Dog-Walking Encounter Leads to Heart-Saving Miracle

It was a classic New York story. Two friends who hadn’t seen each other in a while reconnected while walking their dogs in Central Park. As they caught up, Elly McGuire, a children’s book author, confided in her friend, Gina LaRocca, MD , Associate Director of Advanced Cardiovascular Imaging at The Mount Sinai Hospital, that her fiancé, Ron Trotta, wasn’t doing well.

Ron,  a three- time world champion ragtime piano player and a meteorologist who produced weather for ABC’s World News Tonight and Good Morning America, had been beset by a series of medical problems, starting with an abscessed tooth in April 2020, which led to a serious infection that spread throughout his bloodstream.  He was hospitalized over Memorial Day weekend and was misdiagnosed with COVID-19, most likely a residual effect of having had the virus in March.  It became difficult for Ron to breathe, and he was placed on a ventilator. Three days later, he was transferred to another hospital, where the infection was correctly diagnosed, but his condition continued to worsen.  Ron then suffered a stroke with a brain bleed, and the hospital’s doctors called a meeting with Elly in mid-June to prepare her for the worst. Ron’s aortic valve was leaking badly because of the infection and the doctors felt that Ron was too weak to survive surgery.

“One doctor looked at me and said, ‘Ron will never come back. You have to let Ron go,’” Elly recalled in a Daily News article about their journey. The couple of 29 years was facing a terrible decision. Elly had only seen Ron twice in the past 23 days, but the next day she spoke with him. “I said, ‘Wiggle your toe if you want to keep going.’” Ron wiggled his toe—and the couple decided they were not giving up.

Elly invited Dr. LaRocca to call into the meeting with Ron’s physicians. Two months later, and with Dr. LaRocca’s help, Elly was able to get Ron transferred to The Mount Sinai Hospital. There they met with Paul Stelzer, MD , who brought 40 years of experience with more than 3,000 aortic valve operations to Ron’s bedside. Ron and Dr. Stelzer hit it off immediately since both sing and play piano. More important, Dr. Stelzer was struck by Ron’s attitude. “His willpower convinced me to go ahead—his spunk, and his sense of humor,” Dr. Stelzer said. And Elly knew immediately that they had found the right doctor. “I let out this sigh of relief. This is the nicest man in the world,” she said.

One week later, Ron had his surgery. While the procedure was complex and potentially dangerous, it was one Dr. Stelzer had performed regularly—and it only took him an hour to replace Ron’s leaky aortic valve. When Ron awoke after surgery, it was a doubly special day. “Happy birthday,” Elly said to him. “Guess what I got you? A new aortic valve!”

Ron made amazing progress over the next month, and was soon playing the piano and trying to get back into singing as part of his rehab. As a fitting finale, he and Dr. Stelzer performed a short, though raspy, duet during a post-surgery visit. With Elly and their Yorkie, Schmitty The Weather Dog, Ron plans to resume bringing his lively music and weather knowledge on web videos and in-person to kids across the country.

Elly marvels at her good fortune, which started when she crossed paths with Dr. LaRocca. “What was it—kismet? Serendipity? That I would go for a walk and there she was? It was meant to be. This is just a case of persistence, determination, and hope.”