Heart of Hope
A s each calendar year ends, people make resolutions. In Rober t Billig’s case this year’s resolution was just to live to see the next. The 60-yearold Rockdale man has had heart problems most of the last two decades and last year was told by physicians that he needed a heart transplant. On Dec. 31, he got that new heart after being on the actual list just two weeks.
THE CALL–The Billigs, Robert and Caroline, had attended one of his aunt’s funeral on Dec. 30 and were at home recovering from the day. They had thought about driving to Robert’s dad Erwin’s home in Giddings, but decided against it. Good thing, because that evening they got the call that would change their lives.
“The nurse (on the phone) asked ‘how would you like a new heart’,” Robert said. He still gets emotional talking about the experience. The next morning they set out for Seton Heart Center in Austin for the life-altering surgery.
“I was very apprehensive about it all because it was major surgery,” he said. “You have to put your faith in the doctors and medicines.”
“My sister and her husband had to drive us because I was too nervous,” Caroline added.
CAKE & ICE CREAM–Billig’s body started to deteriorate because his heart was not circulating blood to the rest of his body like it should. He dwindled down to 155-pounds and for the last year didn’t really have an appetite.
“Anything I cooked, the smell would even make him sick, so I haven’t had to cook for almost a year,” his wife of 21 years said. HEART PUMP–Billig first was diagnosed with moderate heart issues early in his 40s, but that later turned into congestive heart failure. In 1990 he had a pacemaker put in to help his heart.
He had a stroke in Nov. 2009 and had to undergo rehabilitation and the following February had to be put on a pump that administered medicine to his heart just so it would beat.
“I was in pretty bad shape,” Billig said. The decision was then made by his doctors at Seton that he would have to undergo a heart transplant. Preparation to get put on the transplant list took six months.
TWO WEEKS–Most patients are on transplant lists for six months to two years before a match is found. For others, they lose their battle before they can get transplants. Billig, however, was on the fortunate end of things, he was on the list for just two weeks.
That is amazing considering the donor’s heart must match with the recipients blood type and fit properly in the chest cavity.
“It took longer to do all the preparations for the transplant than it did to find a donor thanks to a wonderful family,” Caroline said.
GIFT OF LIFE–The transplant surgery took six hours. The donor also gave his pancreas and kidneys to transplant recipients.
The Billigs hope to meet the donor’s family but know that they need time to grieve.
“I would tell them how sorry I was for their loss and tell them how grateful we are for their gift,” Caroline said. “I want them to know that the heart is beating in a good person–a loving person, husband, father and grandfather.”
APPETITE BACK–The marine corp and National Guard veteran was in the hospital until Jan. 12 and continues to improve. He even got his appetite back and craved a big plate of sausage and sauerkraut.
“We stopped at Thorndale Meat Market on the way home from the hospital and bought some sausage,” Caroline said.
A LOT OF PILLS–Robert is not out of the woods yet, he has to go have a biopsy done each week and is on several medications. He will be on medication for the rest of his life to stop the body from completely rejecting the heart. He currently takes 37 prescription pills every day.
‘NORMAL LIFE’–Robert’s hope, or resolution, is to live a “normal life.” He is an avid hunter and fisherman. This was the first year since he began his love for the great outdoors that he did not get to go deer hunting. He is also looking forward to spending more time with his eight grandchildren.
TO HELP OUT–An account has been set up at Citizens National Bank for Robert Billig. Anyone wanting to donate may do so. A fund-raiser to help medication costs is in the works