A high-level executive in the tech industry, Pat Sullivan shocked all who knew him when he shifted from skyrocketing career to the fight for his life at age 38. In 1993, Pat was diagnosed with congestive heart failure (CHF). After three weeks in the hospital, Pat's doctors advised him to reduce stress levels. But for years, Pat would deny he had a life-threatening condition. Two years and three brushes with death later, Pat came to terms with the reality that he may not live to see his then-eight-year-old son, Riley, complete grade school and could leave his wife, Leslie, a young widow. Finally, he accepted a slower life pace. Though the next 18 years were filled with health ups and downs, including 20+ electrical cardioversions, eight stents, three ICDs (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillators), and 14 medications taken several times a day, with Leslie's support, Pat enjoyed life and focused on the positive.
In December 2011, during a fairly routine surgical procedure to correct AFib (atrial fibrillation), an error occurred and Pat "crashed" post-op. After ten days, it was clear Pat’s heart function crash was irreversible, and he was rushed by ambulance to Boston's Tufts Medical Center. There, the Sullivans were told Pat would likely not survive the next four days and to get his affairs in order. Fear enveloped the family. Doctors doubted he could withstand a necessary surgery to install an LVAD (Left Ventricular Assist Device). Miraculously, Pat lived without surgery for nearly two weeks. Out of options, the Sullivans agreed to try the procedure. After a challenging 12-hour surgery and days in a coma, Pat began the long road of LVAD life—testing and waiting for transplant listing.
In April 2012, Pat went home on IV medication. He was 50 pounds lighter, unable to walk without a walker, and had spent nearly five months hospitalized. Pat relied heavily on Leslie's caregiving. Several months and two hospital stays later, he was listed as a 1A (highest priority) transplant candidate. Sent home briefly on a medicine to combat a MRSA infection in his LVAD, he soon developed blood clots and returned to the hospital to wait for his heart.
During his stay, Pat met Bob Romer and the two became fast friends. Every day, Pat and Bob talked about what they would do if they could survive their respective wait for transplants—they dreamed of launching a foundation to support fellow Heart Failure patients and caregivers, having seen how few resources existed within this patient community.
The day before Thanksgiving, November 21, 2012, Pat received his heart transplant–timing that still feels like a miracle. Today, Pat is wholeheartedly grateful and dedicated to his new mission in life–easing the burden of the Heart Failure journey for patients and caregivers through the HeartBrothers Foundation.
PAT SULLIVAN'S SURVIVAL STORY
HeartBrothers Co-Founder & Heart Transplant Survivor
At right, Pat and Leslie with their son, Riley, and two young grandchildren.
Leslie met Pat Sullivan when she moved to Connecticut at age 10. Fast forward to 1980 and the pair married. Leslie began her early childhood education career, and over the next decade, moved with Pat as his career dictated. She taught as they traveled through Oregon, Arizona, Florida, and back to Massachusetts—giving birth to son Riley in 1988. Life seemed right on track.
While living in Florida, Pat began to feel ill. He was treated twice for the flu and pneumonia, continuing to travel and work long hours. In 1993, back in Massachusetts, Pat was hospitalized and diagnosed with congestive heart failure (CHF). It was the tipping point for his subsequent 18-year health rollercoaster, with Leslie caring for him at every step. In 2011, Pat suddenly, severely "crashed," entering end-stage Heart Failure. He was told he needed an LVAD to survive. “I was thinking of changing my name to Stressley Sullivan,” Leslie later joked.
Following Pat's LVAD procedure, he was in critical condition for a week: comatose, on life support, and dialysis. Four months of daily commutes from central MA to Boston hospitals ensued, before Leslie and Riley brought Pat home.
Once home, all was not smooth sailing. Leslie became Pat's 24/7 caregiver and three months later, Pat returned to the hospital to wait for his heart transplant. As if by miracle, the day before Thanksgiving, November 21, 2012, Pat's heart match came up, and he received his transplant. “Being a caregiver and mother while trying to run a life and business is all-consuming," said Leslie. "I lost myself in Pat’s illness for a long while.”
Meeting Bob and Susan Romer while Pat and Bob were hospitalized, awaiting transplants, was a huge moment for Leslie. Susan's support and shared experience helped Leslie realize how vital it was to reach other caregivers in the Heart Failure community, to help lessen their burden and feel less alone. Today, in sharing her experience through HeartBrothers, Leslie is grateful for the opportunity to improve people’s lives and find their own miracles.
