Bobby Bulls is living life again after he received a new liver on March 19.
It was his third trip to the Dallas area for the transplant.
Bulls said he was prepped and ready to be taken into the operating room when he learned the first transplant wasn’t going to happen. Time had run out on the first liver when the donor’s heart didn’t stop beating in the prescribed amount of time to retrieve a usable liver.
The second prospective liver was from an accident victim and was too damaged to transplant.
The third liver is working just fine. Bulls spent five days in the hospital following the liver transplant, before he and his wife, Bernice, took up residence in an apartment in Twice Blessed House, a facility where Baylor University Medical Center transplant patients stay and recover before they are released to go home. The Bulls were told they would probably be in the apartment for three months.
The couple was allowed to come home for Easter, but they had to return to Dallas. A week later, on April 29, they were home, permanently.
He does have a weekly appointment in Dallas.
Bulls was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2008. He received chemotherapy and was advised to do what he needed to do to get on the liver transplant list. He was feeling OK, so he chose not to seek a transplant.
He learned he had Hepatitis C, which he thinks he probably picked up in the ’70s shortly after graduating from high school when his lifestyle was a tad carefree.
In the interim, what little alcohol he did drink was like adding fuel to a fire in regard to his liver.
Bobby went to work for his father, Donald Bulls, at his locksmith business and admits to occasionally trying to cut corners, which always caught up with him.
“That wasn’t how Dad did business,” Bobby Bulls said. “I’d hear about it at work and then I’d hear about it again at home.”
Bobby Bulls took over the business when his father died in 2010.
“I feel fantastic,” Bulls said last week. “I had felt bad for so many years that I’d gotten used to it.”
Bernice said she was amazed at how he would get up and go to work when he was so sick.
As his liver began failing, Bulls had to have liters of fluid drained from his abdomen multiple times a week.
A procedure in 2016 reconfigured, with the use of a shunt, how the blood flowed in and out of his liver and offered significant relief, until it didn’t.
That’s when Bulls made the decision to try for a transplant.
“This has been an amazing journey,” Bernice said. “Everything has fallen into place, the anti-rejection medications are working.”
Three days after the transplant, Bobby wondered how a human being could hurt so bad and stay alive, his wife said. Within two weeks he was off all pain medication.
The staff — the physicians, the nurses, the transplant coordinators, everyone — made sure the Bulls had everything they needed to make the transplant a success, Bernice said.
The transplant team emphasized honoring the donor by moving on and having the best life possible, she said.
The only information known about the donor was that she was a 41-year-old woman.
“It’s so good to have him feeling good,” Bernice said of Bobby.
Bobby grew up on a farm outside of Troy and Bernice was raised in Westphalia.
As well as everything has worked out since the transplant, it was a struggle to get there.
The costs of an organ transplant are significant and beyond most people’s financial means without health insurance. Bulls is a small business owner and always has been the primary source of income in the family.
There were medical bills the couple had been paying on since Bobby was diagnosed with liver cancer. Those bills had to be dealt with before the transplant process could move forward.
Coming up with the money needed to stay in Dallas after the surgery was a challenge.
Also, there was the business. Donald Bulls Locksmith is a one-man shop and Bulls thought he would have to close it for several months while he was recovering.
When word got out the Bulls needed help, the community responded.
A niece came forward to stay with Bernice’s mother while the couple was in Dallas. Val Semyonov, a nephew, offered to get trained to run the locksmith shop.
Many friends, former classmates, customers and others stepped up to help out the Bulls financially. There were people Bulls had helped out years ago who showed up at the business with check in hand.
“We had so much to deal with it,” said Bernice, the family’s designated worrier.
Bobby, on the other hand, said he knew deep down it would all work out.
As a locksmith, Bulls has been in thousands of people’s homes over the years.
Early in 2019, Gene Deutscher heard about Bulls’ plight when the locksmith was at his house changing out some locks. Deutscher decided to galvanize the community behind Bulls.
“We had just been talking about what we were going to do to raise some money, and Gene showed up and had it figured out,” Bobby Bulls said.
After five weeks in the Dallas apartment following the transplant, Bobby Bulls knew he wasn’t ready to retire.
“I was going stir crazy,” he said. “I missed work, I missed talking to our customers.”
While in the Dallas apartment, every time Bernice needed to go to the grocery store or to Walmart or Target, Bobby was ready to accompany her, though he had made it clear before they married he never wanted to go shopping with her. He made Bernice promise she wouldn’t ask.
Lucky for Bobby, his recovery was quick.
There was a group of transplant patients who received new livers around the same time. It didn’t take long to notice Bobby was healing more quickly than the others.
He returned to work, but discovered there were some days he’d have to leave early while he regained his stamina.
In addition to gaining a new liver, Bulls’ appetite returned.
“I wasn’t eating much when I was sick, but now I can’t get enough and I really crave sweets,” he said.
The Bulls know they are fortunate, in that Bobby’s recovery has been fast with no complications.
They also know they are lucky they received much-needed support, when solutions were significantly outnumbered by obstacles.
Bernice began sending out thank you notes to those who made donations to the family. She provides an update on Bobby’s health and a progress report on the healing process.
“None of this would be possible without your help,” she wrote. “Bobby and I have been so humbled by the outpouring of love, prayers and encouragement. We can never say, ‘Thank you’ enough.”
Bobby said he felt sure at some point he was on every prayer list of every church in town.
“That can’t hurt,” he said.