On Dec. 21, 2021, Dale Perrigan awoke with the worst pain he had ever felt in his life.
Although it was gone less than a day later, Dale and his wife, Page Perrigan, knew there was something wrong.
“I’m a physician, a gynecologist surgeon, and I didn’t even recognize that I was having a heart attack,” Dale Perrigan says. “I had never experienced pain like that. … At first, I thought maybe it was COVID-19, but I got tested and was negative. Then I thought maybe pneumonia or the flu, but I had pain in my whole upper body.”
Less than a year later, Dale Perrigan has received a new heart, defying all odds of survival and coming home with his wife Monday, Nov. 14, 2022.
“He almost died three times,” Page Perrigan says. “There were thousands — literally thousands of people — praying for him from all over the world from all of the mission trips we have been on. The doctors … they couldn’t believe that he was alive. We believe that God’s hand is in this whole journey with us. I believe that’s the reason we are still here.”
After a few days of rest, Dale Perrigan still felt abnormally tired, but the couple carried on with their normal schedule. They took his 94-year-old mother to Tallahassee, where they take care of her eight months out of the year.
The family drove from their hometown in Tennessee to Tallahassee, about eight to nine hours. They didn’t know it at the time, but Dale Perrigan’s heart was working at only 10%.
“He had a blood clot in his heart, and he also had one around his heart in a soft place,” Page Perrigan says. “He shouldn’t be alive.”
The next part of the yearly trip included a drive to Naples, where Page Perrigan goes to teach Zumba, line dance and personal training for the season.
Page Perrigan said her husband went to bed as soon as they arrived in Tallahassee. When he woke, he asked her to drive to Naples — an extremely uncommon request.
“He never lets me drive, and when we got to Naples, he couldn’t even unpack the car,” she says. “He said he needed to go to bed. I knew this wasn’t the flu, and I knew he needed to go see someone.”
Dale Perrigan again went to sleep. When he woke, he could barely get out of bed.
The couple decided to go to a walk-in clinic. As the hours ticked by, his condition worsened.
The doctors ran Dale Perrigan through the normal tests, which all came back clean. But before he left, they performed one more — an electrocardiogram test.
“That’s when our life changed,” Page Perrigan says. “They said, ‘Get him to the hospital now.’”
An ambulance took Dale Perrigan to the NCH hospital in Naples, where he had a balloon pump inserted into him before doctors said the case was too big for their location.
On Jan. 1, 2022, he was airlifted to Orlando, and the couple has been in the area ever since.
Dale Perrigan was placed on an impella, the world’s smallest heart pump used to help maintain blood flow during high-risk protected percutaneous coronary interventions.
On Jan. 17, 2022, Dale Perrigan then received an LVAD in his heart, a left ventricular assist device used for patients who have reached end-stage heart failure.
Throughout Dale Perrigan’s time in the hospital, his wife stayed nearby at The Bartch Transplant House with AdventHealth where she traveled back and forth daily, staying at the hospital from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“They (AdventHealth) are amazing,” Page Perrigan says. “I cannot say enough about that hospital. Our doctors are amazing. Our transplant team, our LVAD team, the nurses, everybody is fantastic. … If we had been in our little country town when this happened, it would not have been good news, and that’s why we are living here.”
Dale Perrigan was in the intensive care unit for 50 days, then another part in the hospital for two weeks, before moving to a rehabilitation facility in Winter Park.
At the time, Dale Perrigan needed to be plugged into the wall at night or on batteries during the day time. About 90% of his heart was a machine, with only 10% being his own function.
Although Page Perrigan said The Bartch House was beautiful, she knew she had to find another place for when her husband recovered.
She found a small apartment in Baldwin Park.
When the couple moved to Baldwin Park in March, their church in Tennessee, Revolution Church, took over with helping. The church packed all of the couple’s items, put them on a U-Haul and even paid for tickets for the Perrigan children to come and visit their father.
Page Perrigan’s sister, an interior designer, decorated the new apartment after connecting with Shannon and Abbey Brown from the church in Tennessee, who measured every piece of furniture to help Page Perrigan’s sister with the decorating.
Shannon and Abbey Brown even drove to Orlando from Tennessee with all of the couple’s special belongings.
“The people (who) came out and did things were amazing.” Page Perrigan says.“My sister said, ‘Page, I don’t want you to step foot in this place until I have every picture on the wall, until everything is done.’ She did everything. This is the most perfect, perfect rehab place that I could ever imagine. ... We are so thankful for Baldwin Park, we are so thankful for our neighbors.”
Neighbors have offered to be the back-up contacts to make sure Dale Perrigan gets to his appointments if Page Perrigan is not able. One neighbor helps the couple with maintenance work, and Page Perrigan says people are always checking on them.
HEART OF THE MATTER
On Friday, Oct. 21, Dale Perrigan went into the hospital because of an infection. That’s when he received a new heart — thanks to Linda Bogar at AdventHealth.
Just a few weeks later — on Monday, Nov. 14 — Dale Perrigan was released and went home.
Currently, doctors are monitoring how Dale Perrigan’s body is accepting his new heart. He also is participating in a variety of therapies to help him recover from the onslaught his body has endured in the last year.
He tries to do some sort of physical exercise two to three times a week. He also completes Constant Therapy, which delivers brain exercises that can help reignite his cognitive, speech and language abilities.
In addition, he does Neuro Speech Therapy and even retook his medical licensing tests to help stimulate his mind where he was board certified with a 97% pass rate.
The couple starts every morning off with a bible study together.
Page Perrigan says their family has in fact become closer because of the journey.
Their daughter, Julie, helps with finances and organization, their son, Nathan, supplies emotional support and faith, and their daughter Bethany, a travel nurse, helps them to understand terminology with the doctors.
In the future, Page Perrigan said she would love for the couple to travel again if her husband ever recovers.
“But, if it isn’t that way, we will be fine,” she says. “Because we go to bed holding hands, I wake up, and he’s there, and we hold hands again. … Knowing that we’ve got each other … whatever happens, happens, we will be OK. We’re best friends. We talk about everything. We share every part of our lives. That’s rare … and I’m not ready for it to go away.”
“All of this has even more so affirmed the love that my wife has for me,” Dale Perrigan says. “I think that’s the main thing that I have discovered in going through this. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, so each day is just another day of opportunity and we try to do the best we can. Every day I hope to get a little stronger.”