Waiting for a heart

The past five months have been a wild ride for Ruth and LeRoy Wegscheid. After a whirlwind of hospitals, ambulances, close calls, and doubt, it is good to be home.

The past five months have been a wild ride for Ruth and LeRoy Wegscheid. After a whirlwind of hospitals, ambulances, close calls, and doubt, it is good to be home.

After more than seven months of health problems, mostly heart related, LeRoy and Ruth Wegscheid are able to be at their home near the City of Ottertail again. LeRoy has a few more restrictions than he likes, mainly staying out of the pool, but he is happy to be alive.

The couple remains in an anxious state, however. At any time, night or day, LeRoy could get the call that a donor heart is available for a transplant.

As of Sept. 29, LeRoy is listed as high priority for a heart transplant which means that if a matching donor heart becomes available, LeRoy and Ruth could get a call at any moment. If the call comes, they would be prepared to hop a Meritcare jet in Fergus Falls to be flown immediately to Minneapolis.

They believe in miracles


Most people would call it miraculous.

Family and friends from all across the country, even as far away as Guatemala prayed for LeRoy's recovery. He is commonly referred to as "The Miracle Man" by friends and family.

"Anyone who saw him in the hospital would say it's a miracle that he's alive," said Ruth with a tremor in her voice.

That is what Ruth, LeRoy and family are calling LeRoy's experience, which started with a trip to Fargo back on April 21 to check his defibrillator. They found out that LeRoy's heart was operating at a rate of 240 beats a minute.

Ruth knew a few medications were not going to heal LeRoy. He had a history of heart problems, including four heart attacks. She told the doctors that she and LeRoy were not going home until the doctors did more than hand out a prescription. That began a series of anxious weeks and miraculous happenings for LeRoy Wegscheid.

He was sent to the Emergency Room in Fargo, where his heart was stopped and started again to get it back into rhythm. His memories following the ER are foggy due to one of the medications he was on that helped him forget what was happening. According to Ruth, that was a good thing, erasing a lot of unpleasant memories.

"I did a lot of dreaming and silly stuff," explained LeRoy.

Declared 'Code Blue'


After being non-responsive for blood tests April 30, LeRoy was declared code blue, and Ruth found out how much LeRoy's heart was struggling. He was resuscitated, sedated, and put on a ventilator.

On May 1, a catheter was inserted into LeRoy's heart to measure pressure inside and outside the heart. "The cardiologist came and told us his heart was extremely weak," Ruth said.

LeRoy's foggy state continued and Ruth, along with LeRoy's daughter, Shelly Dreyer, and LeRoy's designated health care agents were confronted with three options for LeRoy: palliative care; implanting a mechanical device to help his heart function; or to go through a process that would lead to a heart transplant. To make the decision, Ruth consulted LeRoy's brother in Michigan, who happened to call the hospital on Wednesday, May 3.

"I just said to him, 'Dave, you've known your brother all your life. If he could talk, what would he say?'" Ruth said. "And he said, without a doubt, LeRoy would say go for it."

She talked with LeRoy's daughter, Shelly, who agreed to proceed. LeRoy's cardiologist in Fargo was told of their decision and immediately called Dr. Andrew Boyle, cardiologist at the University of Minnesota Hospital, Fairview. Boyle instructed them to install a balloon pump to help alleviate stress on LeRoy's heart, and get him down there right away. The pump was installed and LeRoy was ambulanced to Fairview.

LeRoy's recovery was looking bright when his son and daughter and their spouses visited the following day and he greeted them coherently. The family was soon told that LeRoy might qualify for an experimental model of a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD). The LVAD coordinator, Shawn Roerick, explained that the LVAD would take the stress off LeRoy's heart and help him strengthen his body so that he could be put on a waiting list for a heart transplant.

But there were still more bumps in the road to recovery. According to Ruth, "that's when the roller coaster ride started."

Roller coaster rolls again


First, LeRoy's balloon pump broke as he came out of sedation and he also experienced bleeding problems. Another pump was installed temporarily, but doctors told the family on Saturday, May 6, that because of LeRoy not clearing the sedation, the weak condition of his heart and his poor kidney function there was nothing they could do. The family was all together and made the decision that LeRoy would not want to lay in a hospital bed kept alive by machines, and gave doctors permission to remove the balloon pump on Monday.

Ruth continued to turn to prayer over the weekend. While Ruth was praying, she admits to struggling with trusting God's answer to her prayers, whether it was to heal LeRoy or to take him from pain. She and LeRoy married two years ago, after losing their first spouses. According to her, she had already suffered one of life's greatest losses, but prayed that this time she would trust in God whatever happened.

"My prayers were two-fold: for LeRoy to live, but also to trust. I know that God doesn't always answer prayers the way we want them to be answered," explained Ruth.

On Monday, the Wegscheids had their first miracle.

When the pump was removed, LeRoy's heart took over after being rested over the weekend. His blood pressure also increased and his kidneys took over without help. Soon, the hospital was able to feed LeRoy thickened liquids and pureed foods. It was the first food LeRoy had eaten since April 30.

His body was working, but his mind was still cloudy, causing continuing concern for the family. Ruth and the family were soon praying again that LeRoy's mind would become clear enough for him to make his own decision for his recovery. Ruth's mother was praying up to five rosaries a day for LeRoy's mind to clear.

It did clear; an occurrence Ruth calls his second miracle. He was given his options and decided to have the heart pump installed, and try for the heart transplant.

A decision to survive


"He made the choice to live. I've never seen a person with such a strong will to live as him," recalled Ruth, lovingly patting LeRoy's knee.

LeRoy's determination was crucial over the next several days. On May 21, he was put on the balloon pump again to rest his heart before the surgery the following day that would install his LVAD.

The surgery was successful and when May 24 rolled around, LeRoy's birthday, the doctors told him he could not be doing better. A third miracle, in the family's eyes.

While LeRoy was recovering, Ruth and Shelly were getting trained in the maintenance of LeRoy's LVAD. Both LeRoy and Ruth were overwhelmed with Shelly's giving of herself during LeRoy's hospital stay and after their return home. LeRoy's other two children Mitch and Kim and their spouses were also extremely supportive during the entire journey.

Caring, generosity have

amazed the Wegscheids

There were many others who astounded the couple with their generosity while the Wegscheids were in the hospital. LeRoy was sent over 100 emails and 100 cards during that time. A neighbor fed and cared for their cat, some unknown person(s) cleaned the Wegscheids' home, while others mowed the lawn, planted flowers, and filled the humming bird feeder.

The hospital staff members are highly appreciated by the Wegscheids, particularly Dr. Boyle and Shawn Roerick, LeRoy's LVAD coordinator. The Wegscheids speak of Roerick like a close friend. Roerick checked in daily, and his attentive concern for LeRoy's recovery has earned their regard. LeRoy now has a new LVAD coordinator, Megan Wroblewski, who is his main contact in the Cities.


There have been a few jolts in LeRoy's road since receiving his LVAD. Doctors fixed a major bleed before LeRoy was discharged. He and Ruth also had to make a trip to the ER in Perham, followed by an ambulance ride back to Fairview a week after he got home due to diverticulitis, which caused dehydration and other problems. Now, with medications adjusted and the infection taken care of, he is home without further difficulty. They have been home for about two months, and LeRoy grows stronger every day.

LeRoy sets his sights on the heart transplant, hoping to complete the next step soon. The Wegscheids trust in a bright future and enjoy their time together at home. And for now, LeRoy is throwing his walker away--and trading it for a walking stick.

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