INDIANAPOLIS — Doug Bullard is walking for 30 minutes at 3.1 miles per hour on a 4% incline on a treadmill at cardiac rehabilitation at IU Health Methodist Hospital. That’s much faster and more challenging than the 2.1 miles per hour and 1.5% incline he began with when he started the program 12 weeks ago.
"I can feel it, that I'm stronger,” said Bullard. “I can breathe a lot better with a new heart. Physically I'm great."
About a year ago, he was not physically great. Bullard was admitted to the hospital March 17, 2021, with a damaged heart due to congenital issues. Doctors said he also needed a new kidney. They wanted Bullard at the hospital to monitor his health and be ready when a double transplant donor match became available.
Bullard became sort of a hospital celebrity, walking laps around hospital units while pushing a rolling heart monitor and IV pole that pumped medicine directly to his damaged heart. Bullard soaked up the sun in the hospital courtyard, trying to have a sunny outlook during a long wait. That included multiple false alarms to prepare for transplant surgery before doctors decided the donor’s organs were not right for Bullard.
"I had my ups and downs, of course,” said Bullard. “If it weren't for my wife, Julie, she was there every day for me. She pulled me through."
Bullard spent 146 days in the hospital waiting for his transplants. Finally on Aug. 11, Bullard received his heart transplant. Two days later, he received his kidney from the same donor.
"My donor was in his 30s,” said Bullard. “So, I have like a 30-year-old heart and kidney for a 60-year-old man. I was told that I could live for another 50 years."
Bullard spent about half of 2021 in Methodist Hospital by the time he recovered from transplant surgeries and was released to go home for good in September.
He is thrilled to be driving again. Doctors recently released him to see his grandchildren and go to church. He has had no issues with organ rejection and has been steadily reducing his anti-rejection medication.
This week, Bullard graduated from cardiac rehab.
“We basically feel that he's able to continue his exercise outside of cardiac rehab in a safe manner,” said IU Health exercise physiologist Alex Liu. “We feel that Doug is able to do enough where he's able, from his transplant, to get him back on his feet and living his life comfortably."
"The journey has been fantastic,” said Bullard. “I want to say if you're not a donor, be one. It helps out a lot of people."