If it weren’t for a lifesaving transplant, John Rod would never have met his great-niece, been able to travel to see his family back in Michigan or keep fishing.
John is originally from Michigan but has spent most of his life in Omaha. He had his first heart attack at 43 years old, and with it came a number of complications.
After John’s heart attack, his doctors at CHI Health Creighton University Medical Center Bergan Mercy sent him to Nebraska Medicine. Physicians there gave him six months to live unless he made some changes.
John quit smoking that day, and five months later he had an LVAD implanted.
An LVAD is a pump used to help patients with end-stage heart failure. It helps the heart pump blood to the rest of the body.
Shortly after, John was listed for a heart transplant.
For the next four years, John waited for good news.
On Jan. 21 around 1 p.m., John received a phone call he thought was a simple update about his recent blood work.
It was the call to let him know a heart was available.
The next day, on Jan. 22, 2016, John received a new heart from an 18-year-old donor.
“You never know when that phone call is going to come. That’s the funny thing,” John said. “And when you’ve been waiting for a heart for four years, you’re not going to turn it down.”
John’s full recovery did take some time, but by the end of his 19 days in the hospital after his surgery, he was walking a mile on the floor.
“The first few times they get up you and try to walk, it’s a chore,” he said, “but the best thing for me was to get up and walk to help heal and feel better faster.”
John said he and his partner Linda always loved camping before his heart attack, but eventually his health got so bad he couldn’t set up the camper.
They still, however, have their boat and spend their days fishing.
After John’s transplant, he and Linda embraced their experiences and found ways to spread the word about heart health.
John spent time with several friends traveling across Nebraska and Iowa educating firefighters, EMTs and first responders about LVADs.
“At that time, people didn’t know that you can’t do things like CPR on people who have an LVAD because they don’t have a pulse,” John said. “So, we did a lot of education around here because this was an important step for me to get here.”
John and Linda also started a support group in March 2013 at Nebraska Medicine for patients and loved ones going through treatment for heart disease.
The support group is still going strong, and John and Linda still attend, even though John received his transplant.
“There wasn’t a lot of information out there for us, and having that support would have been really helpful,” he said. “We still go today because I still have the story of living with this for four years.”
At the same time John received his transplant, Linda was diagnosed with breast cancer. Just a few months after he was out of the hospital, they began her journey with surgeries and treatments.
Now that the two are healthy again, they still enjoy fishing, traveling, and spending time with family.
John has written to his donor’s family, and although he hasn’t heard back, he says it’s “time to write again.”
He wants them to know their loved one saved his life and gave him the ability to see his great-niece and travel.
“You can’t express your condolences enough, and I realize how big of a decision that was for their family,” John said. “They saved my life.”