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Maine brewer's passion for fellow heart transplant patients beats stronger every day

Tom Bull, who received a new heart in 2018, volunteers with the HeartBrothers Foundation to support other patients going through the same experience.

PORTLAND, Maine — Tom Bull received a new heart nearly four years ago after his own couldn't pump enough blood and oxygen to support the rest of the organs in his body.

That gift of life inspired the longtime brewer to become bullish on supporting other heart transplant recipients on their journeys to recovery.  

Bull is considered a pioneer in Maine's brewing industry. He founded two of the state's first lager breweries -- a career that got sidelined by heart failure, a condition the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said impacts more than 6 million people across the U.S.

"I was walking through the brewery, and my defibrillator fired. It had never fired since I was 19 years old," Bull, who has a congenital heart defect, explained.

Bull's health continued to go downhill. Just taking something up the stairs became difficult.

"I was out of breath, my color was bad, and my circulation wasn't working," Bull added.

Following a visit to his cardiologist at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, he was put on a waiting list for a new heart. During the next nine months, Bull was visited by members of the HeartBrothers Foundation. As part of the nonprofit, heart transplant recipients visit and support other patients. Bull said talking with members of HeartBrothers lifted him from a dark place.

"To meet people that were four to five years out was so encouraging. So inspiring to know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel," Bull said enthusiastically.

Nearly four years ago, that hope and encouragement helped get Bull through his own transplant operation, followed by 12 days in the intensive care unit. 

While still in recovery, he wanted to give back to other heart failure patients. A little more than a year after his surgery, he started managing the HeartBrothers House in downtown Boston. Patients can rent rooms with parking for less than $50 per night, lessening the burden for many families, including Mainers.

"The majority of the people who stay there come from rural Maine, especially," Bull explained.

Bull had to give up plying his trade. Brewing involves exposure to yeast, mold, and grain dust, which all pose health risks and could compromise a host of immunosuppressive drugs he must take for the rest of his life. 

But his old recipes live on in the hands of brewers like Joel Mahaffey, partner and head brewer at Foundation Brewing Company. 

Mahaffey collaborated on Bull's signature Baltic Porter, a dark beer known as "The Bull." Launched last year, the limited-edition brew is a big hit with customers, with a portion of the proceeds going to the HeartBrothers Foundation.

"It's a mission many people can get behind, and feel good about supporting. Tom has been out of brewing for a couple of years, but he is still loved," Mahaffey said.

"The Bull" is set to be on tap at the brewery in a few weeks to help bring in funds and awareness to let patients and their families know that a support network is available.

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