Feb. 4—Bob Grote was lying in a Kettering Hospital bed, an IV in his arm and a battery of tests awaiting him early the next morning, when he suddenly felt really sick to his stomach.
The two-sport legend at Wright State who became the school's first pro athlete, later was a coach and a broadcaster there, and ended up in the WSU Athletic Hall of Fame had ended up hospitalized last April 15 after an alarming incident that morning.
After a leisurely breakfast with his wife, Becky Grimes, the former WHIO-TV reporter, anchor and producer, Grote suddenly vomited a small amount of blood. Soon he did it again.
Over a decade and a half earlier, he was diagnosed with a hereditary autoimmune liver disease that led to hepatitis and was further complicated by a slow-acting Primary Biliary Cirrhosis (PBC).
The only real flareup had come two years earlier, but his recent tests had raised no alarms.
Now, he feared he was about to throw up again. He hoped to alert a nurse, but tethered to the IV, he couldn't reach the call button with that hand. That forced him to turn on his side and use his free hand.
"That move right there saved my life," the 69-year-old Grote said "More and more, I've realized I have so many angels looking over me."
While on his side, he began to vomit blood onto the floor as if he were a firehose blasting a blaze.
"My chest started getting really warm and sticky and that's when I realized blood was coming out of my nose and ears, too," he said. "If I had been in my back, I would have drowned in my own blood."
Soon, though, his bed was filling with blood and spilling onto the floor.
"That's when I realized blood was coming out of my rectum, too," he said.
"I was bleeding out."
He said he went into shock and lost consciousness.
The hospital contacted Becky, who had gone home to get some sleep, and she called Bob's son, Scott, a former WSU basketball player himself, who lives in Washington Township.
"The doctor in charge of the floor pulled Scott aside and told him, 'Look I don't mean to scare you, but in my ER rotations I've seen guys come in who are kind of in your dad's situation. He's like a multiple gunshot victim.
"And they don't survive."
Grote's family had dealt with serious liver disease issues before: An aunt had died and Bob's brother, Mike — the standout point guard on Wright State's NCAA Division II national championship team in 1983, who has a different variation of the disease — underwent a successful liver transplant a year ago at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
Bob's situation though took everybody by surprise.
Doctors would discover varices — abnormally dilated veins — had "exploded" (Grote's word) in his stomach, which filled with blood.
It was suggested Grote be given last rites.
In hopes of saving his life, Dr. Richard McKenzie came in and, in a three-hour surgery under adverse conditions caused by the continuing blood flow and other bodily matter, he inserted a shunt that diverted some of the blood out of the liver.
That didn't stop all the bleeding and at night Grote's bed was heated because his core body temperature had dropped so low from the lack of blood.
Doctors drilled a hole in his tibia so they could pump blood back into his body faster. Soon he had gone through 31 units of blood, which is almost equivalent to the blood in the bodies of four people.
Grote's daughter Lindsay rushed in from Philadelphia and his brothers Mike and Steve, who had played basketball at Michigan, were there, too.
Two days after his first episode, Grote suddenly began to bleed out again.
He recounted a conversation he said that occurred then:
"A doctor said to Becky, 'This is hard, but I have to ask: Do you have your paperwork in order? We've extinguished all our expertise. We don't know what to do for him anymore. We can't stop the bleeding. He's going to die.'"
He said that's when Becky asserted herself and said they wanted him sent to the UC Medical Center.
He said the doctor warned he wouldn't survive the ambulance ride, to which Becky responded:
"He's not going by a (expletive) ambulance! He's going by helicopter!"
Grote said the doctor came back in 20 minutes and said UC was ready for him and a helicopter was being gassed up:
"UC said two tubes with balloons attached should be inserted down into my stomach and the balloons should be inflated to cause some compression and help control the blood flow.
"They needed something to keep the tubes from moving during the flight and a nurse went and got her daughter's softball facemask and fastened it on my face. It was too small and cut me up some, but it worked."
His brother Mike took a photo of him before he was loaded onto the helicopter.
As he pulled up the picture from his phone and recounted the agony his family endured, Grote's eyes filled with tears and his voice crumbled.
In an induced coma, he survived the flight and soon his family was met by Dr. Lulu Zhang, a vascular and interventional radiology doctor at UC.
"My hero," Grote said quietly as he repeated her name:
"I'm told she came out in her lab coat and said, 'Look, I know you guys have been through an awful lot the last five days and God knows what he's gone through, but he's been fighting, and I'll tell you, I can take care of this. I've done this before. He's going to be fine.'
"When Becky came in to see me and touch me and say, 'Honey, I'm here,' she said my hands were clenched in fists. I was fighting."
He explained that Zhang put two scopes down his carotid artery and inserted coils inside each artery that had bled, to facilitate blood flow again. Then she cemented each coil so the artery wouldn't bleed again.
Grote said after Dr. Zhang had finished her surgery, she'd told the family: "He does have some angels looking out for him."
After six days, Grote was released from the hospital, though he looked a little different than before. With the fluid build-up, he now weighed 258 pounds instead of his normal 212 and one of his front teeth had been broken off during one of his four intubations.
None of that mattered.
"By all accounts I should not be alive," he said.
Some weeks later he got a call from a high school friend who now worked with Hoxworth Blood Center in Cincinnati. She wondered, after what he'd gone through, if he'd lend his name to a blood drive in Cincinnati.
"I told her I'd do anything," Grote said. "I had used more than my share of blood and I wanted to pay back some way."
That drive last summer collected close to 50 units of blood, he said.
