Bloomington father of 8 gets his new heart

Patient Stories |



Two weeks post-transplant, chef Jeff Taber, who endeared himself to younger patients on the Heart Center with his LEGO creations, is leaving Riley to continue cardiac rehab at COLTT.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer,

It was late on the Fourth of July when Jeff and Jenny Taber got the news they had been waiting for, praying for, since January.

There was a heart waiting for the 44-year-old husband and father of eight.

Earlier in the day, Jeff Taber had been surrounded by his wife and children in the teen room at Riley Hospital for Children to celebrate the holiday. It did his old heart good. But getting the call about a new heart later that night would be transformational.

“When we got the call, it was weird,” Taber said. “I kept telling myself this means nothing until they actually see the heart and bring it.”

That’s because Taber had gotten his hopes up once before when doctors thought they had found a good donor match for him. Still, he remained hopeful, trusting in God’s time for the donor heart that would allow him to return to his Bloomington home and his family.

He knew the heart transplant team, which included Drs. Mark Turrentine and Jeremy Herrmann, would need to do another test on the latest donor heart once they secured it, so he tried to keep his emotions in check.

“I was still excited,” he said. “I had to build a small LEGO set just to calm myself down so I could sleep that night.”

If you know anything about Jeff Taber, a congenital heart disease patient who has been treated at Riley since he was young, you know that he is somewhat of a LEGO master. In his six months inpatient at Riley, he has built creation after creation, sharing them with his young friends on the Heart Center at Riley.

When word got out earlier this year that this adult patient in a pediatric hospital loved to build LEGOs, friends and strangers rushed to donate new boxes of the colorful sets.

One of those people was an IU Health team member who has never met Taber but identified with his story as the mother of a heart patient herself.

“I really appreciated it,” he said, adding that he had received an identical one earlier that was a gift from his son, but he had given it to another patient on the floor who needed a pick-me-up. “I was very happy to rebuild that one.”

Taber underwent transplant surgery July 6 (the day before his son’s birthday). Today marks two weeks since the operation, and Taber said he’s feeling good.

“I’m not quite ready to rock yet, but I am ready to rock on out of here!”

From his mouth to God’s ears.

Today, he received another dose of good news. He is being discharged from the hospital to spend the next four weeks at the Ronald McDonald House while he participates in daily cardiac rehab at COLTT (Center of Life for Thoracic Transplant) at IU Health Methodist Hospital.

Going home might have to wait for a bit, but it’s a big step forward for a man who says just being home with his family and his little dog Cannoli will be an answer to his prayers.

A chef by training, he is eager to get back into the kitchen. During his stay at Riley, the therapeutic recreation team adapted his therapy to include cooking sessions using an Instant Pot, which helped lift his spirits.

“My kitchen is not grand, but getting back to doing something on my own, without real constraints, will be good,” he said.

Meanwhile, he spent the last few days working on what would be his last LEGO set while at Riley – Optimus Prime.

“It’s appropriate to be my final build because a major plot point of Optimus Prime was that he held a piece in his chest that was the heart and strength of the species,” Taber explained.

“Upon his death, he removed it and ‘donated’ it to another robot. It’s great symbolism for organ donation.”

As he completes this part of his journey, Taber asks for prayers for others who are still waiting for the gift of life, including the young patients he has gotten to know recently.

“It’s just amazing, especially watching the younger ones, just how feisty and strong and positive they are,” he said. “They are going to grow up to be strong people because they’ve had to be so strong here, and I just ask for prayers for their opportunity.”

Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist,

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“Chef Jeff” cooks while he waits for a heart - Creative therapy helps this father of eight find joy as he marks months on the cardiac unit.

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