‘We got him': Friends surprise Middletown fire chief after return home from liver transplant

As soon as Paul Lolli, Middletown’s fire chief, heard the sirens screaming from a fire truck he reached for his phone to see the location of the emergency as it sounded like the truck was getting closer to his house.

By that time it was too late.

“We got him,” said his sister Ginger Bruggeman.

On Sunday night, eight days after Lolli received a liver transplant at University of Cincinnati Medical Center, more than 100 family and friends surprised him with a drive-by celebration because they couldn’t visit him due to the coronavirus.

“He had no idea,” Bruggeman said.

She brought over homemade spaghetti sauce Sunday night and told her brother she was hot and wanted to talk to him on the front porch.

“I need some air,” she told her brother.

When he heard the first siren, he searched his pockets for his cell phone. Then he saw more fire trucks, police cruisers and a long line of cars. By this time, many of Lolli’s neighbors were outside and they joined in the celebration. Some people got out of their vehicles and placed gift bags on the front yard, Bruggeman said.

“He was just so excited,” his sister said. “He kept saying, ‘Wow!‘”

She said it was important for family and friends to see Lolli and know he was OK, even though his face was covered by a mask.

Denise Keegan, who organized the drive-by welcome home party along with Bruggeman, played “It’s a wonderful life,” one of Lolli’s favorite songs over a loud speaker in her vehicle.

Bruggeman picked up her brother Friday night from the hospital. She said it was “overwhelming” to see him for the first time in a week. She gave him a hug.

The oldest of 10 children, Bruggeman, the organizer of all family functions, affectionately is called the General. On Friday, she said the General picked up the Chief.

She said her brother is “doing really well” and moving slowly as expected.

“He knows he’s very lucky,” she said.

Lolli, 59, received his liver from a 23-year-old donor on July 25. The family plans to write the donor’s family expressing their gratitude, she said.

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