Patient and daughter down aisle
With his intravenous pole attached on one side and his daughter’s arm enclosed in the other, Marvin Switzer, a Peter Munk Cardiac Centre patient, was able to walk his daughter down the aisle, despite being restricted to the hospital as he awaited a new heart. (Photo: UHN/PMCC)

Time was not on his side. So it appeared. 

Married with two children, a biomedical technologist and avid marathon runner, it seemed Marvin Switzer, a resident of Newburgh, Ont., near Kingston, took care of himself and his heart.

heart month logoIn 2001, in his early 30s, Marvin careened off course. The diagnosis of a rare heart condition called arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVD) thrust him on a starkly different path, at an unfamiliar pace.

ARVD occurs when muscle in the heart's right ventricle is replaced by fat or fatty tissue. This impedes the heart's ability to pump blood, leading to abnormal heart rhythms, and increasing the potential for sudden cardiac arrest or worse.

Marvin Switzer describes his long and winding medical journey as a heart patient. It included a recent stay at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, which unleashed a flurry of emotion for both Marvin, his family and UHN staff – all spearheaded by a simple question Marvin posed to a member of his care team. (Video: UHN/PMCC)

By the time he was back at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre (PMCC) in the fall of 2017, confined to his hospital room for more than 40 days, Marvin's diagnosis was simple. Doctors told him he could not leave the hospital without a new heart.

Awaiting the arrival of a donor heart – for which there were no guarantees – was the only recourse. And so he waited.

When life gets in the way

The clock also began ticking on another aspect of Switzer's life – his daughter Jennifer's wedding, which was set to happen around the same time. Would a new heart arrive for Marvin in time? Would he survive until then? Would he be able to walk his daughter down the aisle?

Given that Marvin was not allowed to leave the hospital, the options were limited but also clear.

Marvin and his family decided to take matters into their own hands. And, PMCC staff was eager to help.

Two weeks. That was the timeline from start to finish to move Jennifer's wedding to the hospital.

Staff moved to action

"When Marvin emailed me asking if we could offer a conference room so his daughter could get married, I immediately thought: no, we can do better than that," recalls Brigitte Talevski, social worker, UHN cardiac transplant team.  "I just couldn't imagine one of the biggest moments in a couple's and family's life to be reduced to something that felt insignificant and sterile.

"I know that we change lives every day but this was an opportunity to really show that we really do care about not only the whole person but their family as well."

Brigitte sent an email to core members of the heart transplant team. Their responses were overwhelming.

"If our team can make something happen to better a patient's situation, we are prepared to rise to that occasion, whatever it may be," Brigitte says. "I remember the frenzy of emails back and forth that Friday night and throughout the weekend as everyone was throwing out ideas."

Those 14 days saw a group multi-disciplinary healthcare professionals come together, bringing their hearts, talents and team spirit in tow.

"My role for the wedding was coordinator," says Linda Flockhart, Clinical Director, PMCC. "I brought people together and asked people I knew to help out, including my son."

Bridget Dopson, a nurse in the cardiovascular intensive care unit, also had a key role for the in-hospital nuptials. 

"I was told the story of the patient, and felt it was not a lot to ask of me," says Dopson. "I did a certificate in photography at Ryerson a few years ago, and was asked to take the pictures for the wedding."

From flowers and food, to photography and pianist, every last detail was planned and executed by staff for Jennifer Switzer's wedding day on Saturday, Nov. 25.

Flowers on table
From flower arrangements, made and donated by the mother of employee Cynthia Chu, to the wedding cake, music and food, UHN healthcare staff pooled their talents to ensure every detail was thought of for the in-hospital wedding. (Photo: UHN/PMCC)

The wedding cake was made by Brigitte, who helped organize the music as well.

"We also put together little organza bags with chocolates and bought celebratory bubble makers for the guests as a detailed touch," she says. "Of course, we stayed for the wedding to make sure everything from our end was as it should be.

"And, then I cried seeing how happy everyone was."

Adds Flockhart: "I have always loved the DeGasperis (Conservatory) atrium space and transforming it into a wedding venue to make the day special for this family was magical.

"I was so proud to see how so many people came together to pull off this request in two weeks. It was so beautiful watching the two families come together and carry on with life despite all the challenges they faced."

As fate would have it, the magic continued well past that evening.

Two days later, on Nov. 27, Marvin got a phone call. Doctors had found him a new donor heart.

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