PAOLA — It was nearly 30 years ago when Erin Lyon first decided her son’s one-year anniversary of being cancer free was something that needed to be celebrated.
They ended up sharing a candlelit dinner during which they enjoyed one of their favorite dishes — spaghetti.
The next year, her other son had overcome some health difficulties of his own, so Lyon decided their spaghetti candlelit dinner would become an annual celebration of life for them.
Over the years, the dinner has remained an intimate event for the family members, with only close friends and relatives being invited to join them.
Lyon was just days away from this year’s dinner when she started experiencing some unusual symptoms Jan. 31.
The nausea and tightness in her chest weren’t overwhelming, but her instinct was telling her something was very wrong. She even Googled “female heart attack symptoms.”
She ended up going to Miami County Medical Center, where she was taken by ambulance to Olathe Medical Center.
Lyon was surprised to hear from doctors that her heart was only working at 20 percent. By comparison, a healthy heart functions at 60 percent.
She was sent home to rest and given medication she could take once her blood pressure rose above 100, but it never did.
Lyon spent the week trying to recuperate at her mother’s house, but instead, her condition steadily worsened.
“I was thinking, ‘I’m going to die, and I can’t die in front of my mother,’” Lyon said.
Her husband Steve ended up taking her to the emergency room again, and this time she was transferred to University of Kansas Medical Center.
Lyon doesn’t remember much of what happened next. In fact, she doesn’t remember much of the entire month of February.
She relies on friends like Heather George to tell her what happened. George was one of the friends by her side throughout the ordeal, which seemed dire when Lyon first arrived at KU Med.
She was hooked up to all sorts of monitoring devices, and her heart needed to be shocked seven times when she went into atrial fibrillation.
The next day, her kidneys began to fail, and Lyon was placed on a form of life support called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation.
Lyon was in intensive care for about six weeks, and although she doesn’t remember much, she knows she was in God’s hands and she had a whole community of family and friends supporting her.
“I had people praying for me from every corner of the United States,” Lyon said.
Those prayers were answered, as Lyon survived the ordeal, but she soon found herself facing an arduous rehabilitation process.
A pacemaker and defibrillator were installed in her chest, and Lyon started attending grueling rehab sessions during which she worked to strengthen her muscles so she could walk again.
She remembers breaking down during one such session in frustration, but her physical therapist was relentless in her encouragement, as were her children Josh Needham, Jeffrey Needham and Caitlin Roberts.
Her faith also was as strong as ever, and Lyon said that is what pulled her through.
“I wouldn’t be here without the prayers,” Lyon said. “I literally felt the arms of God around me.”
Lyon is now able to walk and return to her job part-time as Miami County outreach advocate for SAFEHOME. But her heart is still not working like it should, and she knows she may eventually require a heart transplant.
It’s been a whirlwind few months for Lyon, whose heart problems arose suddenly. She said she didn’t have any blockage, and it was a virus that attacked her and triggered heart failure.
While Lyon recuperates, she also is facing a mountain of medical bills, and that is something her friends want to help alleviate.
A fundraiser called Erin Lyon’s T-Shirts & Tiaras Benefit will take place Saturday, July 13, at the Miami County Fairgrounds.
A dinner and silent auction will begin at 6 p.m., and a live auction will begin at 7:30 p.m. There also will be a wine pull and 50/50 drawing.
The suggested donation at the door is $10, and children 10 and under are free.
Organizers are still looking for donations for the auctions, and anyone willing to help is encouraged to call Ava Keimig at (913) 285-2594, Heather George at (913) 731-3229 or Michele Bridges at (913) 731-2397.
Keimig said she hopes there will be a big turnout, especially since Lyon is well known in Miami County for her work with SAFEHOME and previously with Big Brothers Big Sisters.
“We need to have this community rally around her,” Keimig said.
Lyon said there was never any question what would be on the fundraiser’s menu.
“It had to be spaghetti,” she said.