East Tennessee Man Lives Life to the Fullest with a Heart Pump and New Hip

An avid golfer, Daniel Lonon likes to compete. Strategy and preparation have been keys to his success on the green, but also in dealing with his most formidable challenger of more than three decades: heart disease.

The Vonore, Tenn. resident suffered his first heart attack at the age of 38. During the following years, he embarked on various treatments, including open-heart surgery. Daniel said living with the condition is a “day-to-day kind of thing,” but he didn’t let it dampen his passions. “I played a lot of golf, did a lot of fishing and hiked a lot in the Smokies,” he said.

But eventually, Daniel’s ability to enjoy sporting and outdoor activities became limited, and finally, even many everyday abilities were nearly impossible. “I could hardly go to my mailbox and pick up my mail, and I couldn’t bend over and tie my own shoe,” said the father of three and grandfather of two. “I was down to the point where I wasn’t very active at all, and that just about killed me, because I am a very active person.”

True to his character, when the 69-year-old was told his best option for life-saving health care was limited to a heart transplant – a procedure he had already decided against – he knew he wasn’t going accept defeat.

Armed with the Internet, Daniel began charting his strategy. “I did all the research to find out what’s going on,” he said. Retired from 32 years of selling “almost everything in the hospital” for Baxter International, a health care products developer and manufacturer, he understands more than most the amazing speed at which medical advances happen.

Through diligent exploration, he said, “I found out on the computer about the Ventricular Assist Device (VAD). I had seen on TV when former Vice President Dick Cheney got his.” Daniel immediately planned to go to a medical facility located in Georgia for the procedure, but he soon learned out-of-state Medicare patients were no longer being accepted.

After starts and stops and more independent research, he discovered that less than four hours away from his home, Saint Thomas Hospital, part of the Saint Thomas Health system in middle Tennessee, offered the VAD procedure. In fact, the facility is the only hospital in the area offering a destination therapy program, which provides lifesaving mechanical circulatory support to cardiac patients with conditions like Daniel’s.

Last January, Daniel, along with his wife of 46 years, Linda, traveled to Nashville to meet with physicians and determine if he was eligible for the program. “The night before the interview, I had congestive heart failure,” he said. And with a chuckle, he added, “I think I made them believe was I was ready for the VAD!”

Doctors were able to stabilize his condition, and two weeks later, on Feb. 1, Daniel went into surgery. Under the care of Mark F. Aaron, M.D, F.A.C.C., and Mark Tedder M.D., he successfully received what he calls an “absolutely marvelous device.”

Of his experience at Saint Thomas Hospital, he added, “That whole VAD unit is unbelievable. And the nursing personnel are unbelievable. They are so concerned and nice. They will answer any question you have.”

As his recovery progresses, Linda helps him care for the external portion of the device. “If I didn’t have her, I don’t know what I would do, but luckily I do have her,” he said.

The couple is planning a beach vacation with their family. And when they return to their home in a development offering three golf courses, he said it will be time to take another swing at a bit of friendly competition.

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