Toronto hospital gives patient a new heart and an epic celebration of love, all in 1 week

An Ontario man whose life was saved by a heart transplant says hospital staff 'restored his faith in humanity' by throwing an elaborate wedding for his daughter.

Man whose life was saved by transplant says hospital staff 'renewed his faith in humanity'

A downtown hospital atrium was transformed into a wedding venue thanks to the efforts of hospital staff. (Submitted by Marvin Switzer)

It was a wedding worthy of a fairy tale.

A long table was set for 18 guests, a pianist played softly, and the twinkling lights of the Toronto skyline shone in through two-storey windows.

The only catch: the setting was a downtown hospital, and the father of the bride was growing progressively weaker as he waited for a heart transplant that might never come.

Marvin Switzer had been at Toronto General Hospital for two months, dependent on drugs he received through an IV, when he asked if his family might use a conference room so his daughter Jennifer could get married.

Marvin Switzer, a former marathon runner, was diagnosed with a heart condition in 2000. By 2017, his heart was failing altogether. (Frederic Pepin/Radio-Canada)

"She wanted both of the dads to be here," said Switzer of his daughter. "I was the guy who couldn't get out of the hospital, so everyone had to come to me."

The team at Peter Munk Cardiac Centre decided to do them one better, springing into action to plan an elaborate celebration.

Patients are 'part of our family' 

Nurse manager Zelia Souter said it all started with an email chain, with hospital staff chipping in the time and resources they had.

"We had one of our financial managers whose mother creates flowers and bouquets volunteer that she could bring in the flowers. We had the coordinator from transplant offered to have a vocalist, someone that she knew personally," said Souter.

"We look at our patients as part of our family," said Dr. Jeremy Kobulnik, a cardiologist who worked with Switzer. "This is the type of stuff we really enjoy."

Marvin Switzer, with his daughter on one side and his IV on the other, walked down the aisle as 'Wedding March' played. (Submitted by Peter Munk Cardiac Centre)

The result transformed the hospital's atrium into a warmly-lit wedding hall, with staff like Souter moonlighting as servers.

"They did everything that they could to make the wedding an amazing thing," said Switzer, who, along with his IV, walked his daughter down the aisle proudly. "It just renewed my faith in humanity. There are people that just give without expecting anything in return." 

Two days later, the emotional rollercoaster hit a new peak when a doctor came to tell him that they had a transplant lined up for him. 

"She said, 'I have a heart for you.' I said, 'A what?,'" said Switzer. "I fell apart then. I probably cried most of the day… You just aren't ready."

'I couldn't say anything'

Back at home in Waterloo, the newly-married Jennifer received a text from her dad with the news.

"I immediately called him and I couldn't say anything," she said. "It just seemed so surreal that it would happen two days after our wedding."  

Jennifer Switzer spent a nerve-wracking two months visiting her father every weekend in the hospital, never knowing if she'd have another chance to see him. (CBC)

That was back in November, and Switzer has since had successful transplant surgery.

He says he's getting "stronger and stronger" every day.

"Every day is a wonderful day for me. Every day, no matter whether its raining or a sad day or something, they're all good days," he said from his home in Newburgh, Ont.

Both he and Jennifer now look ahead and see years of family togetherness — holidays, vacations, and perhaps, one day, grandchildren.

The Switzer family in the atrium at Toronto General Hospital. (Submitted by Marvin Switzer)

"My dad's probably my best friend so having him be around for those things is going to be incredible," said Jennifer.

She and her new husband both attend Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., where she's studying health sciences and hopes to become a doctor.