Bob Romer’s Heart Transplant Survivor Story
Bob’s heart started to fail when he was only in his thirties.
His fight for his life began with what seemed like benign symptoms–an aggravating cough, shortness of breath and fatigue. A natural athlete who excelled in multiple sports from a young age, Bob was stunned at the age of 38 when doctors diagnosed him with congestive heart failure (CFH). Even at this early stage of his illness, his heart functioned at a 20% ejection fraction (EF). (*EF is the rate at which the heart pumps blood to the rest of the body.) Considering a normal EF is 55-75%, Bob’s condition was severe.
Twelve years post-diagnosis, even after going through three implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) to control his irregular heartbeats and being prescribed a heavy cocktail of medications, Bob’s condition continued to worsen. He lived his life in complete denial and ignored his doctors’ warnings of how serious his illness was. After all, to acknowledge it would be to admit his fear of how near to death he stood. Finally the time came when he could no longer ignore his deteriorating health and symptoms that made life nearly impossible. He agreed to start the process of being put on the heart transplant list.
During his final heart transplant evaluation at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, Bob experienced sudden cardiac arrest and triggered a Code Blue. His 3-day stay in the hospital soon transitioned to three months. The Tufts MC medical team performed an emergency implantation of a temporary balloon heart pump to keep his heart pumping until they could stabilize him enough to implant a left ventricular assist device (LVAD). At this point, Bob struggled with the decision either to take the turbulent, uncertain road to an unlikely heart transplant, or to resign himself to his imminent death. Coming to terms with his fears, Bob chose to battle for his life.
And a battle it was.
After the first LVAD was in for a few weeks, blood clots formed in the pump and Bob suffered an incident of Toxic Encephalopathy (a very serious life-threatening event resulting in symptoms emulating a stroke). Doctors rushed Bob into a second lengthy open-heart surgery to replace the first LVAD. This second operation was successful, the pump operating perfectly. But it resulted in a 6-day coma.
Eventually, Bob made it home with the LVAD, which required a constant power source and monitoring. His time at home was short-lived. A few months later, he went into a deadly ventricular fibrillation, which would normally kill someone in a matter of minutes. However, Bob’s saving grace was his LVAD, which essentially bypasses the heart left ventricle for pumping blood. This allowed the EMTs enough time to drive him to Tufts MC’s emergency room so life-saving measures could be administered. This event turned into another eight months in the hospital.
Bob’s only ticket out of this life was a heart transplant. He was hooked up continuously to IVs and monitoring devices. The wait for a heart challenged his will to live. He saw several of his new friends on the hospital floor die, causing him to question if he would be the next. His physical battle grew into building his spiritual strength to survive through his faith, hope, and the prayers of family and friends. Gratefully, on February 14, 2013… “Valentines Day…” Bob received his heart transplant. In total, Bob spent thirteen months at Tufts Medical Center. The doctors and nurses teased Bob, saying he had more than nine lives.
Bob is now on a managed course of anti-rejection and anti-infection drugs that he will take for the rest of his life. He has been given a new lease on life and wishes to give back to other heart failure patients and their families. Together with his “new heart brother,” and best friend, Pat Sullivan, a fellow Tufts MC patient and heart recipient, they started the HeartBrothers Foundation to answer the emotional, physical, and logistical needs that accompany the long journey back to health that all heart patients and their families must face.