Catching this heart condition was just one part of his medical journey

Catching this heart condition was just one part of his medical journey

Darryl Ponder knew he would have to have surgery soon. Born with polycystic kidney disease, which slowly causes your kidney to stop working, Ponder would need to have a kidney transplant in the next few years. He was going through some regular tests before having an unrelated surgery when one result caused Dr. Anthony Defranco to pause.

“His heart scan score came back extremely high,” said Dr. Defranco, interventional cardiologist at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center. “The combination of a few other tests with slightly abnormal results made us want to get more information.”

At first, the results were inconclusive. Dr. Defranco wasn’t satisfied and ordered a catheterization to look more closely at Ponder’s heart. The test revealed something unexpected — Ponder needed urgent bypass surgery.

“That was a close one,” said Ponder. “I never really had any symptoms that I was aware of. I had just gone to Mexico with my family and climbed up some big Mayan pyramids. I’m thinking now I could have died there.”

Ponder’s bypass surgery was a success, but his medical journey wasn’t over. Not long after, he was added to the kidney transplant list when a kind action from his past ended up saving his life.

Ponder served as a police officer with the Milwaukee Police Department for 26 years, helping train new recruits. Now retired, he was worn out waiting for a match. With all the procedures he had been through recently, he felt like he might just be done with surgeries. Then, he heard from a woman he had met through his time in law enforcement. She remembered how he had treated her kindly years earlier — and she wanted to give him a kidney.

“I say all the time nobody’s got it as good as I do,” said Ponder. “I’ve had a lot of support in this.”

Dr. Ajay Sahajpal, medical director of Advocate Aurora’s Transplant Program, performed Ponder’s kidney transplant. Today, Ponder is doing well and enjoying time with his 10 grandchildren.

“Darryl’s story is a great example of the benefits of a heart scan,” said Dr. Defranco. “Be proactive. Get your heart scan and get your regular physical especially when you get into your 50s and 60s.”

Take our free heart health quiz here.

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About the Author

Ben Hoekstra
Ben Hoekstra

Ben Hoekstra is a public affairs coordinator with Advocate Aurora Health. He previously worked in marketing and PR for various Milwaukee nonprofits and received his master’s degree in Corporate Communications from Marquette University. He enjoys the outdoors, cooking, and all things Milwaukee.