Doris and Bill Jaeger pay it forward

Doris and Bill Jaeger: Pay It Forward

Doris and Bill Jaeger

Doris and Bill Jaeger

Pennsylvania

Gift Type: Will

William (Bill) Jaeger’s heart has abruptly stopped in cardiac arrest seven times. But that’s not what makes Doris, his devoted wife of 39 years, cry when she tells his “heart story.”

Her voice cracks when she speaks about their over gratitude for his life today.

It’s gratitude for his colleagues performing CPR for 45 minutes and administering five shocks that saved Bill after he collapsed right next to code boxes while working as a pharmacist in a hospital.

“They almost gave up on me,” Bill says. “But one of the pharmacy technicians saw my breathing tube had moved and knew I was fighting. The fifth shock brought me back.”

He would then receive an internal defibrillator and pacemaker — and a sober notice from his doctor: “You’re on borrowed time now.’”

Despite this health scare, Bill returned to work. And he continued going after the next two cardiac arrests. Then he had his fourth, sustaining the most physical damage.

“During his fourth arrest, his face hit the step leading into our kitchen as he fell,” Doris says. “When I rolled him over, all I saw was blood. I panicked, not knowing where or how to begin helping. The next day, I called his department head and informed him that Bill wouldn’t be returning to work.

“After each cardiac arrest, it took longer to recover. He was moving slower, not able to do as much. Each one takes a toll on the heart.”

Yet another cardiac arrest led to a 13-hour cardiac ablation to correct Bill’s heart rhythm. Scarring in and around his heart from unknown causes and so many cardiac arrests meant that Bill was still living on “borrowed time.”

 Doctors informed Bill and Doris that their best option would be a heart transplant.

For more than 10 months, Doris lived in constant fear that the next arrest would be Bill’s last. He survived two more arrests. And then, finally, he got a call on Sept. 20, 2014 that a donor heart was available.

“There is a roller coaster of emotions that you go through while you wait for a donor,” says Doris, her voice cracking. “The biggest emotion is that in order for your transplant to occur, another family will have to endure a terrible loss. Not a day goes by that we don’t think about that other family.”

Bill received the heart of a 30-year-old man that day, and as his new “heart journey” has begun, he is determined to pay it forward.

“I’ve been given a second life,” he says. “I have a lot of things that I want to accomplish and a lot of time on my hands.”

Retired, Bill and Doris are eager to accomplish as much community service as they can handle. They’re active in their church, Schwarwald Lutheran, and volunteer at the local food pantry at the Exeter Township Food Pantry. Bill also serves in several capacities in the Exeter Township Lions Club, and Doris helps coordinate services for homeless families served at their church. Through Thrivent Action Teams, they helped rally 44 community service projects last year and hope for more this year.

Bill and Doris have also established a bequest to support the American Heart Association.

“It’s important to acknowledge how blessed we are to have talented doctors who can turn your life around and make miracles happen,” Doris says. “But those miracles are the result of many! We wish to express our thanks to the American Heart Association for its funding and research, the Hospital of the University of PA and its dedicated staff, our devoted family and faithful friends whose prayers helped make our miracle possible, and most especially for organ donors and their families.”

Bill and Doris say they have always felt a responsibility to give back, but now they have no choice.

“There’s no way to pay it forward for all the blessings we’ve received,” Doris says. “But we try.”

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