As an engineer for the East Penn Railroad, Ron Boyer knows a little something about the ins and outs of trains. He also knows a little something about farming as a third generation farmer. But you will find, after talking to him for a few minutes at his peaceful Hereford Township homestead, that his real expertise lies in something unusual – organ transplantation.
He has been the recipient of not one, but two major organ transplants at 55.
Back in 1992, Ron wasn’t feeling like himself. And his wife, Pat, 8-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter took notice. Physical work that was commonplace was suddenly hard to complete and he was fatigued and run down.
“He could hardly do the things he usually did [around the farm],” Pat said. “Every doctor said it was the flu though.”
After two weeks and no relief, Ron went to Lehigh Valley Hospital and was diagnosed by a cardiologist with heart failure. He was immediately admitted and stayed for several days because his lungs were filled with fluid.
And while he was worried about who was going to do all the dairy farm’s milking, doctors discovered a virus had likely damaged his heart beyond repair.
“I was stunned,” Boyer said of his diagnosis. “All I could think was I’m 35 years old, I have a herd of cows and I need a heart transplant.”
While his wife and some neighbors managed to do all the feeding and milking of the 55-plus herd while he was hospitalized, things didn’t get any better with his health. It was one day home and two to three days back in the hospital, he said. It became a vicious cycle.
By March he was transferred to Hershey Medical Center full-time and in April was placed on an LVAD (left ventricular assist device) to await a new heart.
On May 11, 1993, the call came and he underwent a successful heart transplant. Two weeks later, he was back at his Berks County farm and, a while after that, at the railroad.
Subsequent blood work determined his body was rejecting the heart, and his doctors placed him on a cocktail of steroids and immunosuppressant drugs to fight it.
Almost 20 years later, it was that medication that ultimately led to his need for a kidney transplant. During routine drug testing for the railroad, his blood work came back “out of whack,” he said. He ultimately found out his medication had damaged his kidneys beyond repair.
Ron went on dialysis in May 2009. It was an exhaustive process. Three times a week he went and spent the night hooked up to an IV and dialysis machine that mechanically cleaned his blood and put it back into his body.
He was put on the transplant list yet again and the all-too common doctors visits started weekly.
Pat was tested and came back a match, but Ron said he didn’t want his wife to donate one of her two kidneys to him.
“It’s just the two of us and with two kids; I was afraid something would happen. She offered several times but I didn’t want to put her in that situation. Something could have gone bad.”
He continued his dialysis for three years until he got the call that he was waiting for April 17 of this year. It was his 22nd call in total. Every other time another patient ended up with the organ.
After just over four hours of surgery at Lehigh Valley Hospital – Cedar Crest, Ron had a new kidney.
He spent a few days on a respirator and in the ICU, but was soon sent home. He amazingly only spent six days total in the hospital. He now takes about 15 pills a day to regulate his transplanted organs.
“I feel fine,” Ron said. “I appreciate what was done but I don’t want to brag. Somebody had to die [for the kidney transplant to happen]. But it’s a pleasure to be home and have more freedom.
“I felt really lucky when I got my heart but I don’t think I realized the seriousness of it then. Now, it’s just a pleasure to be around…None of this would have happened without the transplant team at Lehigh Valley Hospital. Many thanks to the doctors and staff at the transplant center and at the hospital.”
While he’s humble about surviving two major organ transplants, noting he again suffered from rejection with his kidney, his family said they are happy to have him in their lives. He is back to running the family farm and will return to the railroad next Tuesday.
“I’m happy he got his kidney now and he’s feeling fine,” Pat said. “We’re happy to have him around. Things are back to normal and it’s wonderful.”