By Ryan Cormier The News Journal
WILMINGTON -- After months of slowly suffering from a rare and possibly fatal lung disease, Jeff Bove finally got the call he was waiting for in May, in the middle of the night.
In desperate need of a double lung transplant, Bove had become a prisoner in his Chadds Ford, Pa., home, needing oxygen to walk only a few steps.
The Wilmington attorney had been on the United Network for Organ Sharing waiting list for a transplant, and the time had come.
He and his wife, Lloyd, drove up to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was prepped for surgery. He was laying on the operating room table, about to be put under, when came in at 3 a.m. The lungs were defective and could not be used.
It was disappointing, Bove says. But it was also something he'd been warned could happen, and he returned to his vigil.
Diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in early 2009, Bove was told that 45,000 people die from it each year, about the same number as breast cancer. The disease slowly thickens and scars lung tissue until it is impossible to breathe.
After the false alarm in May, Bove's phone didn't ring again for nearly two months. This time, the eight-hour operation was a success and there was an instant transformation, thanks to the lungs donated from a Ohio man who had died of a stroke.
With minimal post-surgery pain, Bove was walking up and down stairs three days after surgery.
"It was a thrill being able to walk with no issues," says Bove, 58, who then underwent eight weeks of physical therapy to build his lung function. "I'm eternally grateful for this gift because I would be dead right now."
Bove had never checked the organ donor box on his driver's license before being struck by the life-threatening illness. He wasn't against it; he just didn't think about it.
Now he's not only a walking billboard for donation, he's an outspoken proponent.
"I am living proof as to what organ donations can do for people," he says. "It's truly a gift of life."
A gift that lets him start a new year and a new decade with a renewed vigor.
Friends and fans rally
The hard-charging lawyer and musician, who works at the Orange Street-based intellectual property law firm Connolly, Bove, Lodge & Hutz, had been profiled in The News Journal in April.
Waiting to be added to the transplant waiting list, he was releasing a four-disc box set of his late '60s work with bands like Martha Lidd. It's a collection of music recorded long ago, but put together during his illness as he tied up the loose ends of his life, including family affairs, in preparation for surgery.
After the article ran and shortly after he broke the news of his ailment to the members of his firm, he was deluged with hundreds of well wishes from friends, colleagues, former bandmates and fans.
"I was overwhelmed by the cards, e-mails and telephone calls.
It just went on and on and on, hearing from some people I hadn't talked to for decades," he says. "It really kept me uplifted and positive about this. It created a real positive vibration."
And staying positive had been a goal of his. Confronted with the diagnosis, he adopted a clinical, intellectual approach, taking on the illness almost as another legal case. He did as much research as possible, including searching for the best doctors he could find, while trying to maintain the most positive attitude he could.
Even though his friends and colleagues are well aware of how driven Bove is, the rapid reversal of his health was still a bit of a shock.
Scott Birney, a longtime friend and musical collaborator of Bove's, says the two looked around in amazed appreciation when they arrived at their parking spot at Delaware Stadium on Labor Day.
Just as they do for most home games, the pair were there to watch the University of Delaware football team, which was playing West Chester University.
Before his surgery, Bove's goal had been to make it to the first UD game of the season. Birney wasn't sure he would, but kept telling him, "Sure you will, Jeff."
In the shadow of the stadium, the old friends raised bottles of Beck's -- Bove's first beer in quite a while -- and Birney made a toast.
"Jeff, only you can make the West Chester game significant," joked Birney, frontman of the veteran Delaware act Sin City Band. "We were just walking around there in disbelief. And he was as disbelieving as us, even with his best foot forward."
"It was a great day when we drove down to that game," he says. "All the folks down there had read the article and everyone at the tailgate came over. It was really overwhelming."
A shot of energy
Bove has established the Jeff Bove ILD Research Fund at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and has pledged to raise at least $25,000 for the cause. All proceeds from the box set of his music, available at www.marthalidd.com and iTunes, goes to the research fund.
Chip Connolly, managing partner of Connolly, Bove, Lodge & Hutz, says Bove worked from home right up until his July 6 surgery. And within two days of the operation, attorneys began receiving work-related e-mails from Bove once again. They were coming from Bove's hospital bed in the intensive care unit, and he's been back working ever since.
"I've never had a close colleague go through something like that and then to come out of it so successfully, it's just given the firm such an uplift of energy," Connolly says.
Even with Bove feeling better than ever, he still faces some uncertainty. The survival rate for lung transplants is more than 82 percent at one year, nearly 60 percent at three years and more than 43 percent at five years. Plenty of people live more than a decade.
Just as opposing attorneys and his own doctors have learned, Connolly reminds everyone, "Never bet against Jeff Bove."
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