SUNY Retiree Service Corps - Connecting with our retirees through service.
George Rannazzi

George Rannazzi - Personal Retirement Story


The Miracle Man of St. Francis Hospital

Editor’s Note: The title above was given to George Rannazzi by the doctors and the Long Island news station which aired a piece applauding St. Francis Hospital and his survival of the ordeal he describes below. During his 26-year career at Stony Brook University, George was recipient of the Chancellor's and President's Awards for Professional Excellence.

As my eyes slowly opened I became aware of strange lights attached to a foreign ceiling and I could barely hear a whispered voice asking if I knew my name and where I was. Why was Linda asking me my name? Where was I?

June 11, 2010 began as an eventful day. It was Linda’s (my wife of 47 years), last day as a Registered Nurse with Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital. Her clinical specialty was radiation oncology and she was retiring after 26 years in the profession. I planned to gather our grandchildren to greet her with balloons and cheers as she walked out of Sloan Kettering’s Commack, NY site later that day for the last time.

That morning after kissing Linda goodbye, and on my way to the School of Social Welfare in the Health Sciences Center of Stony Brook University where I was assistant Dean for Finance and Administration (Senior Staff Associate), a pain began in my chest and spread through my entire upper torso. This couldn’t be happening to me. I had an important meeting with Dean Frances Brisbane that morning! I felt as though an elephant was dancing on my chest and I knew I was in deep trouble. I pulled over, called Linda (I could barely speak), who called 911 and was on her way to me. I was thankful that the ambulance arrived so quickly, I answered some questions and felt an oxygen mask being placed on my face.

The next thing I remembered was opening my eyes in what I was informed was the ICU of St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn, NY. I had awakened from a two-week medically-induced coma, battling liver, kidney and heart failure. In addition a Temporary Ventricular Assist Device (TVAD) that had been implanted in my chest through my right groin was finally removed.

I had suffered a heart attack and two stents were implanted in my right coronary artery at Good Samaritan Hospital in West Islip. Subsequently, thanks mainly to my wife and family who finally convinced a doctor that my condition was continuing to deteriorate, I was transferred to St. Francis Hospital under the direction of the best cardiologist at St. Francis, Dr. Joseph Minadeo.

The right side of my heart was failing. My survival depended upon the implantation of the TVAD, which would take over the functioning of my heart’s right side and give my heart the opportunity to rest and recover. If that failed, I would need a heart transplant. The doctors hoped that my otherwise excellent physical condition and the award-winning medical and nursing staff of St. Francis Hospital would give me the best chance to survive. My family, who had been at my bed side literally 24 hours a day, agreed with the recommendations of Dr. Newell Robinson, my surgeon and Dr. Minadeo.

After ten days of treatment with the TVAD my heart began to recover and eventually the liver and kidney failure responded to treatment as well. But nerve damage to my right leg and foot became evident, apparently resulting from a complication during the implantation of the heart pump. This nerve damage resulted in right foot drop, a seemingly small price to pay for being a hair’s breadth from death. I also suffered complete muscle de-compensation and loss in weight from 170 to 130 pounds.

Finally, after one month I was released from ICU and taken to my new isolation room. I had contracted Clostridium difficile, often known as C. diff, a contagious intestinal infection resulting from antibiotic treatment that’s cured, ironically enough, with antibiotics. I now had an additional battle to fight. Two weeks later my health continued to improve and a defibrillator was surgically implanted in my chest as a precaution. My physicians and surgeon shared with my family that for the first time they felt I would survive. 

I was in desperate need of intense physical rehabilitation if I were ever to resume a normal life. My family was ready to travel and research the best facilities in the Northeast. I was accepted into Burke Rehabilitation Center and Hospital in Westchester County, NY. I was wheeled into the facility on a gurney, unable to walk on my own. I endured 2 1/2 weeks of intense physical rehab and occupational therapy and finally left Burke Rehab walking gingerly with a cane and a brace on my right foot. I continued with physical therapy and cardiac rehab for the next 10 months.

Here I am, nearly five years post-heart attack, thankful for the excellent treatment I received at St Francis and Burke and eternally grateful to Linda and my family, Dan, Dina, Jill, Chris, Lauren and my grandchildren who never left my side and inspired me to overcome my various health challenges. They were the “wind beneath my wings.” Their ever-constant presence helped to keep all hospital personnel “honest.” The more than 100 get well cards from university administrators and faculty, family and friends near and far, and the prayers from friends and strangers who knew of my plight kept me focused on my recovery.

It was difficult to capsulize this life-changing event for you, and I hope I was able to convey at least in part the ordeal faced by my family and me.Photo of George Rannazzi, Stony Brook University retiree, celebrating his 70th birthday with six of his eight grandchildren.
At 66 years of age I retired from the University in December 2010 at the insistence of my family and over the objections of faculty and non-teaching staff at Stony Brook. After all, wasn’t I the one who said that I would take the hand that God dealt me and make the best of it?

Today, thankfully, I have recovered from my heart attack and the resulting complications and have resumed all normal activities. I am now 70 years old and when asked what Linda and I do now that we are retired our reply is “we do everything we did when we worked, except not work.” We now have the time to do those things we did not have time for when we worked.  We travel several times each year.  Our trips have included visits to Canada, our nation’s national parks, and of course, Florida for part of the winter.

In October 2014, we took a river cruise on the Danube River which departed from Budapest, Hungary and ended our two-week trip in Prague, The Czech Republic. The shore excursions, restaurants, guides and towns and cities, including Budapest, Salzberg, Dunstein, Vienna and Prague were educational and fascinating.

George Rannazz, Stony Brook University retiree, with wife Linda on the banks of the Danube River.
My many routine activities include breakfast each morning with Linda and a 1 1/2 - 2 hour workout at the gym. Ballroom dance lessons, attending the theatre and concerts are also part of our activities. We spend more time with our children and grandchildren and especially enjoy having lunch at our favorite bagel restaurant. It took a few months, but with our increased free time, Linda and I painted our unfinished basement and converted it into a play area for our grandchildren.

To those SUNY employees considering retirement, I would recommend that you develop plans that include, of course, a financial snapshot of your fiscal resources as well as an outline as to how you will approach this new phase of your life. Retirement is wonderful and will enable you to slow down and enjoy the fruits of your labor. It is also the perfect time to catch up on all those things you have always wanted to do.

Life is sweet. Make the most of it.

 

Retirees Service Corps