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Bob Litz’s Changes of Heart

Surviving a massive heart attack and then receiving two transplants transforms Nebraska man in multiple ways.

Few people understand having a change of heart as well as Bob Litz.

After all, Litz has had four hearts.

There was the heart Litz was born with, plus two transplants.

And Litz can tell you how, spiritually speaking, God gave him a new heart, too, after an episode that almost claimed his life in 2012.

Litz and his wife, Deb, live in Hendley, Nebraska. They’ve become close with his second donor’s family and Litz has shared his story with groups.

The tractor-driving grandpa celebrated his 66th birthday on March 13 and the Litzes look forward to celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary in August.

Looking back, Litz realizes he spent many years as a lukewarm Christian.

“I read the Bible and prayed — when I needed to, when I was in conflict or turmoil — but it wasn’t something I did every day without fail,” he says.

His life — and his heart — experienced a radical transformation on Sept. 22, 2012.

“I had what they called a widow-maker heart attack,” he recalls.

At the time, the Litzes lived in North Bend, Nebraska. Litz and other family members had gone to a shooting range at nearby Schuyler. They’d begun setting up for target practice when Litz felt severe indigestion.

“Within seconds of that, I had pain going down my left arm,” he remembers. “I had pain going up through my jaw, into my neck, and I knew I was in trouble.”

A medical helicopter flew him to Bergan Mercy Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska, where he had bypass surgery with a balloon pump inserted.

Later transferred to Nebraska Medicine Hospital, he had a mechanical pump put into his chest connected to an externally worn control unit and battery pack in a vest.

The surgery proved life-saving.

“When the doctor came out, he told us it was a good thing we didn’t wait until morning, because he had about two hours left to live,” Deb recalls.

In 2013, Litz went on a transplant list.

On April 1 that year, he and Deb learned he’d get a new heart. They began calling family members, assuring them it was no April Fool’s joke. 

He’s thankful to the donor and that person’s loved ones.

During an appointment with a cardiac surgeon, the specialist told Litz he could find no medical or scientific reason why he survived the 2012 heart attack. Litz knew the left side of his heart had died, but a pathology report indicated the right side of his heart died at that time, too.

But Litz says he realized the reason for staying alive: God.

Litz had a slight heart attack 1½ years later, being hospitalized in February 2015. Tests revealed he’d had rejection — not with the heart muscle — but in the vessels that came with it.

On April 2, 2015, Litz received his second heart, two years and a day after his first one. Litz is grateful to this donor’s family, too.

After several months, Litz wrote a letter to the second donor’s family and sent it via the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). The donor’s mother sent the Litzes a short note, expressing what a difficult time the family had experienced.

The Litzes met with the donor’s parents, two sisters, and a brother-in-law in September 2017. The donor, Roger, died at 50. As the Litzes entered his parents’ home, Roger’s dog, Faith, met them at the door.

“They marveled at how Faith didn’t bark at us, because she always barked nonstop at strangers,” Deb says. “We went into the living room to visit and Faith came over and laid at Bob’s feet. The family couldn’t believe their eyes.”

The Litzes believe Faith knew that part of Roger was inside Bob. The group spent five hours in that living room, talking about their families and Roger.

Upon a suggestion from UNOS, the Litzes brought along a stethoscope so family members could listen to Roger’s heart beating inside of Litz. Tears flowed freely.

Roger’s family and the Litzes have formed a close bond, even though they live more than 230 miles apart.

“We consider each other family and we get together as much as we can,” Litz says. “It’s really been a blessing to me.”

Roger’s family sent the Litzes a Valentine’s Day card this year. Litz received a birthday card, too.

Counting blessings isn’t tough for the Litzes. Because the Lord spared his life, he could witness the wedding of his second son, Brent, in 2013. Bob and Deb, who have a dozen grandchildren, have celebrated seven wedding anniversaries since his extension of life. He hopes to be around to see Seth, the youngest of his three sons, get married in June.

Litz is retired, but began helping out on a cousin’s farm two years ago. He drives a tractor and, whenever needed, a semi-trailer truck.

The Litzes have attended North Park Assembly in Holdrege, Nebraska. Litz has spoken various places, including Full Life Church, the Assemblies of God congregation in Fremont, Nebraska, where he and Deb regularly attended before moving west to Hendley.

Litz is no longer a lukewarm Christian. He speaks in a soft, tender voice as he recounts his own heart transformation.

“God does things that we humans don’t really understand at the time to get our attention,” Litz says. “He allowed me to have that heart attack. He allowed me to face death on several levels on several occasions. Through that, not only my faith, but the faith of those who are close around me have been strengthened and at a much deeper level.”

Litz talks about incredible people he has met and befriended, from transplant recipients to medical professionals. He doesn’t shy away from sharing his miraculous story with others.

“I want them to understand that if they’re going to profess Christ as their Lord and Savior that they better not straddle the fence,” Litz says. “I have a little different perspective, having seen God’s love, mercy, and grace firsthand.”

Lead Photo: Bob Litz (second from left) with his and Deb's sons Kyle, far left, Bob's mom, LaVerna, Deb, Brent and Seth.

Bottom Photo: Bob Litz sits at the grave of a man from whom he received a transplanted heart.

Tammy Real McKeighan

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune in Nebraska, where she has worked since 1981. She is a member of Full Life Church, an Assemblies of God congregation in Fremont. She has two sons, Michael and Zachary.