LESLIE SULLIVAN'S CAREGIVER STORY
HeartBrothers Co-Founder & Pat Sullivan's Caregiver
At left, Leslie and Pat with their two young grandchildren.
Bob Romer's fight for his life began with benign symptoms—an aggravating cough, shortness of breath, and fatigue. A natural athlete who always excelled at sports, Bob was stunned when doctors diagnosed him with CHF at age 38. Even at this early stage of Heart Failure, his heart functioned at just a 20% ejection fraction (EF)—the rate at which the heart pumps blood to the body. When doctors pointed out a normal EF is 55-75%, Bob knew his condition was severe.
Over the next 12 years, Bob lived in denial as his condition worsened, despite three ICDs to control an irregular heartbeat and a heavy daily cocktail of prescription medication. When he could no longer ignore his health, he joined the heart transplant list. During his final transplant evaluation at Boston's Tufts Medical Center, Bob experienced sudden cardiac arrest and triggered a Code Blue. Doctors performed an emergency implantation of a temporary balloon heart pump until he was stable enough to receive an LVAD. Bob struggled with whether to travel the turbulent road to an unlikely heart transplant, or resign himself to imminent death. Coming to terms with his fears, Bob chose to battle for his life. A few weeks after his LVAD implantation, blood clots formed in the pump and Bob suffered a life-threatening event called toxic encephalopathy. Emergency surgery ensued to replace the LVAD. Though the operation was a success and the pump operated perfectly, Bob was in a coma for six days.
Eventually, Bob went home with his LVAD, which required 24/7 power, monitoring, and constant care from his wife, Susan. A few months later, Bob experienced ventricular fibrillation—an event typically fatal within minutes. Bob's LVAD saved him—allowing EMTs time to rush him to Tufts MC for life-saving intervention. This event dissolved into another eight months in the hospital as Bob awaited heart transplant. Continuously hooked up to IVs and monitoring devices, the wait for a heart challenged Bob's will to live. He watched several transplant candidates die, making him question if he was next. With Susan's help, Bob shifted his focus to spirituality, bolstered by prayers of family and friends. At the same time, Bob and new friend Pat Sullivan talked daily about their dream of launching a foundation to support fellow Heart Failure patients and caregivers, having seen how few resources existed within this community.
On Valentine's Day 2013, the miracle the Romers prayed for arrived: Bob received his heart transplant. Now on anti-rejection and anti-infection medicine he will take for the rest of his life, Bob is deeply grateful for his new lease on life and fully focused on easing the burden of the Heart Failure journey for patients and caregivers through the HeartBrothers.
BOB ROMER'S SURVIVAL STORY
HeartBrothers Co-Founder & Heart Transplant Survivor
At right, Bob Romer, pre-transplant.
After beginning her career in Greater Boston in the late 1980s, Susan met husband, Bob Romer, who would later be diagnosed with severe congestive heart failure in 2000.
Bob’s health progressively worsened over the next 10 years. Susan watched her husband change from vibrant and humorous to a man dying in her presence. She ignored her very real fear that Bob would not grow old with her. As Bob’s condition progressed, it impacted their lives more and more.
In January 2012, Susan’s husband crashed at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. She walked into the hospital just as he entered Code Blue. The next fourteen months were a daily rollercoaster of emotion, stress, and uncertainty whether Bob could survive.
Through those months, Susan focused heavily on spirituality, worked on overcoming her fears, and embraced the concept that only love is real. Through prayer and acceptance, she placed her husband’s (and her) fate in the hands of God and Tufts' incredible medical team. On Valentine's Day 2013, the miracle she prayed for arrived: Bob received his heart transplant. They now live one day at a time, grateful to have each other.
Meeting Pat and Leslie Sullivan while Bob and Pat were hospitalized, awaiting transplants, was a turning point. As their husbands became HeartBrothers in the truest sense, Susan and Leslie became HeartSisters, helping each other through the post-traumatic stress following their husbands' constant, long-term, near-death medical odysseys.
Together, they identified resource and support gaps in the Heart Failure community, and vowed with their husbands to devote their future to closing these gaps and uplifting fellow Heart Failure caregivers and patients through the HeartBrothers.
SUSAN ROMER'S CAREGIVER STORY
HeartBrothers Co-Founder & Bob Romer's Caregiver
At left, Bob & Susan Romer.
THE FULL MEDICAL STORY
In 2015, Pat and Bob shared even more medically detailed accounts of their Heart Failure journeys,
and the formation of their unbreakable bond, with the team at Tufts Medical Center.
To read that version of their story, click below.