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Dale Crawford: Heart Transplant Patient Story

Dale is wearing a black tuxedo with a white collared shirt and red tie. He has a beard and red hair. Molly hugs him while laughing. She wears a red dress. She has long straight brown hair, half pulled back.

Meet Dale Crawford

Dale Crawford comes from a family of health care workers, including a mother and sister who are nurses.

“Seeing the way they have helped people made me realize that I wanted to do the same,” Dale explains. “Do my part to make a difference in somebody’s life.”

Dale started his career as a student nursing assistant at UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital before beginning his current job as a neurodiagnostic technologist at UPMC Presbyterian. The 28-year-old spends his time in the epilepsy monitoring unit, where he analyzes the brains of patients and determines how a neurosurgeon may be able to remove the issue, and ultimately, put a stop to seizures.

In December of 2020, Dale started to experience health problems. He couldn’t lie flat and had trouble sleeping. He brushed it off, thinking he was fine, but it wasn’t long before the young man with a passion for helping patients became a patient himself.

An Early Search for Answers

Shortly after the start of 2021, Dale’s condition worsened. Even the simplest of tasks would force him to sit down and catch his breath.

“My wife told me I needed to call a doctor,” Dale recalls. “We arranged for a telemedicine appointment, and when I explained my symptoms, I was told to come to the emergency room right away.”

Dale was admitted to UPMC Presbyterian, where he was diagnosed with an inflamed gallbladder. He was told it would need to be removed and was given antibiotics and fluids in the days leading up to the surgery - still in pain and rapidly gaining weight.

“When I went into the hospital the first time, I weighed 290 pounds,” Dale says. “When I went back, I was up to 330 and had barely urinated or eaten anything in the time in between.”

Heart of the Matter

Although Dale’s original issue was abdominal, his doctors were concerned about possible cardiac problems and scheduled an echocardiogram – a test that uses sound waves to take moving pictures of a patient’s heart. The test also measures a patient’s ejection fraction – or the amount of blood inside the ventricle that is pumped out with each contraction. A normal ejection fraction is more than 55 percent; Dale’s was 15 percent.

He was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, given a full evaluation, and ultimately added to the heart transplant waiting list.

“Everything was happening so quickly, but I certainly had support,” Dale explains. “My wife was my rock throughout the process, and the nurses in the intensive care unit were absolutely incredible. I was in the hospital over St. Patrick’s Day, and they planned a party and tried to make the most out of this ordeal.”

Dale was awakened by a nurse around 3 a.m. on the morning of Saturday, March 20 and told that he was a match for a donor heart that was available. Early that afternoon, nurses held signs of encouragement and threw confetti as Dale was wheeled into the operating room, where David Kaczorowski, MD performed the transplant.

The Road to Recovery

Dale underwent cardiac rehabilitation in the weeks following his life-changing surgery. He recalls that walking was a little difficult after not using his legs in so long, but within six months of the surgery, he was running.

Dale is now enjoying the chance to spend more time with his wife; the two were married in August of 2020 and still newlyweds when Dale became ill. He’s also returned to work, where his personal health journey has had a profound impact on the care he continues to provide to his patients.

“I have a better understanding of what people are going through when they are in a hospital, feeling scared and looking for answers. I’ve always been a rather empathetic person, but now, that’s truer than ever.”

Dale's treatment and results may not be representative of similar cases.

Read more heart transplant patient stories