In October 2016, Steve
Bagley takes his first steps following his heart
transplant surgery. (Courtesy Bagley family.)
Retired Greeley dentist Steve Bagley sometimes is torn. At age 71, he still
is alive because someone — a someone he still can’t name or identify — checked the organ donation box in
the driver’s license process, indicating a willingness to donate organs if …
… if the worst happened.
And it did.
from Greeley to the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix and was hospitalized for two months before he underwent a heart transplant
in October 2016. Afflicted with the rare disease cardiac amyloidosis, he would have died without the transplant.
He can’t and won’t
forget others around him at the hospital who were also waiting for a suitable donor and a transplant.
“They were either on the list or about to get on the list, but because there
are limited numbers of hearts that are available, they did not survive,” Bagley said. “I struggled a fair amount
then and now, with the fact that in order for me to continue living, somebody had to die. But I’ve come to realize that
these people are dying and that some good can come of the tragedies, what a blessing it can be in people’s lives.
just makes me feel that if people were a little more aware of just that simple thing on their driver’s license, they’d
be able to check that box and that if something unfortunate happened to them, there could be some good use of those organs.
If I didn’t live another day, just these two and a half years I’ve had have been so enriching, with my grandkids
and my family.”
Ruth Ann and Steve Bagley leave the Mayo Clinic
Hospital in Phoenix, about three weeks after his heart transplant surgery. (Bagley family photo.)
in 2003, the organization Donate Life America has designated April as National Donate Life Month.
The goal is to heighten awareness of the organ donation option.
an example of the benefit that can come out of tragedy. When he talks about it, his underlying gratitude is apparent. Even
though there is a kicker to this, one I’ll get to in a bit.
From 1975 to 2013, Bagley — a Utah native and
a graduate of Washington University’s dental school in St. Louis — operated a mostly one-man practice in Greeley.
Eventually, he turned over Bagley Family Dentistry to the youngest of his and Ruth Ann Bagley’s four sons, Andy.
In his retirement,
Steve and Ruth Ann traveled. Steve played golf and dived into his cooking hobby, Yet he wasn’t feeling right. He was
overweight — at 6-4 and a little more than 300 pounds — and had high blood pressure. But there seemed to be more
to it. He worked with Greeley cardiologists, but the answer was elusive.
The Bagleys’ daughter, Alisha, had undergone
heart surgery in 1979 as an infant at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Remembering that, in January 2015, Ruth Ann called the
Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale and lined Steve up with an appointment. The doctor, D. Eric Steidley, happened to be one of the
pre-eminent experts in cardiac amyloidosis in the country.
After extensive testing, he told Bagley that’s what he had.
said it was incurable, it was untreatable and it was terminal,” Bagley said. “Yeah, other than that, how was the
play, Mrs. Lincoln?”
Steve Bagley post-surgery, doing rehab work on
treadmill. (Photo courtesy Bagley family.)
Steidley told Bagley the diagnosis had nothing to do with
his condition and weight.
“But he said, ‘The only thing that can save your life is a heart transplant, and unless
you do something to get yourself in better shape, we aren’t going to get you a heart transplant here,'” Bagley
Bagley lost 80 pounds. He and Ruth Ann took another trip to Europe. He felt so much better he wondered about a possible
misdiagnosis. But that didn’t last, and he entered the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix on Aug. 9, 2016, awaiting a possible
suitable heart and a transplant. The trick to finding a suitable match was his height. A heart from a significantly smaller
person wouldn’t be big enough.
On Oct. 18, 2016, a member of the cardiology team said they might have a suitable match
— and when that was confirmed, he underwent the surgery the next day. He ended being hospitalized before the surgery
and during post-surgery rehab for a total of 96 days and was released Nov. 9. His four sons — Brian, the current mayor
of Longmont; Mike; Adam and Andy — took turns staying with him each night through the stay. He remained in the Phoenix
area two more months in rehab facilities.
While he was in Arizona, the family sold Steve and Ruth Ann’s Greeley home and
purchased another in Berthoud, near Mike and his family. When they returned to Colorado in early 2017, they moved into the
Berthoud home, where their possessions already had been taken. They didn’t even have to look for a buddy with a truck.
Ruth Ann and Steve Bagley at the family party commemorating the first anniversary of his heart
transplant surgery. (Bagley family photo.)
In the two-plus years since, of course, Steve has wondered
about his heart donor.
“They protect that privacy pretty assiduously,” he said.
About six months after the
surgery, he wrote a thank-you letter designed for the family of the donor and gave it to the nurse assigned as his transplant
coordinator. Bagley didn’t hear anything back. He understood that.
“In the days following my surgery, we were combing
the newspapers in the area — Tucson, Phoenix, up into New Mexico — to see if there had been any accidents with
people that might be young and large,” Bagley said. “But we weren’t able to deduce anything from that. So
it’s a total unknown.”
Following the transplant, he became friends with a retired cardiovascular surgeon in
“We were chatting one day that, wow, this is kind of neat that I received this heart and all that kind of stuff,”
Bagley said. “He said, ‘Yeah, it is Steve, but what are you going to do with it?’ That kind of weighs heavy
on me a little bit, the fact that I’ve been given a do-over, so to speak. What do I do with that do-over?”
in being with his 15 grandchildren, does considerable volunteer work and makes frequent visits back to Greeley.
somebody knows how grateful he is. And that others will be inspired by his story and heed the message of National Donate Life
Month and sign on as an organ donor.
Now, the aforementioned kicker. It doesn’t change the message.
Steve Bagley last fall was
diagnosed with prostate cancer. He and Ruth Ann are leaving for Phoenix on Monday, and he will begin an eight-week, 39-treatment
regimen at the Mayo Clinic’s cancer treatment center on Wednesday and end it on June 11.
The cancer was diagnosed last
fall in visit to UCHealth in Aurora. It didn’t shock Bagley because the anti-rejection and immunosupressant drugs he
was taking made him more vulnerable to cancer.
Bagley went to Phoenix in November for a scheduled heart transplant follow-up
and asked to be referred to a urologist to talk about his cancer treatment options. At that point, the conclusion was that
the cancer was well-confined to the prostate and that the best course of action was to do nothing … to watch and wait.
interim period, we began communicating about the possibility of doing this story during National Donate Life Month.
April, Bagley returned to Phoenix.
“They did an MRI and it showed it had started to escape the prostate,”
Bagley said. “So we said, ‘Yeah, we have to do something.'”
Beginning Wednesday, the five-day-a-week
radiation treatment will be new-wave, involving a proton generator and tightly focused proton beams.
“In my case, they can
go in, hit the prostate and do very little damage to the organs and structures and tissues just past it,” Bagley said.
“Hopefully, there will be less damage to those tissues and get just as good an outcome as traditional radiation treatments.”
that prostate cancer is common and, if caught and treated in time, not fatal, buoys Bagley.
“Sure, I’d rather
not have it, of course, but I feel pretty positive, as do the doctors I’m being treated by down there. They seem to
think it will be a good treatment for me, we’ll get a good result, and I’ll be back on the golf course before
you know it.
“To be honest, when I compare this to, and what I endured during the heart transplant, this seems like a pimple
on my nose. It’s just not that big of a deal to me.”
It doesn’t radically alter his perspective on the
“I don ‘t consider what I’m going to go through an event that might end my life soon,
I really don’t,” Bagley said. “But if something were to happen tomorrow that would end my life — an
automobile accident, or if I fell down and broke my neck, if anything happened — I just feel so blessed for having that
extra two and a half years I’ve been able to live. I’ve hung out with people I love. It’s just been an awesome