Two men with organ transplants are like brothers

They were strangers until these two men discovered their shared experience with heart transplants.

By TJ Banes, IU Health Senior Journalist,

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

Through IU Health, the two men now consider each other as friends.

Doyle’s story began in 2012 when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He had undergone several rounds of chemotherapy and thought he had solved his health problems. Three years later, he found it difficult to breathe. He went to the emergency room and was told his lungs were filled with fluid. He was then put on a life jacket for three months before being put on a pacemaker to help control his irregular heartbeat. Just a few weeks later, he went to IU Health Methodist Hospital for surgery to implant a left ventricular assist device (LVAD).

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

During a visit to the hospital, Doyle met Vogelgesang.

Formerly a professional pitcher, Vogelgesang also had to go to the emergency room with difficulty breathing. An X-ray shows cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle that makes it difficult 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 LVAD surgery. Five years and four months later, on March 13, 2023, he received a heart transplant. There are many failures that lead to transplants.

“On October 12, 2017, I took my turn and was hospitalized for 54 days. I passed twice and they had to bring me back,” said Vogelgesang, 56. He is the father of 5 children, 5 grandchildren and a dog. He lives with his mother, 90, who along with his girlfriend and aunt are his caregivers.

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

Russ added that he believes a script was written for their friendship and that they are considering turning it into a book. They shared common experiences including the delirium that often accompanies heart surgery, loneliness, and walking through hospital corridors in search of anything to keep their spirits up. They talk about the impact of eating a spoonful of food during Thanksgiving and the sparkle of Christmas trees that decorate their hospital floors. They also talked about the doctors and nurses who helped keep them going. During a recent visit to Indianapolis, Vogelgesang hosted a party to thank the people who care for her IU Health.

Vogelgesang said: “Thanks to them and Russ, I am still alive today. “It feels like we are siblings separated at birth and bound together from the heart – we say we are brothers at heart.”


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