Heart transplant patient shares his survival story

‘Every day is a blessing.’

By: Al Wicklund
   People who donate their organs can save lives, Steve Franzman of South Brunswick told members of the Clearbrook section of the National Council of Jewish Women Monday in Monroe.
   Mr. Franzman should know. His life was saved by a heart transplant in 1994.
   Mr. Franzman said he had a seven-month hospital stay as part of an experience of pain, despair and frustration before he received a heart transplant.
   He said his speaking to groups such as the NCJW Clearbrook Section was his "thank-you card" for what he received.
   "Every day is a blessing," he said
   Mr. Franzman, who now lives in Princeton Walk, was at work in New York City seven years ago when he had what he later learned was a heart attack.
   Shaking off this morning episode of illness, he said, he drove to his home in Rockland County, a New York county north of the New Jersey border, where he became ill again and ended up back in New York City at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital where he received an operation for a quintuple heart bypass.
   He said he spent five weeks in intensive care before suffering another setback, congestive heart failure. His heart had been too badly damaged to sustain him.
   "It was then that I met Dr. Oz, the Wizard of Oz," Mr. Franzman said.
   Dr. Mahmet Oz provided him with an artificial heart, a machine that kept Mr. Franzman alive and functioning during a period of waiting.
   "I was like the Tinman in the Wizard of Oz looking for a heart," he said.
   He said there were tens of thousands then waiting for a heart transplant — the waiting list is now 75,000.
   "There’s a democratic process involved in heart transplants. Those chosen are not the wealthiest or the politically connected," he said.
   Mr. Franzman said the selection is determined by who is the sickest person most in need. In addition, there has to be a match between patient and donated heart in several areas, including blood type and size of heart, he said.
   Mr. Franzman said the hospital let him go home for Yom Kippur in September of 1994 when he got the call that there was a heart available for him.
   "On Dec. 31 of that year, I walked out of the hospital," he said.
   "I was 58 when I got the transplant. I’m now 68."
   He said he takes medication eight times a day on a precise schedule, watches his diet and exercises regularly.
   Mr. Franzman and his wife, Sharon — who went through all the emotional ups and downs with him — moved to the area to be near their daughter and grandchildren, who live in Kendall Park in South Brunswick.
   In addition to talking to groups about his experience and the importance of organ and tissue sharing, Mr. Franzman does a standup comedy routine that keeps him busy.
   Mr. Franzman works with the New Jersey Organ and Tissue Sharing Network and urges people interested in participating or in getting more information to contact the organization by calling 1-800-SHARE — NJ or online at www.sharenj.org.
   He’s also on the board of the Women’s Heart Foundation.
   "Heart attacks are the leading cause of death for women," Mr. Franzman said.
   He said the foundation can be reached by phone at (609) 771-9600 or 1-866-771-9600 or online at www.womensheartfoundation.org.