INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — Someone took not only the keys to John Shelton's van, but to his heart.
Shelton, 69, woke up for Mass early Wednesday to find his 18-year-old green Dodge Caravan missing from his beachfront condo. The van had the backup power equipment for the pump in his chest that keeps his ill heart going.
Shelton, who said he is on a waiting list for a heart transplant, wears a power supply for the pump all the time in a black vest. If power fails without the backup, he will have to quickly find a wall power supply to keep it going — and ultimately, stay alive.
"I'm not a nervous individual, but I'm a little shook up about it," said Shelton, a Missouri resident who winters in Indian Rocks Beach. "I'd like whoever did it to do the right thing. ... I hope I get it back."
Pinellas County Sheriff's Office deputies and other law enforcement searched for the van Wednesday but found only its torn-off bumper near another stolen vehicle in a wooded area near Largo, sheriff's officials said.
Officers processed and returned the bumper with the license plate still affixed to a perplexed Shelton, a retired developer who cares for his disabled wife of 49 years, Mary Ann.
"One cripple taking care of another cripple," he said.
According to police reports, the van with more than 200,000 miles was valued at $2,000. The heart equipment: $10,000.
Shelton said he has suffered heart problems since a massive attack at age 49, and developed congestive heart failure. He had surgery in February 2011 that installed the pump in his chest, requiring 56 days in the hospital. The pack powers the equipment with a carefully tuned pumping rate special to him.
Now, he hopes insurance and his Missouri hospital helps him replace his lost equipment if it doesn't turn up.
Like many theft victims, however, Shelton admittedly made a mistake authorities warn people to avoid. Shelton left his keys in the van with the doors unlocked when he parked it Tuesday night.
He also had left five boxes inside the van to pack away their things for the return to Missouri.
He suspects the fact they were vodka cases attracted thievery, even though they were empty. A nearby fridge with 12-packs of Natural Light went untouched.
David DeCamp can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/decamptimes