Mary Lisa (Malinowski) Holzwarth age 55, of West Mifflin, on January 19, 2020, at home. Born in McKeesport, she was the daughter of Florence Husfelt of West Mifflin and the late Leonard J. Malinowski. She was a homemaker, was creative with crafts and displayed for Home Interiors and liked to play cards. She was a 32-year survivor as a heart transplant recipient, one of the longest on record, which occurred on Sept. 30, 1987 and was celebrated as her second birthday. The need for a new heart was caused by postpartum cardiomyopathy. She was the wife of John A. Holzwarth of West Mifflin; mother of Anthony James (Michele) Holzwarth of West Mifflin; grandmother of McKenna Holzwarth & Zander Holzwarth; sister of Mark (Kimberly) Malinowski of West Mifflin, Leonard J. Malinowski of White Oak and Robert (Meghan) Husfelt of Pleasant Hills; Aunt of Mark Malinowski Jr., Ashley Malinowski, Vanessa, Valerie, Victoria Malinowski, Haley & Jenna Husfelt, Shannon McGinley & Patrick McGinley. Visitation will be held on Wed. from 6-8 p.m. and Thurs. from 2-4 & 6-8 p.m. at the MALOY-SCHLEIFER FUNERAL HOME, 915 Kennedy Ave., Duquesne, 412-466-3300, where a blessing service will be held on Friday at 9:30 a.m. followed by Mass of Christian Burial at Holy Trinity Church, West Mifflin, at 10:00 a.m. with Rev. Michael Conway officiating. Burial will be in Holy Trinity Cemetery, West Mifflin.
Obituary: Mary L. Holzwarth / 'Medical legend' defied the odds to enjoy life with her family
Mary Lisa Holzwarth’s biggest fear was that she wouldn’t live long enough for her baby boy to remember her.
She never dreamed that she would get to meet her grandchildren.
Considered a “medical legend” by her doctors, the 55-year-old West Mifflin grandmother died Sunday of congestive heart failure — 32 years after receiving a heart transplant.
Mrs. Holzwarth defied long odds — even with today’s medical advances, survival rates among heart transplant recipients is only about 13 years on average, according to the Mayo Clinic. The longest any recipient has survived is 34 years, a record set in 2018 by an Iowa man who is in the Guinness Book of World Records.
When Mrs. Holzwarth received the transplant in September 1987, the prognosis was even more grim.
“They gave her a life expectancy of five years after the transplant,” said her mother Florence Husfelt, of West Mifflin. “She hung in there. Her doctors thought she was a medical legend.”
After the birth of her son in March 1984, Mrs. Holzwarth contracted postpartum cardiomyopathy — a rare and unexplained form of sudden heart failure that develops during the last few weeks of pregnancy or up to several months afterward.
“The pregnancy caused her heart condition,” Mrs. Husfelt said. “A heart transplant was the only option she had and it was experimental at the time. She was on her deathbed with about three weeks left to live when a donor was found.”
The donor was a 42-year-old woman whose family asked that she remain anonymous. Though they never knew her, Mrs. Holzwarth’s family was grateful for her life-saving gift.
“I’m just happy that I had 32 years with her,” Mrs. Husfelt said. “I would love to thank that donor and her family, but I don’t know who it was.”
Her first few years as a mother were difficult for Mrs. Holzwarth, due to her health limitations and her fear that her son wouldn’t remember her.
“Her father died when she was 3 years old,” Mrs. Husfelt said. “She didn’t remember him and she was afraid her son wouldn’t remember her. But he’s 35 now and has two children.”
Mrs. Holzwarth, nee Malinowski, graduated in 1982 from West Mifflin North High School and studied at the Douglas Business School before marrying John Holzwarth in 1983.
Mrs. Husfelt said her daughter loved bingo and had a talent for anything creative -— like crafts and interior design — and she worked as a representative of a home interior company.
“She loved decorating and she was very clever at it, along with flower arranging,” her mother said.
A series of health problems in recent years, including cancer, slowed her down but Mrs. Holzwarth doted on her two grandchildren and spent as much time with them as possible.
“She was a wonderful mother and grandmother,” Mrs. Husfelt said. “She was an uplifting person and she was grateful for the time she had.”
Every year, Mrs. Holzwarth and her family celebrated the anniversary of her transplant and they thought of it as a second birthday, her mother said.
“The first year, I hosted a big dinner,” she said. “I think there were 60 people there. Over the years, they got a little smaller but we always celebrated.”
Last year, the family marked the final anniversary at a Red Lobster, Mrs. Holzwarth’s favorite restaurant.
Mrs. Holzwarth also adored her 13-year-old cat “Fluffy,” who died just two days after her owner.
“She must have really missed her,” Mrs. Husfelt said.
Despite her grief, Mrs. Husfelt reminded herself how lucky she was to have so many years with her daughter.
“Her time was very much a gift,” she said. “She was courageous, she was brave and she didn’t complain, even when she was in pain.”
Along with her mother and husband, Mrs. Holzwarth is survived by her son Anthony Holzwarth, of West Mifflin; her siblings Mark Malinowski, of West Mifflin, Leonard J. Malinowski, of White Oak, Robert Husfelt, of Pleasant Hills and two grandchildren.
Her funeral was Friday.
Janice Crompton: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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