35 years later, surgeon and patient reunite at Heart Ball

35 years later, surgeon and patient reunite at Heart Ball

Samantha Willsey and Dr. Lewis Britton III

Mike Willsey noticed the name “Lewis Britton” on the license of a customer at his U-Haul business in the Southern Tier, and asked if he was related to Lew Britton, the surgeon in Albany. When the customer told him it was his father, Willsey told him that Dr. Lewis Britton had performed surgery on his now 35-year-old daughter. Willsey shared a photo of Dr. Britton holding Samantha Willsey at 9 months old – after he had performed surgery on her tiny heart.

On Friday, June 10, at 5:30 p.m., at the Albany Capital Center, during the VIP reception of the Capital Region Heart Ball, Willsey and Dr. Britton met again for the first time in 35 years.

Dr. Britton received the Donald Led Duke Heart Hero Award at the Heart Ball, for the countless number of lives he saved in his 43 years as a surgeon. Britton is the retired chief of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Albany Med.

“I am honored to receive this award from the American Heart Association,” Dr. Britton said. “Their research and education have helped make my work possible. It’s incredibly rewarding to see my patients years later, thriving.”

The Willsey women shared Samantha Willsey’s story during the evening. She was born with two congenital heart defects. Samantha was part of a group of Dr. Britton’s patients who presented him with his award. 

Dennis P. McKenna, M.D., President and Chief Executive Officer of Albany Med Health System, chaired the Capital Region Heart Ball. 350 people attended – and the 98th birthday of the American Heart Association.

“The Capital Region Heart Ball gives us a chance to celebrate all we have accomplished over the past year,” Dr. McKenna said. “The American Heart Association continues to fund research in our area, and offer programs to help reduce health disparities everywhere. I’ve worked with a dedicated group of executives to make the Heart Ball possible. As we celebrate the 98th birthday of the American Heart Association, we can be confident that we are leaving a legacy of continuing improvements in cardiovascular health.”

James J. Barba, president emeritus of Albany Med, received the American Heart Association’s “Moving Our Mission” award, for his work in the community, and especially with the local American Heart Association.

The Executive Leadership Team that worked with Dr. McKenna on the Heart Ball includes:

  • John Bennett, CDPHP
  • Michael Castellana, SEFCU
  • Peter Connolly, Mercedes Benz Center at Keeler Motor Car Company
  • David Cornell, Merrill/Bank of America
  • Robert Cushing, Trustco
  • Joe Nicolla, BBL/Columbia
  • John Nigro, Nigro Companies
  • Dan Pickett, Apti Health
  • Peter Semenza, St. Peter’s Health Partners Foundation

Donations are being accepted until June 30 at CapitalRegionHeartBall.heart.org.

To see Samantha’s story, check out this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cW7UMBzmsPA&t=8s