Robert “Bob” and JoAnn Heyer

Hopeful for how many other lives can be changed because of their gift, Brigham Legacy Society members Bob and his wife JoAnn, named the Brigham as a beneficiary in their will to support the Lung Transplant Program.

These days, Robert “Bob” Heyer spends a lot of time jogging on his treadmill, riding his stationary bike, and lifting weights. A few days a week, he swims at the local YMCA. He enjoys doing yard work. And as the town photographer for Hollis, New Hampshire, where he lives with his wife, JoAnn, he’s often out and about snapping photos.

These activities may seem unremarkable for a retiree, but just a few short years ago, Bob couldn’t walk more than a couple hundred feet without feeling winded. He had a dry, chronic cough that wouldn’t go away and progressed to severe shortness of breath. In 2012, he went to a local doctor and was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF)—a progressive disease that results in scarring of the lung tissue, which stiffens the lungs and makes it difficult to breathe.

Without a lung transplant, the average life expectancy for an IPF patient is three to five years after diagnosis. There are limited treatment options for IPF and it wasn’t long before Bob found himself relying on oxygen. In March 2015, his pulmonologist told him it was time to think about a lung transplant. He drew a map of places in the U.S. where Bob could be treated and referred him to Brigham and Women’s Hospital for its expertise in lung transplantation.

Through it all, the Brigham team’s expertise and compassion put the Heyers at ease during an emotionally challenging time. Indeed, Bob felt he was in good hands all along. “At the Brigham, they know what they’re doing. They provided me with the highest level of comfort and support—even connecting us with a patient who had also undergone a transplant to help us better understand what to expect.”

Shortly after Bob was placed on the transplant list, one match fell through. But three weeks later, it was a go, and he received a single lung transplant in March 2016.

“I remember thinking, ‘I can’t believe this is happening to me,’” says Bob. “It was a very positive feeling.”

Discharged eight days after the transplant, Bob recalls the remarkable treatment he received at the Brigham. “They made me feel important. I’m lucky to have experienced that quality of care.”

Now, nearly four years later, Bob is thrilled with his renewed activity level. In addition to regularly exercising, he competes in freestyle swimming for Team New England in the Donate Life Transplant Games of America, a multi-sport festival event that celebrates the lives of organ donors and recipients. Bob first participated in the Salt Lake City Games in 2018 and is currently training for the upcoming games. “It has opened up my life,” he says of the transplant.

Grateful for the medical team at the Brigham and the transformative experience they provided, Bob and JoAnn have named the hospital as a beneficiary in their will.

“I decided to pay it forward by including the Brigham in my estate plans. I also learned that my gift qualified to be part of The Brigham Legacy Challenge,” Bob says. “Through this unique challenge, every new estate gift pledged to the hospital will be matched up to $25,000. I’m thrilled to know my gift will help drive progress in research and excellence in all areas of the hospital.”

“The Brigham saved my life,” he adds. “There really wasn’t much question in our minds as to where we wanted to put our money. We had no hesitation.”

“We’re hopeful for how many other lives can be changed with our gift,” says JoAnn.