Bruce Schweiger is a longtime, dedicated volunteer for the American Heart Association Delaware. The recipient of a heart transplant, Bruce inspires us every day. Here is his story.
My name is Bruce Schweiger. I am a native Wilmingtonian and have never had a permanent residence outside the city limits.
Prior to my junior year in high school, during a sports physical, my family physician found that I had an unusual heart murmur. A cardiologist recommended that I have a cardiac catheterization. In 1970, this procedure required a six-day hospital stay. The results showed that I had a septal defect that is now known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. I was told I could not participate in sports and that I should plan for a non-physically demanding career. After graduating from Delcastle, I attended the Franklin School of Science and Arts and graduated with an Associate Degree in September 1973.
I was hired by the DuPont Company’s Petrochemical Research Division at the Experimental Station, which began my 37+ year career. My annual visits to the cardiologist showed no change and I was able to go forward with little restrictions.
I married Sally in 1977, and we welcomed our first-born daughter Carla in November 1978, and our son Bruce Jr in 1980. In 1983, I switched jobs at the Experimental Station to working in the Agricultural Biotechnology Group.
I had very few problems with my heart condition and was even able to participate in my children’s activities such as serving as the Cub Scout leader and girls softball coach. I went on vacations and enjoyed crabbing and fishing and attended our children’s sports games.
In the Spring of 1998, I started to feel as though I had less energy. During my yearly cardiologist visit, I was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and started taking blood thinners. During a follow-up cardiac catheterization, doctors found that my heart was enlarging as well as the septum. I started to see a cardiologist every six months and during the next visit my Afib was not responding to medication, so I had a cardioversion to shock my heart back into a normal rhythm.
On March 14, 1999, I thought I was getting the flu, and was feeling tired. I made it to the bedroom on the second floor and that is the last I remember until I woke up in the ICU at Christiana Hospital. I was surrounded by my wife, my cardiologist, and a priest. I had gone into sudden cardiac arrest due to ventricular tachycardia. My family performed CPR and with the arrival of the Wilmington Fire Department and EMT, in less than 5 minutes my life was saved.
My cardiologist implanted an internal cardiac defibrillator (ICD) to monitor my heart rhythm. Over the next 11 years, I required three more ICD implants, because the batteries drained. I returned to work in May 1999 and started a cardiac rehabilitation program three times a week. I did have some limitations, but I was able to deal with them due to the support I received from my family and friends and my doctors.
During these years, my “ICD events” became worrisome and my cardiologist recommended a VT ablation procedure. The first one had limited success, and in 2005, I was referred to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania Electrophysiology Team. Over the next five years, I had three more ablations. In 2010, I was seen by a heart failure cardiologist. This was my first step to a heart transplant.
During that year, I started to lose energy, but I continued to work along with PT. At Thanksgiving 2010 I went to the ER because of severe pains in my stomach. Blood tests and X-rays determined I was starting to have liver failure. The heart failure doctors adjusted my medication, which helped for the short term. In January 2011, they found I was back in Afib. I was cardioverted, but over the next two months I experienced multiple organ failure.
On March 17, 2011, I was admitted to HUP to determine if I was a candidate for a heart transplant. Over the next 10 days, I had multiple testing done. On March 27, 2011, I was listed as a 1B candidate for a transplant, released from the hospital with a pager to contact me if a donor was identified, and was hooked to a portable IV that supplied a constant supply of a heart medication that would help give me the energy that my heart could no longer supply. On April 15, 2011, I was admitted to HUP because only the IV meds could control my fluid retention.
On Mother’s Day of 2011, I received a life-changing phone call — they found a donor! Surgery would begin in a couple hours. At 6:15 AM on May 9, 2011, my second chance at life began.
Everything moved rapidly from there: I went from Recovery to ICU to Step Down to a Regular Cardiac Unit within the next 36 hours. I was up walking, doing physical therapy and feeling so much better– being able to exercise without being totally exhausted. During my stay, I met one of the transplant social workers for the Gift of Life Donor Program and became a volunteer to help promote organ and tissue donation.
On May 19, 2011, I walked out of the front doors of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania for the first time without the need for a wheelchair. I had regular checkups at HUP and was feeling better every day. I had an organ donor and his family to thank for my life. For the past 11 years, I have sent letters and cards to them at Christmas and on my transplant anniversary but have never received a response. I have learned that this is very common because what became my best day was probably not a very good day losing a loved one. I have named my donor Bud for Bruce’s Unknown Donor.
I became a volunteer with Mended Hearts of Newark Delaware, and with the Wilmington Memorial Day Committee. I am a past board member for The Fraim Center for Active Adults where I have continued my physical therapy for the past 10 years. I volunteer for the AHA at the Heart Walk in Wilmington and Southern Delaware every year!
Thanks to the AHA for all the advances in heart research and the modern technological advances in treatments. Sally and I just celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary in January 2022. We plan to enjoy life to its fullest with our son, daughter and grandchildren, who we treasure. We look forward to many more years together. We are grateful for all the doctors, nurses, and support staff that have cared for us and to all the organizations like the American Heart Association, Gift of Life Donor Program and Mended Hearts for all they do. Thank You!