Wednesday, June 9, 2010 1:29 PM

Football great gives Fresno Heart & Surgical high marks

Daryle Lamonica, quarterback for the Oakland Raiders during the late 60s and early 70s, knows the value of a great team. And he’s grateful for the top-notch team at Fresno Heart & Surgical Hospital who took care of him when he had quadruple heart bypass surgery in mid-May.

“I didn’t realize at the time how fortunate I was to have the team my cardiologist Dr. (Donald) Gregory put together,” said Lamonica while recuperating at his Fresno home. “The entire staff at the hospital has the same positive attitude he does. The hospital was so clean and so efficient. I felt so comfortable.”

For the third year in a row Fresno Heart & Surgical  has earned HealthGrades’ Outstanding Patient Experience Award, putting it among the top five hospitals in California and the top 5% in the nation. This year’s award is based on an analysis of patient surveys from 3,775 hospitals across the country by HealthGrades, the leading independent healthcare ratings organization.

Mary Lamonica seconded her husband’s assessment of his surgery experience: “I think the hospital is fabulous. We thought the help in the waiting room was just delightful. The intensive care nurses were just wonderful. The surgeon was an absolute doll. And it was nice having a private room.”

But best of all, Mary Lamonica said, is the former NFL player’s quick recuperation. He was cleared to drive again just two weeks and three days after his open heart surgery to repair blocked arteries. Daryle Lamonica credited being an athlete for his recovery, “I’ve always stayed very, very fit and I have a great love of the outdoors. My heart problem was hereditary.”

Lamonica grew up locally, graduated from Clovis High School and turned down a professional baseball contract with the Chicago Cubs to play football with the University of Notre Dame.  And although he was drafted to the Buffalo Bills and played four seasons for them, he made his mark as the Oakland Raiders quarterback. It was with the Raiders that his explosive throw earned him the name “The Mad Bomber” from Monday Night Football commentator Howard Cosell.

Lamonica shares a photo with visitors in his home that shows his most memorable football moment. “This was during the famous ‘Heidi Bowl’ when the TV networks took our game against the New York Jets off the air in the last two minutes to show the movie Heidi. I think the whole telephone grid shut down with people trying to call the stations over that.”

He continued, “The Jets were ahead of us by three points and I threw a long one to Charlie Smith for a TD.  We kicked off, they fumbled the ball, then we recovered the ball in the end zone. We scored 14 points in about 9 seconds. That one pass I threw changed how the networks do things. They cannot take the NFL game off today until it’s done.”

TV audiences missed Oakland scoring twice to take the game from a 32-29 lead by the Jets to a 43-32 win by the Raiders – all in the last few seconds of the clock.

Lamonica said although he was under the care of a cardiologist he wasn’t expecting to need surgery. “Talk about a shock to the system,” he said. “I was motoring right along thinking I was fine. I was out turkey hunting with my grandson and I felt this big weight on my chest and I thought ‘Uh-oh! That’s not good.’ I called Dr. Gregory.”

Dr. Gregory scheduled an angiogram to look for blocked arteries the next day and assembled a surgery team, including cardiac surgeon Dr. Peter Birnbaum, in case it was needed. “I was going on Dr. Gregory’s opinion,” Lamonica said, “but I had asked around when I was having problems about where to go. I called around to people and without a doubt 100%, people said if you need anything, Fresno Heart is where you need to go.”

Patients answering a national, standardized survey after their discharge felt the same way. They gave top marks to the hospital on physician and nurse communication, hospital staff responsiveness, hospital cleanliness and noise levels, medication information, and post-discharge care instructions. Under a program administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services surveys are sent to patients 48 hours after their discharge. This Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey, or HCAHPS survey, is publicly reported and was used to make the HealthGrades rankings.

“We’re honored to have patients validate the top-notch care and service we strive to provide every day,” said Wanda Holderman, the hospital’s chief executive officer. “This award recognizes our staff’s focus on patients, from providing quality care and top surgical technology to serving restaurant-quality meals in private hotel-like patient suites.”

HealthGrades vice president, Dr. Rick May said, “There is a select group of hospitals that have made a top-to-bottom commitment to providing their patients with an outstanding patient experience as part of their overall commitment to quality. Members of their community should take pride in knowing that, should they need it, there’s a hospital in their area that puts patients first.”

This story was reported by Erin Kennedy. She can be reached at