Schroeder: "I feel like I've got ten years left right now "
As a federal inspector, William Schroeder evaluated the quality of Army munitions. He passed judgment on another potent but more personal invention last week: the artificial heart that doctors implanted in his chest on Nov. 25. "My heart is just tick, tick, ticking now," he told his surgeon, William DeVries, a week after the operation at Louisville's Humana Hospital Audubon. The plastic-and-metal device felt "like an oldtime threshing machine, just apumping like everything." When Schroeder, 52, entered the hospital's heart institute early last month, he recalled, he knew that he had almost 40 days to live. He had been so weak that two of his sons had carried him in, making frequent stops for their father to place his head between his legs.in order to breathe. With his new heart, "I feel like I've got ten years left right now. I feel I can sit out and go fishing and watch baseball games."
That is unlikely. But his doctors agreed last week that he was "progressing beautifully." Upgrading his condition from "critical" to "serious," they noted that he has experienced none of the crises that beset Barney Clark, who received the first permanent artificial heart two years ago at the University of Utah Medical Center. (The memory of the retired dentist continues to haunt DeVries, who has occasionally caught himself calling Schroeder "Barney.") Schroeder's lungs, kidneys and liver are functioning normally, and there has been no sign of infection. To help control his diabetes, he is being put on a strict diet, which may eventually limit favorite treats like pineapple sherbet and grape Popsicles. "He doesn't like that particularly," said DeVries.
Alert and exuberant, Schroeder spent some of his time last week reading newspapers, listening to tapes of Country Singer Ricky Skaggs and joshing with family, friends and visitors he had called in from the halls of the coronary-care unit. Indeed, the festivities got so lively at one point that a patient next door complained. By week's end Schroeder had taken his first trip outside his room, riding a wheelchair to the X-ray department and using an 11-Ib. portable air pump to drive his heart. The 323-lb. air system was pushed along in front. On doctors' orders, he has begun exercises to strengthen his arms and legs and is taking brief walks around his bed.