Darlene & Donnie

Mom and Daughter: All Heart

Donnie and DarleneDonnie and Darlene 2


I arrive in the rain only to be greeted by a face wreathed in sunshine. Darlene Pitre of Ridgeland leads me to a conference room where a petite lady of indeterminate age sits waiting. Her bright smile belies the trials she has endured. Donnie Futch as it turns out is Darlene’s Mom, not her sister as many have assumed. The 66-year-old Donnie was a sickly little girl, teased, bullied, humiliated, and called “toothpick” and “matchstick” by her classmates because of her diminutive size. The hole in her heart prevented her from playing hard like her nine brothers and sisters. She waited until after she was 18 years old to choose to have open-heart surgery because her father wanted the decision to undergo the risky cutting edge surgery to be Donnie’s alone.

Donnie underwent her first open heart surgery in 1970 at the Medical College of Georgia. After that she was able to live like a normal young woman for the first time. She married and gave birth to a daughter only to receive news of more challenges. Doctors told her that her heart would not be able to survive any further pregnancies, so Darlene would be her only child. Donnie’s challenges had only just begun. The repairs to her heart in the ‘70s grew outdated and were superseded by advancements in both surgery and cardiology. In 2009 she underwent her second open-heart surgery, receiving a pig heart valve replacement. Things didn’t go smoothly in recovery and she soon needed a new replacement valve, this time harvested from cow tissue. Each medical cardiovascular advancement was a gift of survival for the little girl born with a hole in her heart.

Ironically, a seemingly harmless, accidental nick to Donnie’s ear from a hairdresser’s scissors initiated the next crisis in February of 2013. Darlene stopped at her mom’s for a visit, as she frequently does, only to find her mother with a fever of 105 degrees. She called emergency services and within 36 hours she was battling a staph infection in her blood and was near death. She lay in a coma at Hilton Head Hospital for three months. When she awakened, she no longer knew how to perform activities we all take for granted. The path to recovery would include several months of intensive physical and occupational therapy in a nursing home. Darlene was there for her mother every step of the journey. She spent many mealtimes at her mom’s bedside, encouraging her to eat to regain her strength, even though the quality of the food was less than appetizing. The fare that day was tomato soup and grilled cheese. As Darlene pushed gently, Donnie took a few spoons of soup. Suddenly, she fell back on the bed, and as her eyes rolled back in her head, Darlene recognized the symptoms of cardiac arrest. She leaped into action when she couldn’t find a pulse and began compressions and breathing for her mother. The medevac helicopter was summoned and Donnie was whisked to Savannah Memorial where a defibrillator was installed, along with a pacemaker. The family joke is an example of black humor at its best … “That must have been some BAD soup!”

Today Donnie and Darlene are inseparable. Darlene transports Donnie to all of her medical appointments, as well as shopping and other normal daily activities. Perhaps, most importantly, she has developed and maintains critical record keeping insuring all healthcare providers are fully informed of every medication, procedure and pieces of installed equipment they are working with when treating Donnie. She proudly shows me the thick three ring binder with a timeline of treatments and procedures, medical charts, package inserts and serial numbers for implanted devices, and even a section with physicians’ business cards, complete with the dates of contact noted on each card. She has saved her mom’s life twice by her attentiveness and being in the right place at the right time to perform the life-saving actions needed.

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Support the American Heart Association
Darlene and Donnie are longtime supporters of the American Heart Association. It is partly because of science and research from the AHA that Donnie’s life has been spared. “The American Heart Association is the pioneer of CPR. Over the years we have funded much of the heart-related science and research that has lead to life-saving results. In fact, many hospitals now follow our best practices standards for care for heart and stroke patients,” said Carla Raines, Development Director for the local AHA. Darlene and Donnie participate in the AHA walk every spring and Darlene holds a fundraiser every February at South State Bank in Ridgeland to benefit the AHA.

Here’s how you can help:
1. Attend the 2017 Heart Ball on February 4, 2017 (see ad on pg. 67) and log on to southerncoastheartball.org for more information.

2. Get a team together for the 2017 Palmetto Heart Walk on April 29, 2017 and log on palmettoheartwalk.org for more information. It’s never too early to start putting your team together, as heart-related illnesses are the No. 1 cause of death in women.