HUMBOLDT PARK — Frank Robb, the Florida alligator trapper who became a Chicago legend when he caught Chance the Snapper in the Humboldt Park lagoon in 2019, is used to being the guy who comes to the rescue.
But when he found out he needed immediate heart valve surgery, he was the one vulnerable and in need of help.
His friends and fans stepped up big time, raising nearly $50,000 to partially cover medical bills and helping him find doctors who could handle his complicated situation, which is exacerbated by a childhood surgery on his sternum.
And now he has a date for his surgery — March 10.
Robb, who is without health insurance, said he’s extremely grateful to donors and to his friends for launching the fundraiser. And he’s asking for prayers.
“When it rains, it pours,” Robb said. “You think you have it tough, but then you hear about someone who has so many other things going on. … It could be a hundred times worse. The lord doesn’t give you what you can’t handle.”
Robb went to a cardiologist in October after feeling unwell for several weeks. He said the cardiologist told him one of the valves in his heart needs to be immediately repaired or replaced, which will require surgery.
Paying for the surgery was only one of his concerns.
After Robb was diagnosed, he struggled to find a surgeon to treat him. Surgeons were hesitant to operate on him because he had surgery to flip his sternum and reformat his ribs as a child, making him a high-risk patient. He’s also been told his tall and thin build makes him more difficult to operate on.
But a pair of surgeons in Gainesville, Florida, came up with a plan: One surgeon will open Robb’s chest while the other will perform the valve replacement.
Until the surgery is in motion, the chest surgeon won’t know how much bone and cartilage he’ll have to work with, Robb said.
The surgery could either be quick and simple or long and complicated. The surgeons blocked out their entire day, Robb said.
“I keep reminding myself people get put on bypass, have heart surgery all the time,” Robb said. “I’m trying not to freak out about it. I’ve been doing a lot of praying about it.”
After the surgery, Robb will spend five to 10 days in the hospital. Recovery at home will likely last several months.
Robb received national attention after saving Chance the Snapper from almost certain death in the Humboldt Park lagoon last summer.
As of Wednesday, supporters have raised $48,290 via GoFundMe toward Robb’s medical bills. That money has already gone a long way, Robb said.
The bill for an initial heart catheter exam was about $30,000. A 30-minute Telehealth appointment was $600.
“It’s kept me afloat with the medical bills, there’s no way around it,” Robb said.
Beyond donating to the GoFundMe, Robb said his supporters can help him by continuing to pray for him and by reaching out.
After reading a Block Club article in 2020 about Robb’s surgery, a Chicago woman who happened to have had the same chest and heart surgeries reached out to share her experience with Robb.
“So many people in Chicago right now are reaching out, saying, ‘We’re praying for ya.’ The lady that called me, that’s beyond kind, is what that is,” Robb said. “You think eventually you’re gonna run out of tears, you know what I mean? It’s been a lot of happy tears.”
In anticipation of the surgery, Robb has not been doing cardio workouts and has observed but not actively participated in alligator work. He’s been quarantining at home and has continued participating in local Sunday church services virtually.
Robb will be allowed to have one visitor in the hospital, and he already booked a hotel room for his father. Coincidentally, his mother expects to have heart valve surgery soon.
From home, Robb did cheer on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — his favorite NFL team — to Super Bowl victory last weekend, he said.
“I’m keeping faith,” he said.
Last fall, Robb published “Our American Alligator,” a book containing his family’s collective knowledge of alligators. Proceeds support Robb’s alligator nonprofit. Follow Robb’s trapper work here. Buy Robb’s book here or donate to his mission here.
When he announced his surgery update on the GoFundMe page, Robb sent a message to his fans:
“This has been a long emotional process, but I am excited to get it done and get onto the next chapter. Love yall and cant thank you each enough. I will be forever grateful to so many….its beyond anything anyone could ever imagine. Love to you each and all.”
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