‘The Greatest Gift’: 19 Years Later, Mother and Daughter Finally Meet Surgeon Who Saved Their Loved One’s LifePublished: Dec. 8, 2022
“I was always his excuse for sweets,” Olivia Micheel, 17, said of her late grandfather Lanny Heyden. “He was diabetic, so Grandma would never bake goodies. But with him, it was always, ‘Well, Livi said we needed ice cream!’ Or the store we’d stop at to get feed for his cows always had fresh donuts. If I was with him, he figured he could have some, too.”
Tears filled Olivia’s eyes as she recalled more of her favorite memories – like the one of her grandfather agreeing to raise the feeder pig she won from the Rock County Rocktoberfest celebration in Bassett, Nebraska, when she was 9. And the one of him teaching her how to drive on county roads after Sunday church.
“She could barely see over the steering wheel,” said Lana Heyden Arrowsmith, Olivia’s mom. “As ranchers, children are thrown behind the wheel at a young age. But you never have time to go on simple drives with them. But Dad made the time. He always had time for Olivia. She was the apple of his eye.”
And he was Olivia’s sidekick, mentor and best friend – all thanks to a lifesaving procedure 19 years ago.
A Doctor, Friend and Namesake
Lanny’s family feared his time was drawing near in December 2003 when he suffered yet another heart attack.
“I couldn’t even tell you how many he had before that,” Lana said.
But this time, things didn’t look promising.
Lanny needed a special bypass procedure – something the Norfolk hospital he was admitted to wasn’t equipped to handle.
But a cardiothoracic surgeon more than 100 miles away answered the call.
As soon as Lanny was stable enough to transport, he was flown by helicopter to an Omaha hospital, where Thomas Langdon, MD, was waiting to operate.
“There’s a lot that goes through your mind,” Dr. Langdon said of receiving such a critical case. “Is this safe? Is this the right thing to do? The right operation at the right time? But at the same time, you know you’re not only operating on a patient. You’re operating on a family – a really important piece of the fabric that is someone’s family.”
In November, Dr. Langdon got to meet a special part of that family – Lana and Olivia, who was born two years after Lanny’s successful procedure, and whose middle name, Lang, was chosen in honor of the man who saved her grandfather’s life.
“We really wanted to meet Dr. Langdon in person and thank him for giving us Dad back,” said Lana, who drove nearly four hours from Bassett with her daughter to Methodist Physicians Clinic. “And also, just thank him for giving Olivia a pretty special grandpa. She wouldn’t have known him otherwise.”
“It was kind of surreal to actually see who I’m named after,” said Olivia, who admits to having Googled Dr. Langdon in the past. “Because with most people, it's like, “Oh, I'm named after Grandma Sally or whoever.” And they know who Grandma Sally is. I don’t think too many people are named after a doctor they’ve never met.”
The three became fast friends as they chatted about Lanny, life and the fun fact that Dr. Langdon was born in O’Neil just minutes from where Lana and Olivia live. Olivia – who’s set to graduate high school a year early and already completing general education courses at home – informed Dr. Langdon of her plans to “pay it forward” by pursuing a nursing career.
“That’s exactly what we need!” Dr. Langdon exclaimed. “This is all just pretty special. Really warms the heart. Especially this time of year.”
“A Great Example of Our ‘Why’”
Although Lanny passed away in a ranching accident in 2016, the mother and daughter duo are beyond grateful for the time they were given with him.
“He gave us the greatest gift,” Lana said of Dr. Langdon.
And according to Dr. Langdon, that’s what his work is all about.
“To me, The Meaning of Care is why we get up every day and do what we do,” he said. “And sometimes, that’s taking the time to meet folks like this. This is a great example of our ‘why’ at Methodist. It’s not just about providing expert cardiac care, but really making a difference.”