MetroWest Daily News: Whatever Happened To …?: Westborough’s Bob Romer giving back after life was saved by heart transplant
By: Rick Smith, email@example.com, Apr 30 2016
As a senior, Romer, who was a 5-foot-9, 180-pound left-hander, went 8-1 on the mound, his only loss coming at the hands of powerhouse Milford at Fino Field.
He relied on corner-painting control, but also had a fastball that moved and reached speeds that belied his size. Romer, now 54, was a battler, and you can say he pitched with a great deal of heart.
Considering what would happen later in his life, that last statement ranks as irony of the highest order.
At age 38, Romer began to experience a persistent, aggravating cough. In addition, he suffered from shortness of breath and fatigue.
An athlete all his life, it came as a shock when he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.
The next 12 years were a frightening blur of defibrillators, stents, code blues, and ventricular assist devices.
“The last couple of years (during that period) were really tough,” said Romer.
With time running out, Romer underwent a heart transplant in 2013 at Tufts Medical Center. The date? Valentine’s Day.
“I spent an entire year in the hospital,” said Romer, who now resides in Framingham. “There were days I didn’t know if I was going to live or die. But I feel great now. A year after surgery I was skiing. I also went to Hawaii to play golf.”
Actually, Romer went to Hawaii for his golfing sojourn with fellow heart transplant recipient Pat Sullivan of Northborough.
“We vowed that if we made it out of there alive, we were going to go to Hawaii together,” said Romer.
But Romer and Sullivan made another more significant vow.
“We vowed that we would give back if we survived,” said Romer.
Thus the Heart Brothers Foundation was born.
“We’re a foundation that raises funds to help patients and their families survive the physical, emotional, and financial hardships of heart failure,” said Romer. “For example, if someone from Maine or New Hampshire comes to Boston for surgery, there is a lot of stress and a huge expense for housing. We try to raise funds to make it easier for patients and their families.”
Susan Romer, Bob’s wife, knows firsthand the struggles these families go through.
“It was a rollercoaster ride,” she said of her family’s journey. “We had to deal with Bob maybe dying. We had to deal with that day to day. It was one of the most difficult times of our life. Bob’s cardiologist told him that he has used up at least nine lives.”
But much like steel being forged through fire, those struggles had a positive effect on their marriage.
“It was amazing how we reconnected as a couple,” Susan said. “Something like this makes you realize how precious life is and how important that man you married is.”
Just like her husband, Susan knew she had to give back.
“You realize you have to help people going through the same thing going forward,” she said. “We were very fortunate. We knew people who didn’t make it. We understand that we were witness to a miracle and that because of the dedication and talent of these wonderful medical people these miracles are happening every day.”
Three years after surgery, Romer’s former life as an athlete seems light years away. He very nearly went to either St. John’s or St. Peter-Marian so he could play high school hockey.
“We finally got hockey at Westborough High my senior year,” said Romer, who played defense for the Rangers. “We had a lot of players that year who hadn’t played in a while so we were kind of weak.”
But that wasn’t the case in baseball. With buddies like Whitey Whittles and Carl Oberg, Romer and Westborough enjoyed many successful days on the diamond.
Romer was supposed to pitch for Westborough Legion, but shut things down after experiencing shoulder issues.
“I went to a doctor who told me I had tendinitis and calcium deposits in my shoulder and to take a year off,” said Romer.
Romer went to New Hampshire College and played hockey for a year as a defenseman.
The University of Lowell baseball coach showed an interest in Romer, so he transferred to Lowell but spent a frustrating year and a half with Lowell.
“I spent more time in the trainer’s room and rehabbing than I did on the mound,” said Romer. “I had some good outings, but it became apparent that I couldn’t pitch consistently. It was very frustrating.”
Romer got an associate’s degree in business at Quinsigamond Community College and went to work as an accounting manager at Lapoint-Hudson-Broch in Hudson. He later moved up to controller at the same company and an officer of the corporation later at the same firm.
Bob and Susan Romer have been married for 26 years.
Romer still looks back at his athletic career at Westborough High with a great deal of fondness.
“Sports meant everything to me in high school,” he said. “Baseball was especially meaningful. Growing up with guys like Whitey and Carl was special. We would play baseball from dawn to dusk as kids and then to go on and win a state championship was extra special.”
Those wishing to contribute to the Heart Brothers Foundation can go so by mailing checks in the foundations name to P.O. Box 1743, Framingham, MA 01701.