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HOME arrow PATIENT & VISITORS arrow Patient Stories
Denny's Story

DennyShortly after retiring, Denny Harmon found himself  as a heart patient, undergoing open heart surgery without experiencing any previous symptoms.  Denny’s story could have ended differently, but thanks to Planet Heart this is a story with a happy ending.


School started for Clay Central Everly students and staff on Aug. 18th late last summer. Missing was the familiar face of Denny Harmon who served as guidance counselor for the district’s students for 34 years and a teacher eight years before assuming his counselor role. Denny had retired last spring, looking forward to plenty of time to spend with his three grandchildren and cheering on his beloved Hawkeyes. However, on that first day of school, Denny spent a good share of the day – six and a half hours to be exact – undergoing open heart surgery.


Denny had always been the picture of health. Trim and energetic, students and staff were accustom to seeing him hurrying up and down the steps and throughout the halls at CCE. He never smoked and ate heart-healthy oatmeal every day. Over the years he worked with his family physician, Dr. John Hilsabeck, to keep an eye on his heart health as he was keenly aware he had a family history of heart disease. At age 70 his dad had quadruple bypass surgery and at the young age of 50, his grandfather had died of a heart attack. He also has a younger sister who had a stent placed in a cardiac vessel a few years ago.


“But, I never had any symptoms,” Denny said. “My blood pressure was always good. I did annual wellness screenings when offered through the school and a few times my cholesterol levels were a little on the high side, but never alarming. I had a treadmill test years ago and checked out just fine.”


While he never had any classic heart warning signs – chest or jaw pain, or pain radiating down his left arm – Denny now recalls that last winter he sometimes would get a pain in his upper back, which he chalked up to back issues or muscle tension.


At a visit to a dermatologist last spring, his blood pressure was taken as a routine part of the exam and for the first time, it was elevated. He began having the school nurse check it weekly and it remained high. So, he made an appointment with Dr. Hilsabeck who put him on medication and recommended a Planet Heart screening.


“I have to thank Dr. Hilsabeck for being on top of everything,” Denny expressed. “I definitely believe through this process a heart attack was prevented and it could have been a fatal one.”


When Denny had his Planet Heart screening in July, the CT showed three out of his four major cardiac arteries had calcium plaque build-up.

“Dr. Hilsabeck then ordered a stress test and I flunked that,” Denny grinned. “During the test I got that same pain in my upper back between my shoulder blades which I had experience before and they stopped the test.”


The Harmons were referred to a cardiologist and chose to see Dr. Allen at the Heart Hospital in Sioux Falls. On Aug. 16th, Denny underwent an angiogram, a test that provides an inside look at the arteries. One of the cardiac vessels had major blockage and two others had blockage to a lesser degree.


“They didn’t let me come home,” Denny said. Surgery was scheduled for two days later. As his wife Nancy recalls, “When they said they would have to perform five bypasses, it was difficult to grasp. I know I asked, ‘Can’t you do stents instead,’ but they were firm that bypass surgery was necessary.”


Once released from the hospital, Denny enrolled in Cardiac Rehab at Spencer Hospital where he underwent 36 carefully supervised exercise and educational sessions. “I loved it,” he says. “The team is amazing.” Now he exercises at least 30 minutes each day at home and keeps a closer eye on his diet.

As friends and neighbors learn his story, many have sought Planet Heart appointments for themselves. It’s a message that Denny is happy to share. “I strongly recommend it to anyone for peace of mind,” he says. “In my case, my heart health issues are hereditary. If there’s any history of heart disease, I strongly recommend a person gets screened.”


At Christmas time, the Harmons’ daughter-in-law Anna presented Planet Heart gift certificates to her husband and brother-in-law encouraging the Harmons’ two sons, Matt and Quinton, to be screening.  The grandchildren - Drew, Eli and little Martina - may have wondered what was so special about those slips of paper, but the adults gathered around know that the peace of mind the screening can provide and many precious years to watch those children grow is one of the best gifts of all.