Film producer sold a movie, then had 2 strokes. Later, a heart transplant.

By Deborah Lynn Blumberg, American Heart Association News

Jonathan Bogner (right) with his wife, Cindy. Jonathan survived two strokes and a heart transplant. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Bogner)
Jonathan Bogner (right) with his wife, Cindy. Jonathan survived two strokes and a heart transplant. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Bogner)

On a trip to Park City, Utah, movie producer Jonathan Bogner sold a horror film, connected with colleagues at the Sundance Film Festival, then hit the ski slopes. He felt winded while skiing, but he kept going.

The day after arriving home in Beverly Hills, California, Bogner woke up early to shower. When he glanced at the shampoo and soap bottles, the words looked like they were written in a foreign language. His heart raced and he sat on the shower bench.

His wife, Cindy, and son Oliver, then 15, wondered where he was for so long. They found him in the bathroom. Oliver called 911.

When the paramedics arrived, Jonathan couldn't speak. In the emergency room, he learned he'd had two massive strokes that caused aphasia, or language loss from brain damage. He also had myocarditis, or an inflamed heart muscle, possibly caused by a virus.

"Your heart is failing," the doctor said.

Jonathan, who was 45, stayed in the hospital for two weeks. Doctors put in his chest an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, a device that would deliver a shock to his heart if it stopped or fell into an abnormal rhythm. He did speech therapy and relearned numbers. He kept calling Cindy, Candy.

"This could be as good as it gets," the therapist told Cindy.

Jonathan went home to heal. He wasn't well enough to show up on set for a movie he was supposed to produce. He continued with weekly speech therapy.

The ensuing stretch was especially challenging for Cindy.

In addition to caring for Jonathan, she also was looking after their son Gabriel, then 12, as he healed from surgeries to help with his Crohn's disease. Cindy and Oliver also have milder cases of Crohn's. Cindy's mother, who had Alzheimer's disease, was living with them, too.

Dr. David Adelson, a close friend of Jonathan's who is a neurosurgeon, reviewed his medical file. Jonathan asked Adelson if he thought a full recovery was possible.

"I believe in miracles," Adelson told him.

The words pushed Jonathan to work even harder. For instance, it bothered him that his speech was monotone. He drilled himself on speech exercises to regain his pre-stroke way of speaking.

Eighteen months later, Jonathan could have a full conversation with friends and family members, and he sounded like his old self.

For the next few years, he felt OK. He shifted gears in his work, joining Cindy and Oliver to make a pilot of a reality show about Oliver.

Jonathan kept fit with cardio, weights and walking the family dog.

Then, at work one day, his ICD shocked him. The jolt sent him tumbling into a rack of magazines. Months later, he got another shock. He felt like he had a ticking time bomb in his chest.

Eventually, normal wear and tear prompted Jonathan to get a new ICD. He also had an ablation, a procedure that creates scar tissue in the heart in an effort to help restore a normal heart rhythm, and got two stents placed in his coronary arteries to prop them open and keep blood flowing.

His second ICD shocked him six times over the next seven years. The shocks were hard on his heart.

After the eighth shock, Jonathan's cardiologist said it was time for another change. Not a new ICD – a new heart. Jonathan went on the waiting list in late 2021.

In February 2022, Jonathan was having dinner with Cindy and friends at home. His ICD shocked him once. Seconds later it shocked him again. He called 911.

After monitoring him, doctors let Jonathan go home.

That May, he returned to the hospital with fluid-filled lungs. Tests showed his left ventricle was barely pumping blood. His blood pressure fell.

This time, he couldn't go home. He had to wait in the hospital until he could get a new heart. For the next month, Jonathan kept busy writing his story.

Then, one day at 2 a.m., his cellphone rang. He thought it was spam and ignored it. He got a text. Half asleep, Jonathan ignored that, too.

Minutes later, a nurse rushed into his room.

"You're getting a heart," she said.

Sixteen years after his stroke, Jonathan had a heart transplant. It was a woman's heart, which surprised him. He assumed he would get a heart from a man.

The surgery went well, and Jonathan felt stronger. Still, he faced challenges.

Sixteen years after his stroke, Jonathan Bogner got a new heart. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Bogner)
Sixteen years after his stroke, Jonathan Bogner got a new heart. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Bogner)

A month later, his new heart started spasming. Tests showed he had cytomegalovirus, an infection that can cause heart spasms.

Now, he's taking antiviral drugs to help get rid of the infection. The immunosuppressant drugs he also takes make his feet swell. He developed Type 2 diabetes after the transplant, and now carefully manages his sugar and salt intake.

"Getting an organ is always a challenge," Jonathan said. "There are unpredictable setbacks, and you have to deal with them."

Jonathan and Cindy are working on a new reality TV show idea, and Jonathan is developing a podcast about caregivers. He's landed on a new philosophy he calls rigorous optimism. It's helped him stay positive even on his darkest days.

"He is a superstar, a rock star," Cindy said. "It's amazing how far he dropped down and how far he's come back. His comeback has been pretty miraculous."

Jonathan Bogner (left) and his wife, Cindy, with their dog at an American Heart Association Heart and Stroke Walk. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Bogner)
Jonathan Bogner (left) and his wife, Cindy, with their dog at an American Heart Association Heart and Stroke Walk. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Bogner)

Recently, Jonathan had genetic testing done to see if it could explain his heart issues. He's waiting for results. In the meantime, he plans to volunteer at the heart clinic where he was treated. He wants to support other patients through their journey.

"I now know I have a different purpose," Jonathan said. "With a sense of humor and irony, mixed with a whole lot of optimism, I choose the path to move forward with my life and be positive every day. Life can change in an instant, as mine surely did. It's what we do next that defines who we are."

Stories From the Heart chronicles the inspiring journeys of heart disease and stroke survivors, caregivers and advocates.

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