Florida teacher undergoes heart surgery, married in hospital
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Daniel Pecoraro and Lisa Siegel weren’t supposed to get married on a Monday.
But from his hospital bed in southeast Florida on Nov. 7, Pecoraro decided that day was going to be the best day of their lives.
He had been admitted to HCA Florida JFK Hospital in Atlantis, just south of West Palm Beach, three days earlier with chest pains – only to learn he needed triple bypass surgery days before the couple’s planned wedding ceremony.
“I said, ‘Let’s get married right away. Call the rabbi and have him come here,’” Pecoraro recalls. “We had the marriage license and I didn’t want to lose it.”
The wedding was hastily arranged, but the wedding surely was not. Siegel and Pecoraro had been engaged for eight years and were planning a quaint ceremony at his mother’s house in Boynton Beach with a grand dinner party afterwards.
Then everything changed.
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Pecoraro, a 55-year-old science teacher at LC Swain Middle School in Greenacres, began having chest pains on November 4 while running between meetings at school.
“I started to feel a shooting pain in my arm,” he recalls, acknowledging the pain from days earlier. “I spoke to the secretary, who told me I better take this seriously.”
After going to hospital, Pecoraro learned that an artery in his heart was only letting 10% of the blood it was supposed to pass through – causing him chest pains and threatening his life. Triple bypass surgery was the only option, and he was scheduled for three days before his planned nuptials.
Doctors in the United States perform about 500,000 coronary bypass surgeries each year with a success rate of about 98%. Pecoraro knew that post-surgery recovery would take weeks.
“I won’t be back at work for six to eight weeks and I won’t be able to drive for eight weeks,” he said. “I couldn’t have stood or participated in the wedding ceremony.”
That’s when he decided to pop the question (again) and ask Siegel, a 48-year-old jewelry store owner, if she exchanged her vows in the hospital chapel.
“I said it was a great idea,” she recalls. “I said yes!'”
Nurses and hospital staff decorate a chapel for an emergency wedding
The couple had planned to go to the chapel for a small ceremony with their parents. Afterwards, they would return to Pecoraro’s room to eat his mother’s cookies and toast their marriage.
But the hospital staff had other plans.
Nurses, carers and other staff gutted the chapel and added a long banquet table with a white tablecloth and wine glasses. They set up a buffet for the couple’s “reception” and filled the chapel with cheers and well wishes.
“I couldn’t believe how beautiful they made it look,” Siegel, whose last name is now Pecoraro, said of the space.
The bride wore a white blouse and carried a small bouquet of colorful daisies. The groom, dragged by his IV, wore a buttonhole pinned to his blue checked long-sleeved shirt. The couple’s rabbi married them in a traditional Jewish ceremony.
There was no time for a honeymoon.
Pecoraro had surgery on November 10 and spent his first day of marriage recovering in hospital.
There were no complications with the procedure and he was expected to be home by Thanksgiving.
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Emergency surgery changed his outlook (but not his homework policy)
The unexpected operation will still mark his life in other ways.
After 18 years teaching seventh grade at LC Swain, Pecoraro said he will miss his students deeply over the holidays. He runs the school’s coin collecting club and was looking forward to an annual rock cutting and polishing lab that he has students do in December.
“I won’t see my kids again until spring break,” he said. “They’re not going to take it so well.”
But he said the surprise surgery and marriage have bolstered his optimistic outlook on life.
“That’s life. It spins in no time,” he said. “I know you always have to look for the positive.”
And that also means that no matter the changes, LC Swain students should continue to do their homework.
Katherine Kokal is an education reporter at the Palm Beach Post. Contact her at email@example.com.