The Penguins have been decimated by injuries in the month of November, suffering 66 man-games lost through 20 games. Their misfortune, however, pales in comparison to the story of Pat Celesnik.
Celesnik, a fan from Derry, Pa., suffered life-threatening complications following a heart catheterization in April. Inspired by the Penguins postseason play, Celesnik’s recovery mirrored the Penguins’ breathtaking Stanley Cup championship run.
Monday, two weeks after Celesnik’s inspiring recovery was detailed by Chris Ballard of Sports Illustrated
on the publication’s “Point After” column, she was greeted at her house by Penguins forward Max Talbot, who arrived following practice with an autographed jersey signed by the entire team. (Read the original SI article here
“We take pride in our fans and trying to be out there in the community for them, especially when you hear a story like that,” Talbot said. “I have been hurt for four months. It puts your life in perspective that people are overcoming worse things. When you have a chance to push a puck and win some games to make people happy, you realize how special it is.”
Celesnik was overjoyed when she answered a knock on the door and saw Talbot standing outside wearing his No. 25 sweater and holding a shopping bag.
Celesnik invited Talbot inside to her living room, where her daughter, Mandy, and family friend Pat McCabe and her daughter, Megan, were located. Talbot gave Celesnik a big hug before the two sat down on the sofa to talk about Celesnik’s amazing journey.
As they sat down, Talbot gave her the white jersey complete with signatures from the entire Penguins team around the logo. Celesnik was shocked.
“I am going to treasure this,” she told Talbot. “Max, you were so important last year. It was nice of you to come. Geez, all you guys signed it.”
Celesnik proceeded to tell her all about her illness and the grueling rehab she went through. While they talked, Celesnik’s daughter went and grabbed a caricature of the entire Stanley Cup squad drawn by her nephew Jim, which was one of several pictures that surrounded her during her time at Westmoreland and Latrobe hospitals.
“Can I have one,” Talbot gushed, admiring the artwork. “Where is my beard? Only Tyler Kennedy
and (owner) Mario (Lemieux) have a beard. That’s weird.”
Then Celesnik told Talbot how much he and his teammates meant to her recovery, and how highly she thinks of them.
“You guys have the best mix of personality and talent,” she said. “You helped me out so much when I was sick.
“It’s scary at night when your company leaves (the hospital) and you just sit there and start to think, ‘What am I going to be able to do well?’ Your anxiety gets high. Watching you guys took me all away from it.”
She then invited Talbot into her dining room where there were cupcakes, chips and cookies waiting on the table. Talbot also posed for pictures with Celesnik and her guests before signing several pictures from Game 7 in Detroit for her two older children, Megan and Ryan, who live out of state and could not make it home.
Celesnik had just undergone her heart catheterization when two days later she collapsed at her house, suffering internal bleeding. By the time she reached a local hospital she had lost 40 units of blood. Doctors quickly induced a coma to help stabilize Celesnik, who prior to her crisis had perfect health and worked a full-time job.
“I went through two weeks of up and down health where I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it,” Celesnik said. “I pulled through but had a very long recovery of almost three months in the hospital learning how to walk, learning how to eat.”
Before she even thought of re-learning all those aspects of life we take for granted, there was another question that popped into her mind:
“Is there a Penguins’ game tonight?”
Mandy and her Uncle Scott were at her mother’s bedside when she said this, and she didn’t know how quite how to react because she had been preparing for a question along the lines of ‘Did I have a heart attack?’
“I didn’t even have an answer to the question because I didn’t even know,” Mandy Celesnik said.
Luckily the nurses on hand knew the answer, and they let Pat know there was a game later that evening. From that point forward, as the Penguins progressed through the various rounds of the postseason, her condition continued to improve.
“Watching the Penguins play helped me so much,” Celesnik said. “It got me away from my own problems and gave me something to look forward to the next game. As well as the Penguins got better, I got better. It was a correlation thing.”
Celesnik said she wasn’t the one who noticed the correlation between her improvement and the success of the Penguins, but rather it was her nephew, Jim, a vee-jay for VH1 and the artist of the picture Talbot loved so much. He was the one who contacted Sports Illustrated to pitch the story which was the basis for Talbot’s visit.
During her three month rehab, Celesnik, who has never attended a Penguins’ home game but expects to be strong enough to make the maiden voyage to one within the next month, used the Penguins as the strength to get her through an agonizing time.
They would bring a computer into the room so Celesnik could stay close to the team.
“If there was a game on that night it gave me incentive to take a nap in the afternoon so I would have the energy to watch at night,” she said. “It definitely made a big difference along with the family being there too.”
She even got those around her into the team.
“All the doctors and nurses go involved,” she said. “The doctor even wore a Penguins’ tie.”
Celesnik is home permanently now, able to continue her recovery from the comforts of her own house. She lost most of her intestines and still has issues getting around but the thrill of Talbot’s visit only further helped improve her spirits.
Celesnik knew a representative from the Penguins was coming Monday to bring her a gift, but she had no idea Talbot would be delivering the surprise. Her daughter, Mandy, knew the real story, and keeping it from her mother proved difficult.
“I think she had a clue because she kept saying, ‘(The Penguins are) bringing something but I am not sure what. It might be somebody like a guy,’” Mandy Celesnik said. “She didn’t think it was a player. She kept going up to the window looking outside. We were trying to keep her away.”
Mandy Celesnik was thrilled the Penguins took the time to read the Sports Illustrated feature and then made her mother feel so important.
“She has never had the limelight. She has always been a hard worker and a mom and things. It has never just been about her. This is something she deserves.”
“The Penguins are the best at treating their fans and this is an example,” Pat Celesnik said. “I couldn’t ask for anything better than this. It is so amazing. I will keep it forever.
“They are a wonderful group with really good players and good guys.”
Talbot was extremely happy to come make Celesnik feel so special.
I feel lucky I had a chance to come out here today,” Talbot said. “We just play hockey and you don’t realize how much influence you have on people. It is a great thing.”