Patient Care

Romance Blooms for 2 Seniors on Rochester Heart Transplant Unit

Feb. 2, 2015

Danny Pszczolkowski went to a Rochester, N.Y., hospital to receive a heart transplant.  He knew it was going to be a challenge and it would change his life.  What he didn’t expect was to fall in love.

He met Esther FitzRandolph, who was recovering from the life-saving surgery, and there was an immediate spark. Pszczolkowski squeezes her hand and says, “I went into the hospital for a heart and I came out with a sweetheart.”

Their romance – which started at the University of Rochester Medical Center and culminated with a commitment ceremony there three months ago – underscores the often studied connection between heart and health.  Scientists documented the intricacies of the mind (and heart) on health and over and over results have shown that love and support are good for our bodies.

 Pszczolkowski (pronounced sho-KOW-ski) was waiting for a new heart in autumn 2010 at the same time FitzRandolph was hospitalized for minor complications from her earlier heart transplant. UR Medicine’s Strong Memorial Hospital is the only Upstate New York program to offer comprehensive heart failure care and transplantation.

Introduced by another patient, the pair had much in common beyond their struggles with heart failure and homes near Buffalo, N.Y.

“I kept my eye on her and hoped to see more of her,” said Pszczolkowski, a lifelong bachelor.

FitzRandolph was intrigued as well. She often traveled to Strong Memorial Hospital for follow-up care and visited her new friend each time to talk and laugh, connecting on many levels.

She also offered encouragement, which Pszczolkowski often needed. The retired postal worker waited months for a generous gift of life April 24, 2011.

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 was 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. They held a commitment ceremony at URMC’s chapel on Nov. 29.

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.”