Juan Lehoux, M.D., performed the heart transplant for Galuszka on Nov. 20, and just six days later, on Thanksgiving Day, for Pluta.

“Providing a second chance through the gift of life is rewarding for the whole team,” said Leway Chen, M.D., M.P.H.,  director of the Program in Heart Failure and Transplantation, which has performed 192 heart transplants.

The men, friends for the past few years, met in a support group for people living with left ventricular assist devices (VADs). Through the support network, which the Galuszkas created, the men found other commonalities. They are both hard working, family-focused and dedicated to their community, having served as volunteer firefighters years ago. 

The implanted heart pumps maintained their failing hearts and, importantly, allowed them to remain in their suburban Buffalo homes while they waited for donor hearts.

Pluta embraced life with the VAD, refusing to stop golfing, hunting and fishing. He continued to enjoy those hobbies with the support of his wife, Nancy, and friends -- he was deer hunting on Nov. 25 shortly before transplant cardiologist Jeffrey Alexis, M.D., called to say a match was available. 

He had waited five years for the donor heart to become available, primarily because there is a severe shortage of organs in New York.  Only 25 percent of eligible adults have joined the organ donor registry in the state, making it one of the lowest in the nation, according to the Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network, which coordinates donations in this region. To join the registry, go to

Karen Galuszka and Nancy Pluta were surprised to see each other at Strong Memorial Hospital, relieved to have found familiar faces and to share the journey to recovery.

Pluta returned to his home in Hamburg Dec. 19.  Galuszka hopes to sleep in his own bed in West Seneca soon.

The UR MedicineProgram 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 experiencing heart failure to healthy and productive lives.