Ex-patient a big fan of surgeon

Helen McAfee bought a $60 ticket to Kiki’s Celebrity Cooking School when she learned Dr. Jose Cruzzavala was one of the cooks.

“Dr. Cruzzavala saved my life,” said McAfee of Parkersburg. “I wanted to be here.”

The cooking school and dinner were held last Saturday night at West Virginia University at Parkersburg’s Culinary Academy to benefit arts education programs for youth at the Parkersburg Art Center.

McAfee, 68, underwent five-way heart bypass surgery on April 19 at Camden Clark Medical Center’s St. Joseph’s Campus. Cruzzavala, a cardiothoracic surgeon, performed the surgery.

McAfee said she had been experiencing a burning sensation in her chest and a heaviness in her arms when exercising. “I knew something was wrong,” she said.

She had been working out at a local fitness center for about 30 years. McAfee believes her exercise regimen played a large part in her being alive today.

“Dr. Cruzzavala is a kind person,” with a quiet, reassuring manner, McAfee told me.

“He patted my hand at the hospital and said ‘I am taking care of you in there,'” she said.

The surgeon and grateful patient talked at the fundraiser and posed together for a photograph.

Cruzzavala made a black bean side dish for the six-course dinner. He spent several hours before the dinner cooking the beans, chopping the yellow and red peppers, onions and tomatoes, and adding olive oil and other ingredients for the dish.

Cruzzavala said beans are filled with protein, vitamins and fiber, while peppers contain antioxidants to protect the body.

“The way we eat is important,” he said.

McAfee smiled during the surgeon’s cooking presentation.

McAfee resumed exercising a month after the operation. She volunteers at the art center and Smoot Theatre.

“I’m a lucky girl,” she said.


Elmer Blankmann was remembered as someone who helped West Virginia University at Parkersburg and its students, brought economic development to Wood County, was a family man, a positive person and a devout Catholic.

A celebration of Blankmann’s life and Memorial Mass were held last Saturday morning at St. Michael’s Parish in Vienna. Blankmann, formerly of North Hills, died on Aug. 3 in Merritt Island, Fla.

Saturday was his 95th birthday.

Jenny Keup of Parkersburg spoke at the luncheon in the church after the Memorial Mass.

Keup said Blankmann was the first person to offer assistance when she became executive director of the WVU at Parkersburg Foundation in 2006.

Blankmann was the foundation’s first executive director in the early 1970s.

“Because of his (Blankmann’s) enthusiasm for the job and the wise and thoughtful leadership he provided, the foundation is doing very well today,” Keup said.

“Over $220,000 a year is provided to support student scholarships. One of those endowed scholarships bears Elmer’s and Helen’s (his wife) name. Millions of dollars now underwrite the operation of the college because of what he started,” Keup said.

“Elmer has left a magnificent legacy of giving to others whether it was by using his God-given talents at work, at home or in his community,” Keup said at the celebration. “He will always be remembered by me and I’m sure by others, as a fine example of a life well lived.”

Blankmann was a positive, “can-do” person, Keup said.

In 1978, Blankmann became the first director of the Wood County Economic Development Authority, which works to bring businesses to the area, according to his obituary.

Lynda Molinaro of Vienna helped with the luncheon as a member of the church’s St. Martha Circle.

“Elmer was a very nice man,” Molinaro said.

Lynda and her husband, Lou, noted their friend became “quite a chef” while living in Florida.

Blankmann was known for his white chicken chili, which was served at Saturday’s celebration.

“He (Blankmann) enjoyed watching chef Emeril Lagasse on television,” Lou Molinaro said. “We called him Elmeril.”

Contact Paul LaPann at plapann@newsandsentinel.com