Murray P. Haydon and William J. Schroeder, the world's second and third recipients of an artificial heart, waved at each other this afternoon before Schroeder was wheeled to the hospital parking lot in his first trip outdoors since his mechanical heart was implanted 86 days ago.
Robert Irvine, director of public relations for Humana Inc., called the trip a historic moment for Schroeder and the artificial-heart program at Humana Hospital Audubon. "This is without a doubt the highlight of the artificial-heart" effort here and "one of the highlights of Schroeder's life," he said.
Irvine said Schroeder, 53, who is recovering from a mysterious illness that sapped his strength and spirit over the past few weeks as well as from a mid-December stroke that affected his speech and memory, spent about 15 minutes outside with his wife, Margaret, enjoying "the sun and fresh air" of the 44-degree weather.
Irvine said Margaret Schroeder pointed across the street to show her husband the apartment that is being prepared for him to use before he returns to his hometown, Jasper, Ind. As he sat in a wheelchair, wearing a cap and wrapped in a blanket, Schroeder was approached by two girls, "one of whom shook his hand and the other kissed him," Irvine said. Throughout the trip, Schroeder's artificial heart was powered by a portable unit the size of a camera bag.
Later, ABC News interviewed one of the girls, Kim Nasief, 10, who said meeting Schroeder was "like shaking hands with history." She said that when she asked him how he felt, "he didn't say anything. I'm not sure if he knew we were there."
Irvine said the decision to take Schroeder outside, which came a day after pessimistic comments by a Humana official who questioned whether the patient would ever be well enough to check out of the hospital, was an "attempt to cheer his spirits."
He said it was a decision by Schroeder's doctors, adding, "it's aimed at Schroeder, not at the media." The event did not involve "planning on this as far as I was concerned. I was flabbergasted," Irvine said.
Schroeder went outside after being wheeled to the door of the room in which Haydon, 58, a retired auto worker from Louisville, has made a flawless recovery since the implant Sunday.
Irvine said Schroeder "was able to wave to him, and Haydon waved back," but he added that because Haydon is being protected from exposure to germs Schroeder did not enter the room.
Before the brief visit, Haydon had sat on the side of his bed, dangling his feet. He lay down again because of a queasy stomach, a problem for many patients after surgery.
Earlier, Dr. Allan M. Lansing, head of Humana Heart Institute International, said that Monday night Schroeder had looked in on Haydon but found him asleep.
He reported, however, that Schroeder "did a double take" at seeing another patient hooked up to the same kind of bulky, 320-pound drive system that powers his heart when he is not wearing the portable unit.
Lansing said that Margaret Schroeder turned to her husband and said, "Bill, that's another member of the club."
She spent time today visiting again with Haydon's wife, Juanita. "They have each other to support," Lansing said.
Lansing's upbeat comments today contrasted sharply with his pessimistic news briefing Monday morning, reports of which angered Schroeder's wife and his surgeon, Dr. William C. DeVries.
Lansing said today that Schroeder now appears "more alert," that his temperature is closer to normal, that he is eating better and is getting out of bed a bit more.
He added that Schroeder has been "fitted and measured for a tux" for the March 16 wedding of his son Terry.
Lansing said the Haydons want less publicity than Schroeder has received.
Nevertheless, early this morning, Lansing said, Haydon asked a nurse, "Would you please turn on the television? I would like to see if I am alive and how I am doing."