LIMA — Bobbi Frysinger is now fighting for her father’s life, who years ago, fought for his country.
Sixty-one-year-old Robbert Legge’s story begins a little more than 40 years ago, when he was on the ground fighting in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. Legge was drafted in May 1970 and was honorably discharged in May 1973.
Legge, of Lima, came back from the war, as many others did, plagued with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. The haunting images of the war plus a divorce he later went through caused him to develop what Frysinger called “a mental disability.”
After battling the illness for a few years, Legge has not had a bout and has been mentally healthy since. But that wasn’t the only health problem that he came back with after the war.
He also has suffered congestive heart failure for years, directly linked to the Vietnam War, and has had two open-heart surgeries in the past 10 years to combat the problem, one in 2007 to fix two leaking heart valves. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs officially certified his heart condition was 100 percent linked to his service in the war, Frysinger said.
Frysinger said her family was recently faced with three options for her father: a heart transplant; treat the symptoms, or in harsher terms, wait to die; or to undergo surgery where a left ventricular assist device is installed.
Frysinger said the family chose the LVAD installation, an open-heart surgery in which a mechanical pump is installed that runs on batteries.
“There have been patients who have lived 15-plus years with this pump and there have been patients where it may have only been good for six months,” she said. “But basically, it’s an open-heart procedure. The doctor explained it to us like if you put your hand in a fist and squeeze, it’s like your heart is pumping blood. With his heart failure, the muscles that allow it to squeeze have deteriorated, so this would do the work for the heart and squeeze it.”
From there, the family was sent to Lutheran Health Network in Fort Wayne, Ind., to consult with doctors on how to begin preparing for surgery.
“So they were doing all the specific blood work, tests, heart catheterization, and the complete medical work to make sure he’s a candidate and to make sure we knew what was coming after the surgery,” she said. “This was all happening pretty quickly. They said they were going to be doing open-heart surgery within a week.”
But this week, everything changed for the family.
“We were consulting with the head doctor and he informed us that he is not an LVAD candidate because he has a mental disability diagnosis on his record,” she said. “Because he was diagnosed 30-plus years ago with depression and a mental disability.”
Frysinger said she was devastated. Doctors said they can’t do the LVAD installation because the criteria specifically states if someone has a record of mental illness, they cannot perform the surgery. Doctors explained that medically, he’s a prime candidate, but because he was diagnosed with a mental disability, living with the LVAD after surgery would ‘have been a daunting task for him,’ Frysinger said.
“I’m not asking for them to give my dad a beating heart, a living organ,” she said. “I’m asking for them to operate on him and give him a medical device that will help him live and potentially save his life.”
She did not stop fighting. She called Cleveland Clinic, the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, Dayton Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and a Veterans Affairs Hospital in Richmond, Va. They all said their hands were tied underneath the criteria that he is not eligible to receive the surgery because of his record.
She has called local congressmen, officials, even the White House, trying somehow to get this exception for her father.
Frysinger said the family isn’t sure where to turn next. He is more than a father to her. He is like a father to her children, he is a loving grandfather, and even a great-grandfather.
“The kids and I always say, ‘How can someone with such a big heart, have such a sick heart?’” she said. “My dad is the kind of person that would help a complete stranger even if he had to go without to do it. Dad is known by many as Grandpa, Paw Paw, Gramps and most recently named by his 2 1/2-year-old great-granddaughter, Pampaw. And I can’t count the number of young people that he refers to as his ‘adopted’ grandchildren.”
She said she just doesn’t think it’s fair that he is denied a surgery that is targeted to treat a condition he was diagnosed with from the Vietnam War because of another condition that is linked to the Vietnam War.
“I looked at my dad and I said, ‘Dad this is your life, it’s up to you,’” she said. “And he looked at me and said, ‘I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t want to fight for my life.’”
Without the LVAD surgery, Frysinger said his quality of life will be significantly poorer and continue to deteroriate. Doctors have quoted him not longer than six months to live without the device. Frysinger said she just wants an exception, someone to see that her father’s mental illness, which he has been free of for 20 years, will not affect his ability to live with the LVAD device.
“I just feel like it’s not his time yet,” she said. “He’s only 61 and he has a lot of life left in him. It’s just heartbreaking for me.”