Unbeknownst to his parents, Mr. Bolle suffered rheumatic fever as a child. It wasn’t until he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force at age 17 that a heart murmur was detected and he was rejected for service. His company transferred him from Iowa to Houston in 1977 where he came under the care of Dr. Richard Leachman.
"He was a wonderful cardiologist, very concerned about my well being. I’m very grateful for him," said Mr. Bolle. Dr. Denton Cooley performed a mitral valve repair on Mr. Bolle in 1980 but his health declined about seven years later as he entered heart failure. Mr. Bolle continued to shuffle between hospitalizations for symptom control and his job in air conditioning research and development, which had shifted to the Dallas area.
Richard Bolle is recognized by Brano Radovancevic at the heart transplant program 25th anniversary celebration.
"I would work a couple of weeks and go back into the hospital to have my lungs pumped out. My employer reduced my duties but I was still ill and going to work. When I could do no more, I returned to the Texas Heart Institute and received a new heart less than a month later. I really loved my job but with all the stress, I really took it too seriously. It’s one of my downfalls," said Mr. Bolle.
While he was waiting for his transplant, Mr. Bolle and his wife were visiting the Houston Zoo with another couple waiting for a heart transplant.
"He got in the Air Force when I couldn’t. They had two children the same age as ours. We had so much in common, it was unreal. We became fast friends," said Mr. Bolle. "On the 22nd of June, we were at the zoo together and our wives were guarding us and a pager went off – whose was it? It was mine and we were at the very back of the zoo. The ladies pushed us in our wheelchairs 85 miles per hour to get to a phone and we found out a donor heart was coming in. By the time we got to the E.R., I was pushing my wife in the wheelchair and at first they thought she was the patient."
He still marvels at all the support he received from his co-workers, who sent him a Get Well card that wrapped around his entire hospital room. Mr. Bolle was on long-term disability for a while but returned to the job he loved in 1988 and retired in 1999.
"I could not imagine that you could have a heart transplant and go back to a normal life – the same old me – no hoses, no electrical cords. When I retired, my wife retired the same day. I never thought I could retire because I loved going to work, and they thought I would be back every other week. Of course, I still stay in touch. We just found out that there’s another way of life," said Mr. Bolle.
Mr. Bolle never suffered a day’s illness since his transplant until he delayed a gall stone problem too long last year. He lost his beloved wife in a car accident at the same time.
"Thanks to the wonderful folks here, we both had a second chance at life. I now have a 15-year-old granddaughter – going on 25 – who I would never have been able to see. My son also built a lake house close by and comes down on weekends, and my community is like a second family to me," said Mr. Bolle.
These days, Mr. Bolle has to look in his scheduling book to see if he has time to do anything. At a revving 70 years of age, he serves on a number of committees in his community and enjoys spending time with friends and family.
"I think my son would say, ‘Pops is doing the right thing.'"
Return to Heart Transplant Program Celebrates 25 Years