Closing The Loop: Reiss Tatum

Feb 27, 2015

Reiss Tatum
Credit Warren Miller

Reiss Tatum commanded a company of 200 troops in Vietnam.

"I decided when I was a senior in high school that I wanted to be an officer in the Marines, not in business, not in government. So everything I did in college was directed at that, and I got a commission right of college. The Marines shaped my life for the next 20 or 30 years going forward."

After his last combat tour, Reiss was a Marine instructor, newly married and living in San Diego.

"I really wanted to start a family, and I couldn't see going back to Vietnam. I wanted to stay in San Diego where I could surf and be around my family. I left the Marines and found what I thought was a temporary job in the chain restaurant business. I spent 25 years in that. That's what brought me to Jacksonville. But in the 1990s, a change in ownership of my employer meant I was looking for a new career."

Reiss didn't think anyone would hire him at the pay grade he'd achieved, so he started a recruiting business that specialized in construction and homebuilding. He was very successful until the real estate collapse in 2006. But by that time, Reiss had other worries.

"I was getting very sick. I had residual effects from exposure to [the defoliant] Agent Orange in Vietnam, and had had a heart attack at age 55. I stayed healthy for a long time after that, but started to recede into heart failure around 2006, which became end-stage heart failure. I was registered at Shands for a heart transplant, without which probably wouldn't live for more than a few months.

"But I found out about the LVAD, the left ventricular assist device. I had that implanted in 2010, and it really started my life all over again."

The LVAD is best-known because one was implanted in former Vice President Dick Cheney. But it's not well-known at all. Changing that has become Reiss Tatum's new mission.

"I'm disappointed that more doctors, especially cardiologists, don't understand what that device can mean to heart patients. It's not just saving lives -- it's improving the quality of life."

And prolonging Reiss' life had one immeasurable benefit — he's a grandfather.

"When I went into surgery, I had one grandson who was a year old. If I'd died in surgery, or from heart failure, he would never have known me. Four years later, I have a soon-to-be 6-year-old grandson, a 5-year-old grandson and a year-old granddaughter — and they know who I am. There's a cycle of life there."

At age 75, Reiss describes his life as "in overtime." Regulation time expired. He and his grandchildren are enjoying bonus coverage.

"Every day is a gift. That's what people in my situation think, but really, that's what everyone should think."