Bill Schroeder won the respect of millions of Americans by becoming the longest living artificial heart patient, and by showing a fighting spirit to overcome the tremendous odds against him.
Schroeder, 54, traveled around the world with the Air Force before landing back in Jasper, Ind., his hometown 80 miles northwest of Louisville.
After graduating from Jasper High School, the patriotic Schroeder joined the Air Force. He liked it and spent the better part of the next two decades in the military, mostly serving overseas as an air traffic controller.
He then returned home to the rolling southern Indiana countryside with his wife of 33 years, Margaret, where they raised six children and he worked for the Navy as a munitions inspector.
Besides a tough union negotiator and hard worker, Schroeder was known as a good family man, a requirement that surgeon William C. DeVries demanded for anyone whn would receive the next artificial heart.
Schroeder was active in the Knights of Columbus, a Roman Catholic group, and comes from a religious family. He has two uncles who are priests.
In the summer of 1984, with his health deteriorating, Schroeder, then 52, called his family together for a reunion. Some 220 members gathered at the Celestine Community Club near Jasper in July. He served as the master of ceremonies, laughing and joking with relatives.
Four months later, he held a different, smaller sort of gathering: Sitting down with his wife and children, they discussed his options and agreed he had only one. He entered Humana Hospital Audubon Nov. 11, 1984.
Doctors performed the historic operation Nov. 25, taking 6 hours to cut out his diseased heart and implant the plastic and metal Jarvik-7 device. Shortly afterward, he was rushed back into surgery to correct excessive bleeding.
After the initial setback, Schroeder recovered quickly, winning the respect of America with his wit and determination to live. He said he owed his life to God, his doctors, and the heart machine in his chest.
He became the first person in the world to use a portable drive unit, which weighed only 11.4 pounds and hung from a shoulder strap. Able to replace the desk-sized, 323 pound Utahdrive for a period of up to five hours, the Heimes driver was aimed at helping him lead a life closer to normal.
Schroeder displayed his outspoken manner during a conversation with President Reagan 17 days after the implant, when he thanked the president for his good wishes but asked for help to process a long-delayed Social Security claim.
The very next day the White House dispatched a personal courier to hand-deliver the check. But within hours after cameras recorded a jovial Schroeder joking about the president, he suffered a paralyzing stroke Dec. 13.
Doctors were initially pleased with Schroeder's recovery from the stroke, as he began to recver his speech and showed more response to stimulus. But he never became the man he once was.
In February 1985, Schroeder took another turn for the worse, developing a fever that sapped his strength. And he had periodic 'mild brain seizures,' when he would stare into space for 20 to 30 minutes at a time, oblivious to his surroundings. He celebrated his Valentine's birthday Feb. 14, but a hoped for excursion to Jasper as a present was scratched because of his fever.
Schroeder did not make his self-set goal of attending his son's wedding in Jasper. But the wedding party, dressed in bridal attire, traveled to his hospital room for a special mock wedding on the eve of the wedding.
He was later able to watch the ceremony on videotape, and on March 17, 1985, became the longest surviving artificial heart patient, surpassing the 112-day mark set by Dr. Barney Clark in Utah two years earlier. Schroeder was able to leave the hospital for a brief ride in a wheelchair April 19, 1985. His head drooped during excursion and he could only whisper that he was 'feeling fine.' He did appear to enjoy the ride.