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Stolen heart device returned to Unity man

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By Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Saturday, March 16, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Relief washed over Robert Baum on Friday afternoon when he found out the medical device his life depends on was returned.

The device had been missing since last weekend, believed to be stolen from his car, possibly while running errands. State police delivered the device to Baum's home, though it's unclear whether a police trooper or a passer-by spotted the bag along his Unity Township road.

“I really don't know what exactly happened, but I know it's back,” said Baum, 72.

And he's happy for that. The device controls the speed of his heart pump, which was implanted about three years ago.

“It's connected to the aorta and the heart. It's like a little jet pump. That controller controls the speed of that. ... Without that, the pump won't work,” Baum said. “If it quits working, my heart isn't strong enough.”

State police issued a report about the theft Thursday, saying the medical equipment was taken from Baum's unlocked vehicle. Police asked anybody with information to call the barracks.

The device that went missing was a spare, but it's crucial.

“The controller ... computer that I wear all the time — they can go bad at the snap of a finger, and you have to change it right away or you die,” he said.

The device costs between $25,000 and $30,000.

Baum traveled to a Pittsburgh hospital to pick up a controller and batteries he could borrow. He carries the back-up controller and batteries in his car in a bag that might be mistaken for a camera bag.

“My theory is they stole it because it looked like a camera bag. Then when they heard all this commotion about it in the paper, they decided they'd better return it,” Baum speculated. “It'd be of no value to anybody. You can't sell it; it has serial numbers all over it.”

The bag contained a prescription bottle bearing Baum's name.

If the bag had been sitting outside since it went missing, it would have been wet from snow and rain, Baum said. The returned bag, however, was “dry as a bone.”

Because it was dry, Baum figures somebody left it on his road.

Baum was working on his truck at Clearview Auto near Latrobe on Friday when his wife called with the happy news.

“It was a relief because my insurance company paid for it once,” Baum said, “and (I) sort of doubted if they'd pay for it again.”

Rossilynne Skena is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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