In the case of Taylor Givens, 29, and Collin Kobelja, 34, it was all about being in the right place at the right time. For the two organ transplant patients, the right place for them was Virginia’s Inova Fairfax hospital.
Mr Kobelja and Ms Givens each received heart transplants on June 9, 2011 and were in recovery a few hospital rooms apart. Their initial brushes with one another were unremarkable and Collin’s interactions with Taylor when they would cross paths at doctors appointments were chilly.
A Facebook message from Collin to Taylor five years after their transplants sparked a romance. On that Thursday, while Taylor was in the hospital waiting for discharge forms, Collin paid her a visit. Taylor said there was ‘a really strong connection that I don’t think either one of us was expecting.’
They soon started dating and got married in 2019. While they have both had serious medical concerns since their first brushes with one another – Taylor was diagnosed with and is now in remission from lymphoma and Collin had to undergo another three heart transplants – they say having the other by their side makes challenges easier to overcome.
Taylor and Collin married in 2019 and have since settled in Maryland (photo courtesy of Collin Kobelja’s Instagram)
In 2020, Taylor underwent a cardiac catheterization, a procedure in which a catheter is moved through a blood vessel to the heart in order to better diagnose heart conditions
In sickness and in health: Taylor stayed by Collin’s side through a double organ transplant in May 2022 during which he got a new heart and a new kidney. Collin, meanwhile, has done the same for Taylor on many occasions (photo courtesy of Collin Kobelja’s Instagram)
It can take months or even years of sitting on the waitlist for an organ transplant and roughly 3,500 Americans are waiting for a new heart. But the field of research into transplantation is aiming to reduce the duration of time a sick person has to be on the waiting list by introducing methods like using a pig’s heart.
Collin was born with a congenital heart defect and was being wheeled into the OR for heart surgery by three days old. He underwent his first heart transplant at 17 months.
During his childhood, Collin enjoyed the same activities as many other boys his age – tae kwon do classes, swimming, and goofing off with friends that sometimes got him in trouble with his teachers, according to the Washingtonian. He was doing well. But in 2011, at age 22, he began feeling sick but chalked it up to the flu.
Collin’s blood pressure was through the roof and his parents quickly delivered him to the cardiologist who concluded the young man was in heart failure and put him on the list for another transplant at 1A status, the highest priority categorization.
Meanwhile, Taylor, a trained soprano singer with a close circle of friends and a goal of becoming a music therapist, found out during her senior year of high school that her heart was enlarged and was failing to pump sufficient blood throughout her body.
The percentage of blood being pumped out of her heart, which should be about 60 percent and above, was 10 percent.
Taylor’s prognosis was grim. But in June, both on life support, Taylor and Collin underwent surgeries.
The road to recovery was rough, and Taylor missed her high school graduation ceremony. Centreville High School officials gave her an ad hoc ceremony in her hospital room, at which point Collin’s mother noticed Taylor had to fill Collin in.
Collin didn’t seem to care, while Taylor was desperate to link with a person who was facing similar challenges. At followup doctors appointments with their cardiologist, Collin brushed Taylor off, citing an overall unhappiness that kept him from engaging with others.
Taylor told the Washingtonian: ‘I thought, “He’s such a jerk. I hate him.”’
In 2018, Taylor completed chemotherapy to treat a fast-growing form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
Years after an unremarkable first meeting, the pair reconnected in 2016 and married three years later
‘I thought, “He’s such a jerk. I hate him,”‘ Taylor said of her first meeting with Collin at the hospital (Photo taken in 2019 and is courtesy of Collin Kobelja’s Instagram)
They became ‘friends’ on social media but for the most part maintained minimal contact, at least until June 2016, when Collin reached out to her on Facebook asking if their cardiologist still practiced at the hospital where they had undergone their procedures because he wanted to stop by for a visit.
Taylor, meanwhile, was in the hospital at the time. Collin went to her hospital bed and after about 15 minutes of conversation, they noticed the chemistry between them.
Taylor said: ‘It just was like a really strong connection that I don’t think either one of us was expecting.’
Soon, they were exchanging numbers, texting, and making plans to meet up outside of a hospital room. Five days later, they met at a nearby Chinese restaurant. In what could have made a quintessentially heartwarming scene in an unconventional rom-com, they laughed when they both had to take their medicines, the same ones, at the same time over dinner.
Mr Kobelja told CBS: ‘It was great to start dating someone who you don’t have to explain anything to.
‘You can just live your life in a normal way.’
It wasn’t long until they realized they wanted to be together.
Collin said: ‘It was just feelings… We just knew.’
But a new diagnosis would complicate their story and interrupt their plans to share a life together. Taylor was diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leaving her with malignant tumors in her abdomen and chest.
She has successfully completed treatment, though, and is in remission. Taylor and Collin exchanged their vows in 2019. They have since settled down in Maryland.