Richard served in the Marine Corps from 1977 to 1980. He didn’t discover VA until years later, after a serious accident. Today, he feels that he owes his life to the VA staff who never gave up trying to help him, even when things looked dark.

When you separated, did you seek out VA right away? 

No, I didn’t. I did not seek out [VA] for any kind of benefits or schooling or anything else. I had a job. I was trying to do okay for my family [by] myself.

How did you first become aware that you had VA benefits? 

I fell off a roof and a bucket of tar hit me in the chest. A blood clot broke loose and hit the bottom part of my heart and caused a major heart attack.

I was in the hospital, asking about insurance. That’s when my sister-in-law said maybe VA could step in and help us.

VA sent out a representative who registered me while I was in the hospital waiting for a triple bypass. Since 1992, VA has been with me every step of the way.

Marine Corps Veteran Richard

Can you talk about your experiences with VA?

From the very first day, they tried to show you they cared first and foremost. Every doctor they gave me was trying to do their best for me.

Through every phase I went through, they’re asking if there’s anything that they could do to improve my quality of life

Every team of doctors at VA always worked hand in hand and in unison. The cardiologist would come in and up my medicine here, down it here. It was a full-team effort all the way through.

The only reason I am sitting here today talking to anybody is because of VA.

So what was happening during this time?

From the triple bypass, my blood vessels were restricted. My family history with cholesterol started kicking in and blocking the vessels even more because they were not pumping correctly. And so they tried fixing with stent after stent after stent.

It got so bad back in 2013 that they set me up for hospice. Hospice is to try to make me comfortable while my end of days is approaching rather rapidly.

And then out of the blue, I got a call that they’re going to try to get me a left ventricle assist device. It’s a pump that goes in the left part of your heart and it keeps you alive until they bridge you to a heart.

We landed in Salt Lake City. They took me to the VA hospital and 15 minutes later I went into full-blown coronary arrest. And they had to shock me eight times to bring me back to life.

They had me on the heart transplant emergency list, but no heart came in. They went right up to the last minute and rushed me up to the University of Utah where they put in the LVAD.

The moment they put that LVAD in me I had life in me again. The machine they put in me saved my life. Everything worked out just to the minute.

How long did you have to wait for a heart transplant? 

About 13 months. I got a call about 8 o’clock in the morning that they found a heart for me. At midnight they had me in the OR.

The heart came in at five after 12:00 and at 5 o’clock in the morning I was in the recovery room.

I was feeling so good I was trying to stand up.

How have you been feeling?

I’m ready to go. The pain in my chest is gone. I haven’t felt this good since I was 20 years old. That’s how good I feel. I had a long, hard battle but every bit of that fight was worth it. Because the way I feel right now, I feel like a new man.

My granddaughters are with me every day. They love it.

Did anything surprise you about VA? 

I think just accepting me in the first place was the biggest surprise on the planet. And when I was sent home on hospice, they were still trying to grab at straws for me. Even though we all agreed that that was probably the end of the story.

The people behind the scenes that I will probably never meet, never see or never hear their names, they just didn’t give up.

What would you tell someone in your shoes?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I was very prideful and didn’t want to ask for help. I wanted to be the man and just do everything on my own. No matter what happens, it happens.

And then somebody brought it to our attention that VA might help us out.

They came and talked to me. And the rest is history. I had seconds to live many times. And each time, VA came through.

The only reason I am sitting here today talking to anybody is because of VA.

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Bronwyn Emmet is a public affairs specialist for the National Veterans Outreach Office.

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Published on Apr. 2, 2021

Estimated reading time is 4.4 min.

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