OMAHA, NE––When his world came crashing down around him in the fall of 2021, Dr. Keith Vrbicky of Norfolk, Neb. went from seemingly perfect health to a shocking diagnosis of acute congestive heart failure. Within three weeks of that dire news, his heart gave out so fast he got placed on the transplant list, with only a 48-hour window for a match to be found. At 67, this husband and father of six with a thriving obstetrics-gynecologic practice and telemedicine business, found his life hanging in the balance.
Miraculously, a match was made in time, and Vrbicky, a Creighton University and Creighton Medical School graduate, underwent a successful heart transplant at Nebraska Medical Center. A strong man of faith and family, with more than 13,000 baby deliveries to his credit, he is not only back practicing as an OB/GYN physician, but advocating for people to register to give the gift of life as organ and tissue donors. His new memoir, “Forever Grateful: The Gift of New Life from Organ Donation” (Graham Publishing Group), is part of his mission to carry forward his new lease on life.
The 186-page book releases July 10 in digital and print editions. The manuscript was written with the help of Omaha-based author and journalist Leo Adam Biga, whose previous books include “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film” and “Crossing Bridges: A Priest’s Uplifting Life Among the Downtrodden.”
Whenever Vrbicky, soon to be 69, speaks about the health crisis he endured he expresses how grateful he is to the unknown donor whose heart now resides in his chest and regulates his every breath. His gratitude extends to the superb care he received at Faith Regional Health Services in Norfolk, where he was first treated, and at Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. Then there’s the outpouring of prayers and well-wishes he received from friends, family, colleagues, even old medical school classmates.
“Forever Grateful” is replete with first-hand accounts of his personal medical odyssey, including the challenge of going from a physician who provides care to others to a critical care patient in need of extraordinary care himself. He describes how physicians scrambled to discover the cause of his sudden onset heart failure and tried a regimen of treatments to save his heart and other major organs.
A rare cardiac disorder called giant cell myocarditis caused his heart to fail. Its origin is unknown.
The book reveals that his solid foundation of faith, family and service helped him surrender the fear that he felt as things spiraled beyond his control.
Born and raised in Clarkson, Neb., where his family operated a popular general store. Vrbicky considered studying for the priesthood before pursuing medicine. He taught briefly at Creighton University, winning its top teaching prize, before moving to Norfolk in 1984 to begin private practice. He and his wife Karyn, a former registered nurse, raised their children in Norfolk, where Vrbicky practices at Faith Regional and operates the Midwest Health Partners (MHP) practice and its Family Medicine & Convenient Clinic.
MHP launched a mobile clinic serving the greater northeast Nebraska region in 2021.
He is the founder and head of AET, a telemedicine company based in Norfolk whose applications have been used locally, statewide, regionally, nationally and internationally.
His son Keith Vrbicky Jr. is joining him in practice this summer. It is a full circle moment for the veteran healer whose pre-owned heart has given him a new appreciation for the continuity of care and the miracle of life. As a transplant recipient, Vrbicky is on a regimen of anti-rejection meds, goes in for regular lab tests and is supervised by a transplant coordinator. “It’s a new way of living,” he said, “but it sure beats the alternative.”
Added Vrbicky, “I believe God allowed me to live for a higher purpose. With every breath I have left I want to impress upon the public the need for organ and tissue donors so that people don’t have to die needlessly while on the donor list waiting for a transplant.” He works with the state’s organ procurement organization, Live on Nebraska, to promote the vital need for organ and tissue donation.