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Heart transplant recipient living life to the fullest, diving with the sharks again at Newport Aquarium

By Benjamin Shipp
NKyTribune intern

When former Navy Seal Bruno Lanman was diagnosed with heart failure in 2003, he thought that his days spent in the cool, salty water of Shark Ray Bay at the Newport Aquarium were behind him.

Lanman with the dive team in the shark tank at Newport Aquarium in his return to the water after a heart transplant (photos by Benjamin Shipp).

This week, The Aquarium and Christ Hospital welcomed Bruno back to suit up and plunge into Shark Ray Bay for the first time since that day. Only this time—the heart beating in his chest had never been submerged in these once familiar waters.

In 2015, Lanman had a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) installed by a team of specialists in Christ Hospital’s LVAD program. According to Dr. Gregory Egnaczyk, Director of the Mechanical Cardiac Support Program and The Lindner Heart Failure Treatment Center at The Christ Hospital.

“About half of all heart transplant recipients receive an LVAD before their procedure to help stabilize the heart while they are waiting for a donor organ,” Egnaczyk said.

Just a year later, Bruno received a heart transplant at the University of Kentucky Medical Center.

Lanman started the diving the program at the Newport Aquarium two decades ago and colleagues say he left a lasting mark there.

Behind the thick glass, Lanman waved and cracked jokes at friends as they were ushered in. Throughout the presentation, he told stories of dives from previous years and discussed the importance of raising awareness for those suffering from heart failure, specifically in the form of organ donation.

“In 2003, they gave me three to five years to live at best”, said Lanman, “I would not be here if it were not for a donor.”

Lanman and the Newport Aquarium divers after his long awaited return to Shark Ray Bay

It has been two years since Lanman had his heart transplant and was anxious to descend into the 385,000-gallon tank with 12 sharks once again.

“It feels fantastic, it was just like being home,” Lanman said. “The peace and serenity is just phenomenal.”

Since his diagnosis, Lanman has had to put his lifelong passion of scubadiving on hold, but he has found solace in helping others diagnosed with heart failure maintain the idea that hope is still alive. David Barber, a close friend of Lanman’s who was diagnosed with congestive heart failure in 2014 said, “He [Lanman] certainly gives me hope. This whole process gives me hope but seeing him back doing what he loves to do gives me the thought that I too will one day get back to doing things that I once loved.”

As the dive came to an end and Lanman emerged from the shark-laden tank, he smelled of fish and salt water. It’s a smell that he has obviously missed for all the right reasons.

Lanman emerging from the tank after his successful dive at the Newport Aquarium.

It is his passion and his muse. When asked what is next in line on his aquatic excursions, Lanman and his wife, Beth, are planning a dive trip to the island of Bonaire in the Dutch Caribbean where a reef is dedicated in his name.

Defying all odds, Bruno has overcome great challenges since his diagnosis in 2003. Between his support network at the Newport Aquarium, Christ Hospital, U.K Medical Center, and his family, Bruno has endured the most trying of times but says, “It’s like the old line from Shawshank Redemption, ‘Get busy living, or get busy dying.’”

Contact the Northern Kentucky Tribune at news@nkytrib.com

Benjamin Shipp is an intern at NKyTribune and a student at the University of Cincinnati. Contact the Northern Kentucky tribune at news@nkytrib.com

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