Valmeyer transplant recipient has heart - Republic-Times | News

Valmeyer transplant recipient has heart

By on December 6, 2017 at 1:16 pm

Karen and Lenny Schwarze

Blood is pumping through his veins once again. Feelings of youthfulness and vitality have returned and put a spring in his step.

After a lengthy battle with heart disease and feelings of listlessness, Lenny Schwarze of Valmeyer has emerged victorious. The 50-year-old was given a second chance with a successful heart transplant in July.

“My energy is up more than the last five years, probably,” he boasted.

A 1985 Valmeyer High School graduate, Lenny found himself battling a viral infection at the age of 37 that would soon morph into a host of other complications. But the tipping point came during he and his wife Karen’s 15th wedding anniversary.

“He was having troubles with his breathing and we knew something wasn’t right,” Karen said. “So we took him to the doctor for an X-ray, and he said he has an enlarged heart.”

“If you don’t know, it sounds like you’re going to die,” Lenny said of the news.

His condition continued to worsen and eventually led to congestive heart failure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about half of those diagnosed with the condition die within five years.

The doctor told Lenny in May he would become another statistic if he didn’t get the transplant. For a time, he worried that he would – especially as he watched other transplant patients succumbing to their diseases.

“The day before the transplant, Lenny saw a lot of people getting wheeled out and dying. He was thinking that one of those times it would be him,” Karen said. “But the nurse we had was great. 

“She came in and talked to him and told him that they all had a different situation for a number of reasons. She said that isn’t his destiny.”

Though the waiting may have grown tiresome, Lenny’s days on the transplant list lasted no longer than about 20 days, and he was in surgery July 4.

“My time in the hospital was marked by milestones. Memorial Day was when I went in,  Fourth of July was my transplant, and I went home on the day of the eclipse,” Lenny said, adding he celebrated his 50th birthday in the hospital.

Grateful to be back to his business — Schwarze Trailer Repair in Waterloo — and spending time at home with his loving wife, Lenny’s life has been simplified to taking a few medications that ensure his body won’t reject the new heart.

“For the most part, I haven’t had any rejections. The only thing is I had a little virus recently because I have no immune system right now,” he said.

Karen added that Lenny is building back his stamina, but is already doing the activities he enjoys, including deer hunting. 

“After the transplant, the surgeon came in, and he said, ‘I want you to know something. This is one of the youngest, healthiest hearts I’ve put in all year,’” Karen said. “And me being doubting Thomas didn’t believe it. 

“I said, ‘I’m sure you tell all your patients that.’ And he said, ‘No, really this is a great heart.” 

Though Lenny won’t immediately know any details about his donor, he shows his gratitude by connecting with others in the transplant community and advocating for donor registry through organizations such as the Mid-America Transplant association.

“Nobody’s journey is ever the same,” he said of the hardships he has come to know. “You talk to 10 different people and they’re all going to have a different story.”

Sean McGowan

Sean is a die-hard Cubs fan, despite the relentless peer pressure coming from the rest of the Republic-Times staff. He and his wife, Jacqui, have been married for two years. Originally from the west suburbs of Chicago, Sean and his wife moved down to Normal to attend Illinois State University and stayed central Illinois residents for the past four years.