Man's Heart Strong One Year After Transplant

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Less than a year after heart transplant surgery, Skip Boldt walks up to 10 miles a day on a treadmill.

"This past four weeks I will have walked 100 miles," said Boldt.

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Skip Boldt and his children, Heather and Austin Boldt, enjoy the day together Friday. Since his heart transplant, Skip Boldt chooses to spend most of his time with his family.

"I think that's obsessive," added his wife, Julie.

Skip said the progress just reflects his tenacity.

"It isn't easy," he said. "The things I'm doing now I couldn't do before."

Eight months ago, Boldt was strapped to an operating table.

A heart-lung bypass machine circulated his blood as doctors sutured in the healthy heart of a man in his 40s.

The donor: A man killed in an accident just a few hours earlier.

"I want to really touch the family with the gift they gave me and tell them (about) all the rehab I'm doing," Boldt said. "The gift that they gave me will be taken care of."

These days, the evidence of his surgery is drawn faintly on his body as a map of scars.

There is a reddish scar from his sternum to just below the rib cage.

A wide scar on the left side of his pectoral muscle serves as a reminder of the internal pacemaker/defibrillator that shocked his heart back to life.

The two small scars on his belly once held tubes in place to drain the excess blood from the surgical site.

And there are other reminders.

His antibacterial gels are constant companions. The anti-rejection medication hampers his immune system -- germs mean infection and possibly death.

"We still don't go out to dinner," Julie said. "If we do, we have to wipe down everything. He has to use a straw -- glasses are covered with germs."

But for the most part, life is back to normal for the Boldts. He coaches baseball for his son's team. He lifts weights six times a week, and the color is back in his cheeks.

One year ago

Skip Boldt was a different man one year ago.

Back then, his life seemed as gray as his pallor.

He experienced shortness of breath and he stepped with calculated movements.

Any erratic cardiac rhythm could send a shock of electricity through his body as the internal defibrillator jolted his thickened heart back to normal.

Boldt suffered from a congenital heart disease called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy or HCM -- a condition that thickens the wall of the heart, obstructing blood flow.

Disorganized impulses, or fibrillations, of the heart's four chambers compounded his condition.

Julie said the walls of her husband's heart -- twice the density of a healthy heart -- struggled to pump blood through his body.

"He was dying," said Julie. "His heart was shutting down."

"I would either be hospitalized or dead if I hadn't gotten the transplant," Skip Boldt said.

The new heart

Still, even with a healthy man's heart beating in his chest, Boldt is aware that life is fragile.

Around New Year's this year, he felt a flutter -- a sign of atrial fibrillation that can lead to heart failure. It was a sensation he experienced frequently with his diseased heart.

"I didn't think I'd ever feel that again," he said. "I was hospitalized for 10 days. I'm worried still. I'm not out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination."

Before the heart transplant, Skip Boldt was the family provider.

Now, instead of working to pay the bills, his focus has been the slow reconstruction of his own health.

"The first several months (after a transplant) it's all about you," he said. "You're going to have setbacks here and there. You'll have disappointments you'll overcome. It has to be about you so you can help someone else."

Boldt said his new life gives him a sense of urgency. He chooses to spend most of his time with Julie and his two children, Heather and Austin.

"I don't think the chances of my living to 70 or 80 are good," Boldt said. "If I was betting, (I wouldn't bet on) a (normal) life span, so I make every moment count."

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