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July 20, 2019

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Bob Neff's story was unlike anyone who ever lived in Bluffton

He lived for 33 years following a heart transplant; was one of the longest-living transplant survivors in the world

The following feature is re-posted from November 2015. It shares part of Bob Neff's story as one of the world's longest living survivors of a heart transplant. His heart transplant took place in 1985.

It is believed that the world's longest surviving heart-transplant patient is Susan Law who received a new heart at Papworth Hospital near Cambridge, England, in 1982.

CLICK HERE for Bob's obituary.

On Nov. 7, 2015, life-long Bluffton resident Bob Neff passed a milestone achieved by only a handful of world residents.

He celebrated the 30th anniversary of having a heart transplant. His transplant occurred in 1985, one day after his 33rd birthday.

“I think about it every day,” Bob told the Icon in an interview last week. “I’m blessed with a gift and I don’t take it lightly. The Lord has me here for a purpose.”

Neff’s heart problems date back to the age of 13, when several bouts of pneumonia prompted his doctor to send him to Columbus Children’s Hospital.

Initially, doctors performed surgery for what they thought was a defective heart valve. 

Instead, they found that his heart muscle was damaged by an unknown virus.

At that time, Neff was told to focus on a career that didn’t involve much physical activity – with sports off that list.  So, Neff focused on what he could do with his head. He pursued a career in architecture and became a licensed architect in 1984.

By the time Neff turned 33, in 1985, his health declined and his heart began to enlarge and lose efficiency.  He was hospitalized in Lima, then Columbus, and eventually was air flighted to Pittsburgh for a transplant. He recalls that there was very little time to prepare for the transplant, which he later realized was a blessing.

Making a very long story short, upon his recovery Neff returned to his profession, where he has excelled.  He has been able to leave his “mark” on numerous buildings in Bluffton as well as northwest Ohio.

“It’s very sobering (living with a heart transplant). I feel very fortunate,” he said. “I have developed and maintained a positive attitude toward life.  It’s all a venture in faith.”

First-ever transplant
The first-ever successful heart transplant operation was performed in South Africa in 1967 by Dr. Christiaan Barnard.  The patient, Louis Washkansky, survived for 18 days with the new heart.