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Feature Article

Healthy hearts lead to love

Sometimes finding true love requires bypass surgery.

Rolf and Martha Burkhart met at the cardiac/pulmonary rehabilitation gym at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in 2010. Martha had a single bypass in 2008 and had been coming to cardiac rehab three times a week ever since. Rolf had a triple bypass in 2006 and another cardiac event in 2009 that finally brought him into rehab in 2010.

Quinn Griffis, cardiac/pulmonary rehab lead exercise specialist, introduced the two initially.

“I knew both of them were widowed, and it was really very purposeful on my end,” she said. “I try to match the personalities of the group so patients can help each other. I wasn’t necessarily thinking it would be a romantic connection, but I did think they would have a good connection.”

Cardiac rehab, which consists of structured exercises and heart-related education as well as group motivation and support, usually creates close-knit relationships between members.

“Your class becomes your support group,” said Martha. “We all become very close. And Rolf wasn’t doing a very good job of keeping it a secret that he was interested in me.”

Rolf wooed Martha during class, coming early to talk to her before the workout. She loved his soft German accent. After a few conversations they discovered they went to the same church — First Presbyterian in Corvallis.

“Rolf always sat toward the back and snuck out early, and I always sat toward the front,” said Martha. “I couldn’t believe we’d been going to the same church all these years and never met.”

Shortly thereafter Martha made the move to sit in back with Rolf during church.

“I didn’t think he’d ever propose,” she recalled of their courtship.

“I do things my own way,” Rolf said.

When Rolf did propose in May of 2013, “he was really beating around the bush,” said Martha. “Finally I asked him, ‘Are you asking me to marry you? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!’”

The couple married on July 28, 2013, and they continue to work out together at the cardiac rehab gym.

“Love is very therapeutic,” said Griffis of watching the two fall in love. “Having both had serious heart events, it may seem like these two did not start out with a fairytale beginning, but they wound up with a very happy ending.”