2017 Transplant and Organ Donation Calendar: Dick DeGroot
A heart transplant is rarely a sudden occurrence - most heart recipients have to endure years of living with a damaged heart before they even qualify to be on the waitlist for a new one.
Dick DeGroot's complicated cardiac history included three or four heart attacks; the installation of two or three defibrillators; an attempted cardiac bypass surgery; and the installation of a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), a mechanical pump that helps the heart distribute blood to the rest of the body.
"I told my wife I didn't think I would get a heart because I was too old," says Dick, now 70. "I thought I would have the LVAD until I died."
Determined to make the most out of life with an LVAD, Dick - who lives in Kaukauna, Wis., - attended cardiac rehabilitation at Appleton Medical Center, where he befriended Dave Barta. The two men and their wives frequently communicated on how they were doing and swapped ideas about the best ways to incorporate their LVADs into their lives.
Then, while Dick and his wife Barb were at a fish fry in July 2013, Dick's cell phone rang. He nearly ignored it because he thought it was someone else's phone, but Barb insisted he pick it up. It was his gift of life. "Needless to say, we didn't have any fish that night," Barb says. The two rushed to Madison, where Dick received the gift of life with a new heart. Later, he and his family discovered it was the same heart that had been offered to Dave. "I figured the doctors wouldn't go through the trouble of putting it in me if it was a bad heart," Dick says.
Since receiving his transplant, Dick has become an active participant in his life again. The man who once had to take a break at his mailbox before coming back inside now wrestles and swims with his grandchildren and travels around the state to watch them compete in sporting events. "I can do anything I want to do now," says Dick.