- Associated Press - Saturday, January 31, 2015

JASPER, Ind. (AP) - Margaret Schroeder kept her husband’s heart in a box for nearly 30 years, but now she’s decided to let it out.

After holding on to Bill Schroeder’s famed artificial Jarvik-7 heart since the Jasper man died in August 1986, Margaret has loaned the Jarvik-7 - it’s the actual heart that was surgically placed inside Bill’s chest Nov. 25, 1984 - to the Dubois County Museum for an exhibit titled “The Story of Bill Schroeder and the Jarvik Heart,” which is set to open Sunday, March 22.

“I’d hate to see it lay in my house,” Margaret, 82, told The Herald (https://bit.ly/1Jslo4Z ). “I don’t know where it would go when I leave.”

The woman known for being married to a fighter - at the time that Bill died, his 620 days were the longest anyone ever lived on an artificial heart - is quite the fighter herself. She’s been battling lymphoma for six years, and it has reached Stage 4, the final stage. One of her friends likes to say that Margaret has “nine lives.” No matter how noted her own accomplishments, Margaret still prefers to talk about Bill.

“He was a great man,” she said. “Everyone liked him.”

It’s easy to see the love.

For the longest time, the couple’s garage by their Mill Street home was nearly full of things people sent him, with Margaret estimating they received more than 2,000 gifts during Bill’s battle to stay alive. There’s the red and white basketball signed by former University of Louisville men’s basketball coach Denny Crum, a Bud Light beer puzzle sent because of Bill’s love of beer, as well as gigantic, gold boxing gloves Margaret said were sent on behalf of legendary boxer and Louisville, Kentucky, native Muhammad Ali (Bill’s surgery was performed in Louisville, thus the link to the city). There’s also boxes full of letters, many still unopened.

“I don’t think there’s a school in the whole state that didn’t write to him,” Margaret said.

Occasionally, Margaret wonders how people had enough time to sit and write letters or craft presents and mail them to a man they never met. But then she remembers what the letters and gifts meant to her husband.

“A lot of little things kept him going for a long time,” Margaret said.

In two months, several of those treasures will be on display at the county museum.

Janet Kluemper, the director of exhibits, has been trying to procure the Jarvik-7 for more than a year. She said Margaret wasn’t initially ready to part with the artificial heart, which is comprised primarily of two beige sections made of a special polyurethane for flexibility and durability. But after a couple inquiries spread over time, Margaret spoke with her and Bill’s six children and agreed to turn over the heart, which was mailed to the family months after Bill’s death.

“I’ve wanted that thing for a long time,” Kluemper said. “I thought it wasn’t coming.”

The Jarvik-7 was inserted by Dr. William DeVries, who also installed the first permanent artificial heart in a human. That surgery was performed in December, 1982, on Seattle dentist Barney Clark.

Clark died 112 days later of multiple organ failure. Like a regular heart, the Jarvik-7 has two pumps that act as the ventricles, working to propel blood throughout the body. The Jarvik’s pumps relied on an external air pressure system that entered through the left side of Bill’s body and pulsed airflow through the heart at 40 to 120 beats per minute. The system weighed about half as much as a refrigerator, and Bill also had a portable device that weighed 15 pounds.

Joining the Jarvik-7 in the exhibit will be a pink pillow in the shape of a heart, the Jarvik 2000 (a more modern version of the heart used for Bill), a Kentucky license plate that hung on the car that chauffeured Bill while he received treatment in Louisville and a signed picture of the Jarvik from Dr. Robert Jarvik himself.

“It’s a small exhibit as far as number of artifacts,” Kluemper said. “But it’s going to be very important to us because of what he meant to Dubois County and Jasper.”

The exhibit will reside next to a display about Memorial Hospital. Each piece will be placed in a skinny, but tall glass case. While the Schroeder family can request the belongings be returned at any point, the plan is for Bill and Margaret’s mementoes to be a permanent exhibit.

Joining the Jarvik-7 in the exhibit will be the Jarvik 2000, a more modern version of the heart used for Bill.

“The exhibit will be long-lasting and of much interest,” Kluemper said. “Bill meant a lot to a lot of people around the world.”

He appeared on the cover of Life magazine and took a call from President Ronald Reagan after his surgery. Instead of small talk, Bill asked Reagan for his Social Security check, which was delivered the next day. Bill also received a personal taped message from former Indiana University men’s basketball coach Bob Knight and returned to Dubois County from Louisville with DeVries for one day to be a grand marshal in the 1985 Jasper Strassenfest parade.

Bill’s service in the Air Force meant he and Margaret left Jasper often. They lived in Michigan, Texas and Newfoundland, Canada. They once moved from North Carolina to South Carolina during the apex of Hurricane Hazel. But no matter where they went, they always returned. Jasper was home. That’s why Margaret decided to loan her husband’s heart to the museum. It could’ve gone to more prominent destinations, she said, but that wouldn’t have felt right.

“It needs to stay in Jasper,” Schroeder said. “This is his favorite place.”


Information from: The Herald, https://www.dcherald.com

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