After Larry Fowler's identical twin brother, Robby, was diagnosed with non-dilated cardiomyopathy and told he'd need a heart transplant, Larry was worried that he would, too. But after a full physical, he was assured his heart was fine. So when Larry started experiencing shortness of breath, the last thing on his mind was his heart. After all, he'd recently completed eight years of service in the Marine Corps, including two tours of duty in Iraq, one in Japan and one in Africa (where he was part of a team that rescued a ship from pirates).
Determined to find out what was leaving him breathless, Larry met with a number of doctors. Eventually, he found an answer: He, too, had non-dilated cardiomyopathy. "They told me I was going into heart failure," Larry says. "I'm a stoic guy. But when they told me that, I cried. All I was worried about was my family." He called his wife, Jill, telling her, "I've got Robby's heart."
Jill quickly became her husband's advocate, researching his condition, as well as doctors and hospitals. Initially, Larry received care near the couple's home in Chandler, Arizona. He was fitted with a wearable defibrillator, then had a pump implanted to deliver medication directly to his heart. But in February, after learning he'd need a transplant, Larry decided to seek care at the Heart Transplant Program at Mayo Clinic's Arizona campus, where Robby had been treated just a few years earlier. "We had a lot of the same doctors," Larry says. "Robby had a lot of success at Mayo, and that made it easier for me going in."
Easier. But not easy. Larry was admitted to the hospital and began the agonizing wait for a heart to become available. His care team, led by D. Eric Steidley, M.D., kept his spirits up during the wait. "They were always positive, always upbeat," he says. The team also answered all of Jill's questions, of which she admits there were many. "I would tell them, 'Presume I know nothing, and explain it to me so I can understand,'" Jill tells us. "And they did."
On April 7, 2016, roles were reversed when Larry's care team had a question of their own. "My whole team came in to my room, shut the door, and asked me, 'Do you want a heart?'" Getting the good news that a donor heart was available "was the second time I lost it," Larry tells us. The next day, cardiac transplant surgeon Jama Jahanyar, M.D., Ph.D., placed the heart carefully in Larry's chest. "I woke up from surgery, and I felt amazing," Larry tells us.
A month or so later, Larry was able to leave the hospital and return home, where he's continuing his recovery. He tells us he's hoping to get back to work soon, and that he misses "being the provider for my family." But for now, he's providing for them in a different way: as the primary caregiver for the couple's four children, including their daughter Bailey, who has autism. "She's 7 and only has six words in her vocabulary," Jill tells us, adding that one of them was added very recently: Daddy.
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