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Two men share transplant as brothers at heart

IU Health Methodist Hospital

Two men share transplant as brothers at heart

They were strangers until these two men discovered a shared experience through heart transplant.

By TJ Banes, IU Health Senior Journalist,

They live at opposite ends of the state. Russ Doyle lives north in the Elkhart County town of Bristol. Nick Vogelgesang lives in the southeastern part of the state in Dearborn County.

It was through IU Health that the two men now consider themselves friends.

Doyle’s story began in 2012 when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. He went through several rounds of chemotherapy and thought he’d kicked his health issues. Three years later, he experienced difficulty breathing. He made a visit to the ER and learned his lungs were filled with fluid. He was then put on a life vest for three months before getting a pacemaker to help control his irregular heart rhythm. Just weeks later, he was at IU Health Methodist Hospital for a surgical implantation of a left ventricular assist device (LVAD).

“Two days after I had my defibrillator I was shocked 32 times. I know what it was like to almost die,” said Doyle, 67, who has been married to his wife Sue for 45 years. They have one daughter and one granddaughter. On July 4, 2019, Doyle received a heart transplant at IU Health Methodist Hospital.

It was during one of his hospital visits that Doyle met Vogelgesang.

A former professional bowler, Vogelgesang also landed in ER with shortness of breath. An x-ray showed cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle that makes it harder for the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body. He spent several days in a local hospital and was referred to IU Health. In 2017, he also underwent surgery for an LVAD. Five years and four months later on March 13, 2023, he received a heart transplant. There were numerous setbacks leading up to transplant.

“On Oct. 12, 2017, I took a turn and stayed 54 days in the hospital. I passed twice and they had to bring me back,” said Vogelgesang, 56. He is the father of five children, five grandchildren and dog. He lives with his mother, 90 who along with his girlfriend and aunt have been his caretakers.

“Meeting Russ was like being thrown into the woods and finding a savior. He’s like a brother. Every time I’d end up int he hospital, he’d be there for something and we’d end up together,” said Nick. “I have no brothers and I lost my father in 2014. Russ has been there for me through it all.”

Russ adds that he believes there was a script written for their friendship and they’re considering turning it into a book. They have shared common experiences including delirium that often comes with heart surgery, loneliness, and walking the hospital halls looking for anything to keep their spirts up. They talk about the impact of eating a spoonful of food for Thanksgiving and the sparkle of a Christmas tree that decorated their hospital floor. They also talk about the doctors and nurses who kept them going. On a recent visit to Indianapolis, Vogelgesang hosted a party to thank his IU Health caregivers.

“It was thanks to them and to Russ that I am alive today,” said Vogelgesang. “It felt like we were brothers separated at birth and connected at heart - we say we are brothers at heart.”

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