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Miracle man: A tale of a devastating heart attack, high-tech care, and love

Miracle man: A tale of a devastating heart attack, high-tech care, and love

After it all was over – the urgent helicopter ride to WellSpan York Hospital, the open-heart valve replacement surgery, the days spent sedated on a machine that oxygenated and circulated his blood, the dialysis treatments, the dreamlike moments where he could hear his wife whispering that she loved him in his ear – Lanny Winters awoke early one morning in his hospital bed in York in mid-July.

In the darkness, he saw a man standing at the end of his bed wearing suspenders, a dress shirt and dress pants. The man touched Lanny's foot.

"Do you know who I am?" the man asked gently.

Lanny, who was still struggling to speak from days of being intubated, softly croaked, "I'm not sure but I think you are the man who saved my life."

A 17-day medical odyssey

In July, Lanny Winters, 69, returned from a long, hot day working as a pipe welder. He was feeling kind of funny – tired with some chest pain – but he wanted to get his lawn mown. After he was done with his yard, he came in the house and did something very un-Lanny-like: he lay down to rest.

His wife, Davalene, a retired WellSpan licensed practical nurse, took his vitals, and was concerned to see his blood pressure was low but his pulse was high. He also was coughing and his skin was gray. The couple immediately went to the emergency department at WellSpan Chambersburg Hospital, where doctors discovered he was in heart failure and decided to airlift him to WellSpan York Hospital.

It was the start of a 17-day medical odyssey for Lanny, who was on the receiving end of the latest technology and most advanced care that WellSpan could offer him after he suffered from a heart attack that had ruptured a muscle inside his heart, causing a "torrential regurgitation" that was filling his heart with blood and placing his life in grave danger.

In the next days and weeks, Lanny received:

  • A treatment called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), a lifesaving measure for patients in severe heart or lung failure that temporarily uses a machine to replace the natural function of the heart and/or lungs in a nationally recognized program at WellSpan York Hospital.
  • Emergency open-heart surgery to replace his damaged mitral valve, performed on a Sunday by Dr. Mark Burlingame.
  • Dialysis when his kidneys started showing damage from his critical condition.
  • Complex care from a highly trained group of specialists, who also offered a personalized approach that kept his family at the center of their work.

"His team had their meetings outside his room every morning," Davalene recalls, "and I have never seen anything like it. It was cardiologists, pulmonologists, pharmacists, liaisons, nurses – it was a whole team. No one left until everyone was finished giving their report and talking about his care. I took notes and there was no question they didn't want me to ask.

"If I looked overwhelmed, nothing was rushed. Nobody acted like I was taking too much time. They told me to be cautiously optimistic and they were very open about everything."

Dr. Burlingame, Lanny's cardiothoracic surgeon, provided regular encouragement.

"He would say, 'You have to remember this is not a sprint, it's going to be a marathon. You need to get up in Lanny's ear and keep talking to him. When he comes to, he won't know where he's at, what happened to him. You keep telling him what time of day it is, where he's at, how he got here, to get him into reality,' " Davalene says.

Along with that, Davalene made sure she told Lanny how much she loved him.

Lanny says, "There's not much I remember of those days, but I  do remember them whispers in my ears."

All of this advanced and personalized care helped Lanny stabilize and gradually be taken off treatments and be able to go home from the hospital within two weeks. First to go was ECMO, then dialysis, and then he finally was moved out of intensive care. Once he got out of the hospital, he recovered steadily, with some help from WellSpan in-home physical therapy and the cardiac rehabilitation program at WellSpan Gettysburg Hospital. He returned to work after Labor Day and is working full-time at his physically demanding job, where his willingness and ability to do the most difficult tasks over the years has earned him the nickname "The Legend."

The miracle man

As he regained consciousness, Lanny was so weak he could not even lift his hand to his face. It was during that time that the man came into his room and stood at the foot of his bed. It was Dr. Burlingame. The surgeon had come to the room to introduce himself and help fill in the blanks for Lanny, who had been intubated, sedated, and critically ill, and so unable to know what was happening to him for days.

Burlingame says, "Lanny was about as sick as a patient can be. His condition was extremely critical. Our entire team worked hard to save him. We have the technology and the skills to do it, and we also cared for him and his family with compassion. It was our honor to do that."

Lanny knows how far he has come in a short number of months.

"Every time I went to a see a doctor after I got out of the hospital, they would put their hand on my shoulder and say, 'You are a miracle. There are very few people who survive what you survived,' " he says.

Lanny and his family have no fancy plans for the holidays, just to gather with family. For them, this is enough and it is everything.

"I'm just thankful I'm here and can celebrate another Christmas and can be with my family," Lanny says. "How blessed I am and how thankful I am for the amazing care, for the prayers, and for God's grace, which all kept me alive."

The American Heart Association has recognized WellSpan York Hospital with a Get With The Guidelines – Heart Failure Gold Plus Quality Achievement Award and been recognized on the Target: Heart Failure Honor Roll for treatment.