Transplant Recipient, Minnesota
Bob was born with faulty heart valves but you never would have known that based on how he lived his life. He was a great athlete at Washburn High School in Minneapolis, making All City in football and Honorable Mention – All State. Throughout his life, he played singles tennis with what some would call “reckless abandon”. Later in life he became a biker and a runner. But at age 44 he started having premature ventricular contractions – his heart was beating wildly and out of control. It was enlarged after years of pumping and pumping to get blood flowing to his body only to have it leak back into his heart through those faulty valves. He had to have emergency surgery where they replaced two of his heart valves with mechanical valves. The hope was that his heart would diminish in size if it didn’t have to work so hard. I mean, that’s what happens to our abs if we quit doing sit-ups, right? Ha! Not so much with Bob’s heart. After a couple of years of feeling “normal”, Bob started noticing he was more fatigued. He could no longer run for exercise, just walk. He was a little winded walking a flight of stairs. His cardiologist said it was time to put him on the heart transplant list because it could take 2 years to get a heart. Two years!! Being the loving wife, I wanted to do something to help . . . so I began volunteering at LifeSource. I went out to different groups and told Bob’s story in hopes that more people would put donor on their driver’s license.
Taking good care of his gift.
Fast forward two years – through months of less energy, more naps but still no heart. Then Bob experienced an episode of heart failure which landed him in the cardiac ICU at Abbott Northwestern. His cardiologist decided he needed to stay there until a heart was found. This put him at the top of the list, so we figured the heart would become available any moment. But moments turned to days which turned into weeks. On Saturday mornings I would bring our 2 year old pup to the hospital for a visit – he missed his “dad” and Bob missed Jack. On Saturday nights I would bring take out pasta and a VCR movie and we’d have date night. We spent our 5th wedding anniversary in the ICU – the nurses put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door to his room. I’m not sure what they thought was going to happen in there – Bob was hooked up to all kinds of cardiac telemetry that they were watching at the nurse’s station. Any change in his heart rhythm and they would have been through that door in a flash!
While waiting, Bob didn’t want to lose muscle by lying in bed all day. He counted the 1 foot tiles on the floor of a big circle hallway and calculated how many of them made a mile. Then he pushed his IV pole along his mile long circular course twice a day to stay as active as possible. He had one false start while there – a heart became available and I got the call at home – but by the time I got to the hospital and Bob had started the surgery prep, they decided it wasn’t the right heart for him. He also experienced the death of someone who had become a friend as they both waited in the ICU for a heart. His friend got her heart, but then experienced an episode of massive rejection and died before she was able to go home.
After two years of waiting at home and 89 days in the cardiac ICU, Bob got his heart on November 3, 1998. He woke up in recovery to find out that Jesse Ventura was our new governor. He thought he was still under anesthesia . . . he kept asking me if it could be true!
We are forever grateful to Bob’s donor, Stephen. We met his 5 sisters and his parents and stay in touch – mostly to let them know that Bob is taking good care of Stephen’s heart. It has been nearly 17 years and Bob continues to passionately live life with his new heart. He participated in the Transplant Olympics that were held here in Minnesota, bringing home a bronze medal in tennis. Now that he has retired he is an AVID Pickleball player – he plays 4-5 mornings a week and has participated in many tournaments. We both work hard to make the LifeSource Golf Classic in Memory of Terri Opp a success each year. Ironically, Terri was a young woman who died 19 years ago at the young age of 26 while waiting for a heart transplant that never came. The money raised by the golf tournament is used by the LifeSource Public Affairs department to raise awareness about organ and tissue donation. Our hope is that soon we can say that donor designation is at 100% and no one has to wait for the life-saving gift that Stephen so generously gave Bob.
Shelley Shutes, loving and grateful wife