Bonnie and Dickie Davis

Married heart patients teach us about living well


October 1, 2015

Vanderbilt’s first female heart transplant patient shares heart-healthy life with husband, who had bypass.

Bonnie Davis scoots up close to her husband, Dickie, sitting in the chair next to her in the Vanderbilt Heart and Vascular Institute. Twenty-nine years ago they shared a room on the cardiology floor at Vanderbilt. Bonnie was in the hospital as the first woman to receive a heart transplant at Vanderbilt. Dickie was there by her side to help her through the difficult surgery. They didn’t realize that Dickie would soon be in the next hospital bed as a patient for a previously undiagnosed heart condition.

Bonnie and Dickie Davis“When I was in that hospital bed and didn’t want to move, Dickie would grab my leg and start working my muscles,” says Bonnie. “We both believe that if someone says to you, ‘sit down and take it easy,’ you’ll never get back up.”

In 1986, when Bonnie was getting a heart transplant for a heart disease called cardiomyopathy, Dickie was pushing her in a wheelchair and he became short of breath. When they returned to the heart clinic, Bonnie’s doctor suspected Dickie also had a problem he later diagnosed as a heart blockage. Bonnie and Dickie shared a surgeon, a hospital room and new motivation to take care of each other’s hearts.

Today, Dickie, 71, still gets out in the fields to bale hay on their farm in Mt. Pleasant, Tenn. Bonnie, 69, stays active in charity work, including sewing cloth diapers from old T-shirts for families in Africa. They stay connected with friends at coffee club and chase after great-grandchildren.

“We love people,” says Bonnie. “We go to the (Grand Ole) Opry, drive to the races to see our great-grandkids race four wheelers, and have our family and friends over for cookouts.”

“I’ve driven to our neighbor’s houses and gotten folks off the couch to come to our cookouts,” adds Dickie. “ I believe the lower you feel, the lower you’ll go.”

Bonnie and Dickie rely on each other to eat healthy at cookouts and for their daily meals. It’s salmon and turkey burgers for the grill, though they sometimes splurge on grilled hot dogs. No fried or fatty foods. They threw out every grain of salt in their cupboards and brought in heart-healthy olive and canola oil.

“For 29 years we’ve followed our doctor’s advice,” said Bonnie. “A 16-year-old boy gave me his heart for my transplant. I need to take care of myself for him and for my family.”


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