Jacksonville Community Rallies Behind Fitz Opie

Jacksonville Community Rallies Behind Fitz Opie
Rosenblum's "Beach Team" of Melvin Jefferson, Fitz Opie and Jennifer Ford

At first, local suit maker Fitz Opie thought the sore on his foot was just an annoying callus. But when it refused to heal and the pain became unbearable, he decided to have it checked out at Baptist Health emergency room.

Little did Opie know the “annoying callus,” would turn out to be a life threatening – and life changing – medical problem.

But that’s what happened – Opie’s “callus” turned out to be related to a heart problem that was impeding circulation of his blood. “With further testing, they found out that my ‘Widowmaker’ artery was 80 percent blocked. If this hadn’t happened, I might have been walking across the sales floor and keeled over dead from a heart attack,” he recalled.

Opie is a custom specialist for Rosenblum’s Custom Suits, a fourth-generation, family-run business. In business for 123 years, the store is currently run by brothers, Bob and Richard Rosenblum. According to Bob, the personal “relationship with their customers” is one key to their success. “That’s the most important thing. And it’s also how we dress them and treat them that is important. Most of our customers love clothes, they know clothes. We have great service, and we have good people who work for us too.”

Rosenblum said Opie is one of those people. “He’s like a brother. We’ve always confided in each other, always been friends and he’s always watched out for my business like it’s his business. He’s a remarkable guy.”

Opie said he considers Bob and Richard to be family as well. “We’re all around the same age and we’ve been involved in the clothing business, pretty much our whole lives. We all started as teenagers. We just get along and communicate with each other really well.

With his usual work ethic, Opie worked up until the day he went to the E.R. He said he didn’t present any of the typical symptoms, which include: high blood pressure, high cholesterol and chest pain. But once he was admitted to the hospital, the extent of his illness became clearer.

He received two stints in his heart to help the blockage. He also faced an incredibly difficult choice when it came to his leg. “They gave me my options about my leg. They said, ‘You can stay in the hospital, and we can try all kinds of crazy things to save your leg, or we can do a partial amputation and you can get a prosthesis and learn how to walk again and go back to work and have a regular life.’” Opie ultimately decided to get the amputation.

Opie’s daughter launched a GoFundMe page to help cover the mounting medical costs and the response was overwhelming. The page started with a goal of $20,000. As of now, the GoFundMe has reached almost $88,000 with 290 donations. Many of the donors are customers of Opie. Some are anonymous donors, and some are members of his church, Our Lord at St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church in Palm Coast.

Opie back at home after prosthesis with wife Elizabeth and Bishop Nicholas and Father Vastly
Opie back at home after prosthesis with wife Elizabeth and Bishop Nicholas and Father Vastly

Religion is a huge part of Opie’s life. He has been a member of St. Nicholas since 2001 and serves as a Deacon. He and his wife, Elizabeth converted to Russian Orthodox when they were 26 years old-the same day they were married. He has taught himself Russian and even Old Slavonic, the oldest attested Slavonic language.

While all the donations are special, Opie said the ones from members of his church are especially meaningful. “It is really touching. Those people are my fellow parishioners and my priest. The first 20 donors were Russians from Palm Coast, which was really heart warming.”

Over the last year, Opie has been rehabilitating and re-learning to walk. Doctors told him it would be six to eight months to get walking again. He did it in five. Opie has nothing but praise for the doctors of Baptist and Brooks Rehabilitation. “The medical community in this town is unbelievable. I would do free commercials for Baptist because they’re amazing.”

Fitz Opie with family and his Priests at the hospital
Fitz Opie with family and his Priests at the hospital

These days Opie is working three days a week at Rosenblum’s. He is also enjoying time with his tight-knit family. He and his wife have been together since they were 17 years old. During his ordeal his daughter Masha and her family moved from San Diego, California to Avondale. Opie loves to spend time with his granddaughter, Ella. With her, he recently achieved a milestone in his recovery: “I took my granddaughter down to see the ducks where I live and I was able to walk over grass. That’s a big deal because it’s not smooth and hard.”

Opie said the silver lining of his medical journey is his ability to use his experience to help others facing similar situations. “I’ve gotten this far along in the ordeal, and I know a couple of people that have also had to have partial amputations. It’s rewarding to be able to help them.”

By Susannah Parmenter
Resident Community News

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