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Story with Heart: Student Chris Molnar Shares Journey as Transplant Patient with MCCC's Future Nurses

2/15/18


Molnar speaks from the heart as he shares his transplant story.

Molnar takes questions from an engrossed audience of nursing students as faculty member Maria Molle looks on.

Chris Molnar, center, and Nursing faculty member Maria Molle, with students, from left, Suyesha Pallava, Gabriella Hahn, Mihai Toma, Maelle Louis-Jean and Wendy Hernandez.

Students show their appreciation at the conclusion of Molnar's presentation.

West Windsor, N.J. – April is "Donate Life Month," dedicated to encouraging Americans to register as organ, eye and tissue donors, and to celebrate those who have saved lives through the gift of donation.

Mercer County Community College (MCCC) student Chris Molnar will be ready to encourage people as only a transplant patient can – from the heart.

Molnar, of South Brunswick, appears to be a healthy 24-year-old. But listen to his story, and one quickly realizes that health for this young man is a precious gift. Over the past five years, he has endured a long and harrowing road that was, at multiple junctures, life-threatening.

As he pursues his associate degree in Communication at Mercer, Molnar has been turning his story into a teaching moment for the college's Nursing students. During his semesters at Mercer, he has spoken to three classes of advanced nursing students, as well as the MCCC Student Nurses Association.

At a recent talk, Molnar recalled back to December 2012, when he had just completed Marine Corps Boot Camp and was at home on leave. “I was hanging out in my friend’s kitchen when I suddenly lost my vision,” he said. As it turned out, Molnar was in the middle of a massive stroke.

He was rushed to the emergency room at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and was told that his heart was in bad shape. The doctors also informed him there was scarring on his brain from previous strokes, of which he had no knowledge. And, to top it off, he was in heart failure.

Disbelief and denial were his first reactions. “This was all news to me. I didn’t believe it,” Molnar said.

Additional testing revealed that Molnar’s condition was even more serious than first described. “My parents were told that my heart was gearing up for a major event. They suggested my family say their goodbyes to me," he stated.

At this point, a bed had opened up at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Hospital and Molnar was quickly transported there. His heart was now five times its normal size and he was in end stage heart failure. 

“They told me that I needed a heart transplant and, until a donor could be found, a heart pump would need to be inserted,” he said, adding that he had a third stroke in the hospital even before the pump could be inserted.

Finally Molnar was stable and, with A1 status, he was at the top of the donor list for medical need. He received his transplant four months later on April 9, 2013 at the age of 19. The surgery was difficult and, when it was over, he was placed in a 12-hour medically induced coma.

Recovery was long. Molnar had follow-up visits to his doctor twice a week, which gradually tapered off to once a month. He needed injections to remove the blood clots for six months and he recuperated at home for a year. (These days, he sees his doctor twice a year.)

Still a member of the Marine Corps, Molnar became part of the “Wounded Warrior Battalion” and began to receive care at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for neurological damage. In April 2015, he was medically retired from the Marine Corps.

He says he welcomes the chance to speak to nursing groups. “It’s important for nurses to see patients as people. And it’s my opportunity to thank them for going into the medical field. So many dedicated healthcare professionals helped me regain my life. There are millions of patients like me who don’t get a chance to thank their medical team,” he told the students.

As he completed the formal portion of his talk, hands quickly went up, as the students asked a range of insightful questions: What were his symptoms leading up to his diagnosis? Did he have family history for this condition? What was the process of finding a donor match? Does he have lasting effects? How did he cope mentally with all that has gone on?

Molnar said he never gave up. “It never crossed my mind. I just wanted to get it over with and move on with my life. My entire family and my community have been so supportive throughout.  There were many community fundraisers for me in South Brunswick.”

Molnar recalled that his medical team made a big difference by establishing his trust from the outset. “The best thing the doctors and nurses did was to treat me like a Marine, not a kid. They were blunt and did not sugarcoat my situation. That helped me understand what I was facing and find the strength to do what I needed to do,” Molnar said.

By chance, Molnar’s story got the attention of the famed Dr. Oz, who happened to be at Columbia-Presbyterian on another story while Chris was getting his heart pump.

“I sat and talked to the producer. Then they interviewed me twice at my house, and then they filmed my surgery. I was able to see my surgery,” Molnar said. The show, called NY Med, features Molnar in episode 2 of season 2.

When his life was finally his own again, Molnar decided to enroll at Mercer. “Even though I live in Middlesex County, MCCC is actually closer and I had a few friends who went there after high school and said it was a good school,” he explains.

Molnar has not been disappointed. “My experience has been good.  After everything I went through, I needed a lot of tutoring and support. Once I was retired from the Marine Corps and their tutoring support, I was looking to continuing to work on math, reading and writing.”

Mercer has proven a great fit. “The communication program, including both radio and television classes, is very hands-on. I have liked every single one of my communication teachers, who have been extremely helpful and willing to work with me in any way they can. I am very grateful,” Molnar said.

As he completes his final semester, Molnar recognizes that he is on a new path. He has taken multiple radio and television classes and worked hard on his public speaking skills. Last year, he was interviewed on New Jersey 101.5 radio (WKXW) and has spoken to various groups -- from younger kids, to veterans, to students like those at Mercer.

"I want to motivate others to donate blood and to sign up to be organ donors. Sharing my story means a lot to me,” he said.

After graduation, Molnar is looking forward to more free time to travel and speak on a larger scale. He is also working on a book about his experience, which he plans to finish and publish.

"And, I just want to live my life and enjoy every day,” he said.

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