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Activist Recovering After 4th Heart Transplant

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Citizen activist Otto G. Stoll was recovering Monday at UCLA Medical Center after his fourth heart transplant.

Stoll suffers from transplant coronary artery disease--a progressive terminal illness--which weakens transplanted hearts over time until they fail.

The 51-year-old’s strong immune system essentially starts a low-grade rejection of each transplant as soon as he receives it, explained Santa Barbara cardiologist Joe Ilvento, who has treated Stoll for more than a decade.

Despite his condition, the Thousand Oaks resident appears to be recuperating as well as can be expected, said Joe Smolarski, a family friend who has worked with Stoll through the affordable housing group Many Mansions.

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Smolarski, Many Mansions’ director of community relations, has been receiving daily briefings from Stoll’s wife, Jane, since the transplant.

“He’s a real fighter,” Smolarski said. “I can guarantee you there’s a lot of prayers being sent out to him. Never in my whole life--and I’ve lived here 32 years--have I seen people send out such prayers as for Otto.”

Active in the Rotary Club, the county’s Area Housing Authority and various political campaigns, Stoll underwent six-hour transplant surgery at UCLA Medical Center on March 23. He has since regained consciousness, and complications--including weakened kidneys and fluid in Stoll’s lungs--appear to have been addressed, Smolarski said.

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A UCLA Medical Center spokesman confirmed that Stoll was a patient, but referred all questions to his wife, at the family’s request. Jane Stoll was not available for comment.

A former public relations executive with a deep tenor voice, Stoll is known for his natty suits, political savvy and compassion.

“The way I see it, Otto has given his heart to this community,” said County Supervisor Frank Schillo earlier this year at the dedication of a Thousand Oaks transitional living facility named after Stoll.

A former Conejo Valley Man of the Year, Stoll launched a brief bid for a City Council seat in 1994, before withdrawing for health reasons. At the time, he said it wasn’t fair to run knowing that he might not finish his term.

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Nonetheless, Stoll, a father of four adult children, has kept active in campaigns to ensure adequate funding for law enforcement and has petitioned residents to donate to sometimes unpopular causes--affordable housing primary among them. He also has served as chairman of a citizens budget task force, which reviewed a contentious $75-million sewer upgrade.

Stoll survived a heart attack in 1979 and underwent bypass surgery a year later. Not long thereafter, one of the bypasses failed and Stoll suffered another heart attack, Ilvento said.

So the community activist added his name to the long list of people awaiting new hearts. The first transplant brought on a rare form of infection, so Stoll was returned to the transplant list. Repeatedly.

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Because transplants are allotted according to severity of illness, Stoll has been able to receive more than one heart, said cardiologist Ilvento, who did not perform the transplant.

“Otto just has a very vigorous immune system and seems prone to very vigorous coronary disease,” Ilvento said. “But he has a tremendous will to survive and he has not lost sight of how good society and medicine have been to him.

“When I ask him to talk to another patient having trouble, Otto’s dialing one phone before hanging up the other. He’s a remarkable person.”

Smolarski said it is unclear when Stoll might leave the hospital.

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