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Heart Transplant Recipient Gives Back to Those That Saved His Life

Larry Bybee doesn't care whether it is a beautiful morning or a snowy afternoon. He periodically calls the doctors and nurses at the University of Chicago just to thank them that he is alive to see another day. 

Maureen Gagen, Larry Bybee, Gladys Bybee (Left) Maureen Gagen, RN, with Larry Bybee and his wife, Gladys, at the 2009 American Heart Association Heart Walk in Chicago.

Following a massive heart attack four years ago, Bybee, a 54-year-old Michigan construction worker, received a heart transplant on his 50th birthday at the University of Chicago Medicine in 2005.

"I am very appreciative," he said of the care he received at the University of Chicago. "When I left the hospital, I made a promise to everyone, 'After what you've done for me, I will not let you down.' I keep my appointments. I take my meds. I do what I am supposed to do. I know I was blessed."

Bybee served as Grand Marshall for the more than 270 patients and employees of the University of Chicago Medicine that participated in the American Heart Association Heart Walk in Grant Park on September 25, 2009.  The one- and three-mile designated walks around the city's lakefront promoted physical activity and healthy living to fight heart disease. 

He was unaware of the heart walk until his doctors called him this year and asked if he would participate.

"Now that I do know, we will be here every year," Bybee said, who traveled from his Niles, Mich., home with his wife, Gladys, specifically for the event. 

He goes to the medical campus for an annual biopsy but also makes special trips to "come up and say hi to the doctors and the nurses and everybody."  Bybee and his wife often bring treats for the staff, like homemade fudge, during the holiday season. 

"I am just pleased with the hospital and with all the care that they gave him," Gladys Bybee said.  "It is these kinds of things--like the walk--that make it possible to help families that need operations and diagnosis."

Bybee recalled meeting then ICU nurse Maureen Gagen, RN, now clinical nurse manager of the electrophysiology lab, when he first arrived at the University of Chicago medical campus after suffering from a massive heart attack.  

"As soon as I met her, I knew I was a dead man on the bed," Bybee said.  "She said,  'Don't worry about it.  I will take care of you.' I believed in her and till this day I still believe in that lady."

Bybee also made an impression on Gagen when they first met.

"I love patients and he was just a great guy," she said. "I just wanted him to get better. You could see his concern not just for himself but for his family."

After waiting two months in the hospital for a donor, Bybee received a heart from another Michigan man with whom he shared similar characteristics. Both men were the same age, married for the same amount of time and had the same occupation. They also shared the same hobby: hunting.

"The doctor said, 'Larry, if I had to handpick a heart, this would have been it,'" Bybee said. "So yeah, I believe in miracles."

Bybee has met with his donor family and thanked them for such an extraordinary gift.

"He was lucky," Gagen said. "That was one of the miracles. He had a match come through fairly quickly for him, which is a great thing. You wish that could happen for everybody. The one great thing that is phenomenal about Larry is that he has a true appreciation for just how lucky he is."

September 2009

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