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Stolen device could mean life or death; replacing heart pump could cost $25,000

| Friday, March 15, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Robert Baum, of Unity, displays a controller for his heart pump on March 14, 2013. Baum's spare controller was stolen from his vehicle last Saturday.

Robert Baum's life depends on a bag he carries everywhere.

In it are a controller and battery pack that connects to an internal device that keeps his heart pumping.

The device is so crucial that Baum, 72, of Unity has two of them — one he carries and a spare he keeps in his car when he's out — just in case.

So when a thief stole that spare bag from his vehicle on Saturday, it wasn't just an expensive piece of medical equipment, but something that is vital to Baum's survival.

“It's the difference between living and dying, actually,” Baum said.

Baum, who had the heart pump implanted a few years ago because of a leaky valve, said he saw the spare external device in his car Saturday morning. When he and his wife returned home from running errands, he noticed the device was gone as he looked to take it back inside his house.

“We lock our car, and sometimes my wife hits the wrong button and it doesn't lock, and apparently that's what happened, and somebody stole the bag,” Baum said.

Baum said they had stopped at several places that day, including Lowe's, Wal-Mart and Giant Eagle in Unity.

“It could have been stolen from any one of those places,” he said.

Baum thinks the thief may have mistaken the device for a camera, because the bag looks like a camera bag.

“Then they probably looked at it and said, ‘What the heck is this?' and threw it away somewhere.”

After contacting state police, Baum called nurses at UPMC Presbyterian hospital in Pittsburgh. He had to travel to the hospital that night to get a loaner device.

Baum said he had a friend look online to see if anybody was trying to sell the device, but he couldn't find it.

Right now, he's trying to determine whether insurance will buy a new device for him or if he will have to pay for it himself. He estimates the unit costs about $25,000.

“If they don't cover it, well I guess I'm going to have to pay them $10 a month,” he said. “I don't have that kind of money.”

Anyone with information about the theft should contact state police at 724-832-3288.

Jennifer Reeger is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6155 or jreeger@tribweb.com.

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