Follow the Yellow Brick Road

A 'Wizard of Oz' collector is a real life Tin Man as he awaits a heart transplant

A 'Wizard of Oz' collector is a real life Tin Man as he awaits a heart transplant

November 08, 2009|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE

RANSON, W.Va. - Rob Payne, 53, and his wife, Debra, 52, have loved "The Wizard of Oz" for years.

Walk into their Ranson home and you're bound to see Oz memorabilia (along with collectibles from another 1939 film, "Gone with the Wind").

When L. Frank Baum's children's book "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" leapt from book to movie screen 70 years ago, "The Wizard of Oz" became an instant classic.

With its iconic images - ruby-red slippers, flying monkeys and the Lollipop Guild - and much- loved songs, "Over the Rainbow" and "If I Only Had A Brain," "The Wizard of Oz" continues to be a favorite film.


And for the Paynes, their love of the film is no exception.

Debra said she saw the film on TV as a child, but that was before TV sets caught up to the color of film.

"I was the first to see it in color," she said, referring to husband Rob and herself. She thinks she saw it about 1963. It debuted on TV in 1956.

"I think the first time I saw it was around Easter time," Rob said. He said he remembers being scared of it, "especially the witch and the flying monkeys."

For the interview, the Paynes pulled out some "Wizard of Oz" memorabilia.

"It's only one-tenth of what we have," Debra said.

One of her favorite pieces is an original 1939 advertising postcard for "El Mago De Oz" - Spanish for "The Wizard of Oz." They also have some earlier memorabilia, such as copies of Oz books that pre-date the movie, some dating as early as 1902.

Debra has been teaching for 32 years at Wright Denny Intermediate School in Charles Town, W.Va., as a special education teacher. She has made Oz a part of her classroom by reading the book to the class and watching the movie.

Tin Man needs a heart

A Halloween photo shows the entire family, which includes daughter Katlyn, 17, and son Logan, 14, dressed up for "The Wizard of Oz." Rob is dressed as the Tin Man.

"That's before he needed a heart," Debra said.

Rob Payne, after working for 23 years at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md., became a teacher at Charles Town Middle School and Jefferson High School in Jefferson County, W.Va. But four years later, his health forced him to retire. Rob had his first heart attack after he turned 40 in 1996.

"I just thought it was the flu," he said.

At first, he was diagnosed with cold-air asthma, until doctors realized he actually had had a heart attack.

"I said, 'Really? That explains a lot,'" he said. Three years later, Rob was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. "My local doctor said I was the sickest youngest guy he ever had,'" he said.

Concerned, his doctor sent him to Johns Hopkins Medical Center. While Debra was waiting for her husband in the waiting room, the doctors told her to notify the next of kin. Then Rob walked into the room.

"They told me I wouldn't see the leaves change," he said.

"It was numbing," Debra said.

Mechanical assistance

Rob said he started to drop weight quickly - from 351 pounds to 230 pounds. But doctors said he was losing weight too fast. Rob received a pacemaker and defibrillator to help slow his heart rate and slow down his weight loss. Then he received a new medical device.

The first time the Paynes heard about the Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) was in May 2007, just a month before Rob was fitted with one. Doctors told him his only hope was to have an LVAD.

Rob must wear the LVAD, which is a battery-operated, mechanical pump-type advice that is surgically implanted into Rob's chest.

According to the American Heart Association, a LVAD has a tube that pulls blood from the left ventricle into a pump. That pump then sends blood to the aorta and the rest of the body. This helps the weakened ventricle. The pump is surgically placed in the upper part of the abdomen. Another tube is then attached to the pump and brought through the abdomen wall to the outside of the body. There the tube is attached to the pump's battery and control system.

The LVAD is entirely portable, Rob wears a 12-pound vest that contains the battery. Though the LVAD helps with his quality of life, Rob knows it's not a permanent fix.

"My only hope is for a heart transplant," he said.

Home is where the heart is

Rob was hesitant even to be considered for a heart transplant.

"You would have to convince me that I wasn't taking from a 10-year-old girl," he said.

In May 2009, Rob suffered a stroke, which led to rehabilitation and physical therapy. Through it all, Rob has to have monthly visits with his transplant coordinator to make sure he's taking care of himself. And he's waiting to be put on the transplant list.

"I'll do whatever Johns Hopkins tells me to do," he said.

That includes limiting how far away he is from the hospital, just in case they get the call that a heart is available.

Because it's more than just blood type that goes into matching the right heart donor and recipient, Rob knows it might be a wait.

"I hope I'll have a heart," he said. "... you have to stay positive."

And, positive is what the family has been, especially as they talk about their beloved movie.

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