Want to guess what the first thing Gino Lombardo wanted to do after heart surgery?

Answer: Roll some pizza dough.

“We weren’t sure if he was ready for it just two weeks out of surgery, but he said he had a lot of energy and insisted on it,” said his son Gino, who now runs Gino’s Pizza on Grand Rapids’ west side. “We were pretty busy that night so Dad came in to help out, and he really kept up!”

That’s not surprising. Pizza has been in this family’s blood for quite some time. Gino, a 66-year-old entrepreneur, began rolling dough and making pizza pies at 13. And the same is true for his three sons, Peter, Vito and Gino, who now operate their own Gino’s Pizza locations.

Keeping it local

This past October, while on a hunting trip in the Wyoming wilderness with his son, Gino went into cardiogenic shock.

“We knew it was serious, but he didn’t want to be admitted to a hospital out of state,” said Gino’s oldest son, Peter. “We had no choice but to rush him home. I drove nearly 24 hours straight to get back to Grand Rapids to get dad admitted at Spectrum Health.”

Emergency personnel rushed Gino to Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center shortly after his arrival. He had two blocked arteries and needed open heart surgery. His family was told that his heart was ticking along at only 10 percent capacity.

“I knew that we were in good hands once we got to the hospital,” Peter said. “My dad is a strong man, but he’s only here today because of the lifesaving work done by these surgeons. They saved my dad’s life.”

During his open heart surgery, Gino received a left ventricular assist device. He claims he never felt any pain during or after the procedure and feels just great these days.

Pizza reunion

Michael Dickinson, MD, medical director for Heart Failure, Mechanical Circulatory Support and Heart Transplant, said he set the goal of a pizza reunion early in the process as a way to give Gino a goal to work toward.

“The goal of the procedure is to get people back to their normal life,” he said. “I told Gino one of these days you’ll be making pizza again, and hopefully bring it here to the clinic when you are feeling better. Today, Gino realized that goal, and we all had good reason to celebrate together.”

Hugs flew left and right at a reunion lunch hosted late last week for Gino, a beloved patient of the Spectrum Health Heart & Lung Specialized Care Clinic team.

His family delivered a stack of hot and fresh pizzas of all varieties to the group to thank them for a job well done on their dad’s heart.

The staff talked about how a bond forms between patient and provider, and both learn from one another. That was certainly the case with Gino.

“Gino is the reason I don’t buy shredded cheese anymore,” said Kelli Britten, clinical transplant coordinator at Spectrum Health.  “Gino told us what is in shredded cheese to keep it from clumping. I read the package a little closer, and after some quick research, he was right about the unnecessary additives. These days I shred all of my own cheese, just like Gino.”

As the scent of pepperoni and bubbling mozzarella permeated the lunchroom, Gino discussed with the team his retirement plans, and potential for a heart transplant one day.

Gino admitted it would be nice to get rid of the Left Ventricular Assist Device pack he now carries around, but said he has gotten really good with keeping up on his condition, and making healthy lifestyle changes.

“I’m just glad to be here today in no pain, and happy that I can actually walk and move around again,” he said, a smile evident in watery eyes.