2017 Transplant and Organ Donation Calendar: Dave Barta

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Heart transplant recipient Dave BartaMany high school athletes view preseason physicals as a necessary evil they must endure before tryouts. Few entertain the possibility they could receive a life-changing diagnosis - like Dave Barta of Wrightstown, Wis., did when his physician discovered a heart murmur during his football physical.


The diagnosis: hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition that occurs when the heart muscles enlarge and cause the walls of the ventricles to thicken. It is a common cause of sudden cardiac arrest.


Yet Dave, reasoning that he felt just fine, proceeded to try out for - and make - the football team anyway, and almost got his coach fired when administrators discovered his secret a few weeks into practice. Several years later, his doctor prescribed a beta-blocker to reduce his blood pressure, which kept him relatively healthy until he began developing heart rhythm problems due to his damaged heart muscle in 2001.


Thus began a series of doctor appointments and surgeries, including two ablations to repair his heart rhythm and a pacemaker surgery - yet he still got progressively worse. "It was really hard," says his wife, Penny. "But I felt like whatever we did, we were in it together."


In 2012, Dave's doctor told him it was time to start thinking about a heart transplant, and he traveled to University Hospital in Madison to undergo testing. By that point, he had accumulated large amounts of fluid in his heart, and doctors there told him he could not leave the hospital without a left ventricular assist device (LVAD). An LVAD is a mechanical pump for patients with end-stage heart failure that helps the heart distribute blood to the rest of the body.


Dave, now 52, began attending cardiac rehabilitation at Appleton Medical Center to help maximize his heart function. While he was there, he met Dick DeGroot, now 70, who also just had an LVAD and was waiting for a heart transplant at University Hospital. The two had a lot in common, so they began scheduling their exercise sessions at the same time. When they found out they had the same blood type, they joked they were competing for the same heart.


In July 2013, Dave received the call he had been waiting for - a donor heart had become available and he was a match. However, the heart came from a donor who had engaged in "high-risk" behaviors, and Dave and Penny had previously agreed they would wait for a healthier heart. So they passed, and the heart went to someone else. A month later, another heart became available and Dave underwent transplant surgery.


"When I woke up after the surgery, I just felt so much better," he says. He felt so good, in fact, that he attended a University of Wisconsin football game just two weeks after his surgery.


And that other heart? The evening after they passed on the donor heart in July, they learned from Dick's daughter-in-law that he had been called and had traveled to Madison to receive his transplant. "We were so happy for him," says Penny.


Read Dick DeGroot's Story