Lezlee (born Leslie) Peterzell-Bellanich was 11yrs old when she wrote her first fictional manuscript entitled Jody’s Problems. The story was about a feisty teenage girl named Jody who typically does not appreciate her parents. In the book, Jody succumbs to peer pressure, has boy crushes, overcomes a drastic health scare, and then ultimately learns the valuable life lesson of cherishing the important people in our lives.
While Lezlee was voraciously hand-scribbling these words on a large yellow notepad, her proud father, Marc Peterzell, an attorney in Atlanta, Georgia, asked his secretary to type up the manuscript page by page so it looked professional. It kept her writing.
More than forty years later, in January of 2021, after her father died, Lezlee discovered Jody's Problems among his cherished things. Instead of writing books, she spent years expressing her thoughts through songwriting and performing. In 2020, however, while her husband, Capt. Rob, was anxiously on the liver transplant waitlist, Lezlee felt compelled to write a book about her husband’s liver transplant journey while incorporating stories from other transplant recipients who gave them hope.
Born in 1968 in New York City then raised in Atlanta, GA, Lezlee was exposed to performing arts and culture at a young age. Her mother, Becky Hoffman, a native of Mobile, Ala, was an educator, drummer and leader of her musical trio, world traveler, and freelance tour guide. Lezlee enjoyed singing with her mom's band as a teenager but realized it was more fun for her when she performed original songs instead of cover tunes.
After graduating Vassar College in 1990 with a Bachelor of Arts, Lezlee moved to "The Big Apple" of Manhattan to pursue her dream as a singer/songwriter while maintaining various corporate sales/marketing jobs. She performed her original material in local and international music venues, colleges, while recording studio and live albums. As a creative person with many layers, Lezlee had trouble categorizing her voice because it kept changing as life moved on. Singing and writing provided a release and she had fun doing it.
In 1999, she met “Capt. Rob”, a native of Union City, NJ. One year later, while on tour throughout Germany and the Czech Republic, Rob asked her to marry him on stage in Prague. Feeling like a team, Lezlee tapped into the more structured side of herself and together they created and built a successful yacht chartering business in the NY Harbor. They represented, owned, and operated private dinner charter yachts for weddings, corporate events and private parties. An artist at heart, Lezlee found ways to unleash her need to be creative by continuing to write songs, perform, record, and collaborate with other musicians.
Capt. Rob and Lezlee settled in Nyack, NY – the very town where her paternal great-grandparents once lived. The name “Peterzell” is still recognized by some old-timers who remember the local Peterzell sporting goods and cards/gifts store. In 2005, their son River was born, named after the Hudson River where Lezlee and Rob met and spent time cruising. In 2009, their daughter, Skye, was born. Being a mother was a life fulfillment for Lezlee, which brought her even closer to her own mother, whom the children called “Bebe.”
Like her mother, Becky, a former medical reporter, Lezlee enjoyed interviewing people and listening to their stories. On May 4, 2019, Becky succomed to a rare blood cancer called myelofibrosis. She died at Emory Hospital in Atlanta on her 78th birthday surrounded by her closest four family members. After enduring this devastation, Lezlee's husband’s progressive liver disease put him on the transplant waitlist. Overcoming her grief, Lezlee began to feel her mother’s joy for life pushing her foreward and giving her strength to weather the oncoming storm.
As described in her debut book, Saved by a Stranger, Lezlee’s husband, Capt. Rob, was diagnosed in 2003 with a rare autoimmune disorder called Primary Sclerosing Cholangtis (PSC) shortly after they were married. They knew that “one day” he would need a liver transplant, but that did not stop them from living their lives. In 2018, it became apparent that the need for a transplant was approaching but the lack of donors in New York led the couple on a quest for more knowledge and answers to save Rob’s life.
After much research about organ transplantation, they thought the answer was temporarily relocating to St. Augustine, Florida in order to get listed and transplanted at the world renowned Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville. This move happened just before the Covid-19 pandemic which also shut down their yacht chartering operation. With so much fear and uncertainty, the one thing that felt hopeful was attending Mayo Clinic's weekly Second Chance support group for liver and kidney transplant patients led by one of the transplant social workers. These fellow transplant patients gave the couple knowledge and encouragement. After hearing so many incredible stories, Lezlee felt that there was a larger writing project inside her. So, in early April 2020, she spent the next six months interviewing various liver and kidney transplant patients, caregivers, a few donors, and transplant professionals. Saved by a Stranger not only tells Lezlee and Rob's personal story but includes chapters of inspirational survivial stories of other transplant patients and medical professionals.
In Saved by a Stranger, the author hopes that in describing different types of liver diseases, transplant outcomes, and what actually happens before, during, and after an organ donation and transplantation, the reader will gain a wider perspective. Utlimately, this knowledge will break down fears and misconceptions around this topic ultimately leading to an increase in organ donor registration. In addition, she hopes that transplant centers across the country will implement a weekly support group led by their transplant social worker. Mostly, through storytelling, she wants to give hope to those waiting for a transplant.