He wanted to do something similar in the Dayton area and after meeting with Ken Herr, the longtime scorekeeper for WSU men's basketball and a hall of fame blood donor himself, they initiated a blood drive with the Solvita Blood Center that will take place next Saturday, Feb. 10, at the Solvita Bloodmobile parked in the Nutter Center's Parking Lot 2 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
People can also donate to the Bob Grote Blood Drive from Feb 10-16 at the Solvita Dayton Center at 349 S. Main Street in Dayton.
Donors must preregister — by using the Donor Time app, calling 937-461-3220 or visiting www.donotrime.com — and those who give will receive various gifts, including two tickets and drink vouchers for Wright State's Feb. 17 game against Robert Morris.
That Grote has tied his effort to Wright State is only fitting.
Lost in the mail
And yet, if the mail had been more reliable when he was coming out of Elder High School in 1972, Grote wouldn't have ended up at Wright State.
A two-sport star for the Panthers, he had one stipulation for the colleges that recruited him: That he be able to play both basketball and baseball.
He said the two schools willing to let him do both were Rollins College, the Florida school where former University of Cincinnati coach Ed Jucker was now the athletics director, and Wright State, with its fledgling sports program.
Grote and three other Elder athletes visited Rollins and all four planned to sign there.
The other three did.
"My scholarship offer got lost in the mail," he said. "If it had come through, I would have gone to Rollins. But when it didn't — and since it already was the summer — I signed with Wright State."
He ended up a NCAA Division II All-American with 1,406 career points and 551 rebounds and pondered offers to play professional basketball in Europe.
As a Raiders' pitcher, he had a career 2.10 earned run average and, the day he graduated from WSU, he was drafted by the New York Mets. He signed with them and played four years in the minor leagues.
He returned to WSU as an assistant coach and recruited some of the players on the 1983 national title team. He also coached baseball at the school and later served as a color analyst on Raiders' basketball broadcasts.
He was enshrined in the WSU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1987.
'I'm just the messenger'
Ken Herr — a Fairborn High and Miami University grad — is a former sports writer who spent several decades in the construction business and then did consulting work.
For 30 years he's worked on the scorers table at Wright State basketball games. He first handled the scoreboard and then the shot clock. For the past 12 years he's worn referee stripes as the official scorer.
If WSU games are a hobby, giving back has long been a passion for the 75-year-old Herr.
He's been on the boards of several charities in the Miami Valley, has mentored minority-owned companies and when it comes to blood donation, which he began when he was in the National Guard and going to Miami University, he's given an impressive 150-plus units.
He became an apheresis donor in 2005 and that has allowed him to donate platelets and plasma more frequently since the blood is not taken from the body.
He talked about his blood donation and why it's so important the other afternoon as he sat with his wife Kathy at the kitchen table of their home on a 25-acre farm off Kemp Road on the edge of Beavercreek. The property has been in the family since 1869.
Like Grote, he feels blessed to be alive.
Herr said before he was born, his older brother Johnny died of leukemia "back when it was a death sentence." Johnny was just 6 1/2 .
Herr's other two siblings also died young, neither making it to 24.
In 1966, his sister Becky was a student at Miami University when she was killed in an auto accident on Route 73, outside of Oxford. And six years later, his brother Mike died in a diving accident in Florida.
"I don't mean to sound maudlin, but I always felt — for them — I had four lives to live," Herr said. "And by giving blood, I could especially honor my brother who died of leukemia."
As for the Feb. 10 blood drive at Wright State, he sees it not only as a way to support Grote's cause, but also as a means of attracting new people who will become future blood donors.
And blood donations are sorely needed now. The Solvita Blood Center just announced a critical need for multiple blood types in the Miami Valley.
"The bottom line is that this really isn't about me — I'm just the messenger," Grote said. "I'm alive because of the blood other people donated.
"Think about it. The last thing that ever should happen is for a family to have the doctor come out and tell a family: 'We have the expertise to take care of the problem you're loved one is facing and the hospital has the equipment, but we can't do what we need to do because we don't have enough blood.'
"For that to happen is a mortal sin!
"Your body makes your blood right back again, so it's a great way to help your fellow man.
"And I truly think, come judgment day, the good Lord is going to look down and say, 'Did you make a difference to the people around you? Did you give back?'" Actually, Grote thinks he already may have had a heavenly conversation.
"When I was lying in Kettering Hospital and so much was going wrong. I have vague memories of one moment," he said.
"A hand reached out and a voice said, 'You can come over if you want.' There weren't all these lights like you hear about. It was just like I was talking to somebody and, when I heard the offer, I thought, 'Maybe this isn't a bad idea because this isn't going so well here right now.'
"But then the voice asked me about a key.
"I said, 'A key? I don't have a key.'
"And the voice said, 'Well, you're not ready yet. You've got more to do.'
"I don't know what to make of all that, but now I think I do have more to do."
That's what next Saturday's blood drive is all about
It's time for him — for everybody — to be an angel for someone else.
Blood drive in honor of Bob Grote
Donate blood in honor of former Wright State Raider great and WSU radio commentator Bob Grote at the WSU Nutter Center community blood drive from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10, at 3640 Colonel Glenn Hwy.
The Solvita Bloodmobile will be in Parking Lot 2 on Feb. 10, and supporters can also donate in Bob Grote's honor at the Solvita Dayton Center, 359 S. Main St. in Dayton from Feb. 10-16. Everyone who registers to donate at either location will receive two tickets to the WSU vs. Robert Morris University game on Feb. 17 and a refreshment voucher.
Registered donors will also receive the Solvita "Donor Love" long-sleeve, hoodie shirt. Schedule an appointment to donate on the Donor Time app, by calling 937-461-3220, or at www.donortime.com.