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Sunday, June 9, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Arthur Schoenberg, oldest heart-transplant recipient

Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Arthur Schoenberg, once before, had prepared himself to die. A rabbi had come to his bedside, a eulogy was written.

Goodbyes were said and Schoenberg had given his treasured golf clubs to one of his sons. As with life, he approached death with humility and grace.

A flurry of 11th-hour decisions, however, led to what his wife, Jane Schoenberg, describes as "the miracle," and on Sept. 21, 1986, at 66, Mr. Schoenberg became the oldest person to receive a heart transplant in the United States.

Earlier this year his health began to falter. He required dialysis for kidney failure and radiation treatment for cancer. On May 7 he suffered a stroke.

On May 17, surrounded by family in a room that looks out upon the 13th green and 14th tee of the country club where he played golf, Mr. Schoenberg died. He was 81.

When Mr. Schoenberg got his heart, the recommended age cutoff was 55. He had been turned down once for a donor heart, but as his condition worsened, the screening committee at the University of California, Los Angeles Heart Transplant Program reconsidered his case.

"We were going outside the envelope with him, because of his personality and his family's support and their love for him," said Dr. Davis Drinkwater, a former member of the committee and the surgeon who performed the transplant. "It was obvious he would get good attention from his family, plus he was a vital guy."

Mr. Schoenberg, with the exception of his heart, was in good health.

Three months after his transplant, he was shopping for a new set of golf clubs.

"He was the poster boy," said Drinkwater, now chairman of the Department of Cardiac and Thoracic Surgery at Vanderbilt University. "He led the whole movement of making alternate donor organs available to older patients."

The new heart added 16 years to Mr. Schoenberg's life, long enough to see grandchildren born, long enough to see Europe for the first time — and long enough to score three holes-in-one for a lifetime total of four.

In the early 1950s he started a business manufacturing ladies' handbags with his brother Theodor Schoenberg.

He left the business in 1974 and worked as vice president of a friend's weatherstripping business until retirement.

In addition to his wife and three children, Mr. Schoenberg is survived by eight grandchildren and two brothers, Robert and Theodor Schoenberg.

According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, based in Richmond, Va., 542 people 65 or older, now await donor hearts.

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