Patient Stories

The Gift of Life: Heart Transplant Saves Life of GE Engineer

Feb. 11, 2022

After a massive heart attack causes heart failure for Bob Schlein, UC Health’s heart transplant team delivers the gift of life.

"I knew something wasn’t quite right,” Bob Schlein of Lebanon said about July 12, 2020, when he became nauseous and started to profusely sweat. What he would soon find out: he was having a massive heart attack that would lead to heart failure.

Bob’s wife, Sue, called an ambulance, and he was taken to his local emergency room, where they ultimately decided Bob needed to be flown to UC Health.

“This call and the quick work by the EMTs saved my life,” Bob said.

After growing up in Vandalia, Ohio, and serving in the military, Bob and his family put roots down in Lebanon more than 20 years ago when he began working for General Electric as an IT engineer. Bob’s family knew there was nowhere else they wanted to go to receive life-saving care—it had to be UC Health.

“It’s great to have all of this state-of-the-art care so close to home,” Bob said.

Bob immediately needed two stents and a heart pump to save his life. Before he was even conscious, the team at UC Health, including UC Health Cardiologists and Left Ventricle Assist Device (LVAD) Nurse Coordinator Tiffany Chastang, told Sue that Bob needed an LVAD. This device is used in patients experiencing end-stage heart failure and helps the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body.

Sue gave the UC Health physicians permission to perform all necessary procedures to save his life and Louis Benson Louis IV, MD, chief of Cardiac Surgery at UC Health and the Louis Buckberg Endowed Chair of Cardiac Surgery at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, performed the surgery.

“Once I was well enough to be extubated, Dr. Louis talked to me about the damage my heart had suffered and what the next steps in my treatment and recovery would be,” Bob explained. “They informed me that I would need a heart transplant and would need to be on the LVAD in the meantime.”

This course of action wasn’t unusual for someone like Bob—two-thirds of patients in the U.S. who receive a heart transplant are on an LVAD first.

“Mechanical circulatory support is very safe and allows us to bridge the patient who has heart failure to a transplant,” explained Dr. Louis.

As Greater Cincinnati’s first and most experienced adult heart transplant program, UC Health boasts a waitlist mortality rate above national benchmarks, and consistently stays in the top 10% of patient outcomes. This comes as no surprise—UC Health pioneered Greater Cincinnati transplantation in 1967.

“The transplant and LVAD care teams were extremely helpful in educating us about the options and how we would proceed,” Bob said. “Not only did they provide thorough explanations of all procedures and potential risks, but they were quick to respond to any questions or concerns. They made the hardest time in my family’s life a little less scary.”

While recovering from his heart attack in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit, Bob had surgery to implant his LVAD on Aug. 7, 2020.

Bob spent nearly the whole summer of 2020 in and out of the hospital.

“It was all a blur,” he said. “Eventually I was able to get stabilized on the LVAD and began my cardiac rehab in September.”

All the back and forth from the hospital, as well as the extended stays, was difficult on Bob’s family. Not only were they dealing with the stress of his transplant, but it was all amid a pandemic.

“They went through more than I know, but they managed to keep an upbeat attitude and positive outlook throughout the whole ordeal,” Bob said of his family. “Any time I had a surgery or was admitted to the hospital, my family and friends would meet in the parking garage to show their support for me and for each other. They made me videos, sent me photos and kept each other company. My wife always had someone waiting for her when visiting hours were over. Everyone went above and beyond to make this difficult period less daunting.”

Bob progressed well, and his team decided to list him for a heart transplant. His place on the wait list was increased, and once they received a suitable heart, the next phase of Bob’s journey would begin.

Ten months after suffering a massive, debilitating heart attack, Bob received the gift of life.

“We received the call very early in the morning on April 22, 2021, that it was time,” Bob said. “My wife and I called our daughters to let them know.”

The surgery went well, and as soon as he was able to, Dr. Louis went to tell Sue that Bob was going to be alright.

“I told her that Bob had a beautiful new heart that was going to serve him well for years to come,” said Dr. Louis after a successful transplantation.

“From the time I arrived at UC Health through my follow-up appointments today, I have had such a positive experience,” Bob said. “They have always made us feel like I was their only patient, which is impressive during a normal year, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is even more noteworthy.”

Nearly nine months post-transplant, Bob is back on his feet and feeling great.

“After my heart attack, I couldn’t really comprehend the gravity of my situation, and I didn’t know what to expect,” he explained, “but UC Health has made ‘normal’ my new expectation. It’s impossible to thank them enough. I am here, in large part, due to their commitment to each and every patient in their care.”