Nurse Linda Davis is retiring after 25 years helping patients with cardiac rehab at Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park. (Lauren Conley)
Columnist

Michel D’Anna retired last week. Linda Davis retires today. Over the course of their careers, they both touched a lot of hearts, in entirely different ways.

Davis, 57, has been a registered nurse for 35 years. For the last 25, she’s worked at the cardiac rehab program of Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park, Md. Until today — well, tomorrow — she ran it.

Davis had been thinking of retiring and realized June 27 was the very day she started 25 years ago.

“Is that the universe telling you something?” she said.

Sometimes the universe tells you something you don’t want to hear, like: You’re having a heart attack. And after that — after the bypass, the stent, the close call — you’ll see Davis.

I did, after I had a heart attack 18 years ago. Three mornings a week for three months, I’d show up, press sticky electrodes on my bare chest, hook them up to a portable monitor, get my blood pressure checked, then follow Davis’s instructions for the next 75 minutes.


Tony-winning Broadway director Michael Mayer, left, a former student from Tilden Middle School, with retiring Montgomery County drama teacher Michel D’Anna. (Danielle D’Anna)

Her first job was as a nurse at Washington Hospital Center, dealing with myriad patients. After a few years, telemetry was introduced on the floor. That’s the ability to monitor a patient’s vital signs remotely.

Davis became fascinated by the intricacies of the heart, by the jagged lines its rhythms sketched on paper and computer screens. In 1994, she went to Washington Adventist to work with patients as they recovered from their heart attacks. She led them through gentle exercise and counseled them on diet and relaxation.

After you have a heart attack, you’re convinced you’re going to have another one. Davis and her nurses made you think you might live after all.

“I’ve had people ask me, ‘Isn’t it boring to do the same job for so long?’­ ” said Davis. “I always say no, because it’s something I believe in.”

Drama king

Michel D’Anna believes in the power of stories. He believes it’s one reason humans are attracted to the theater.

He retired earlier this month after 41 years as a teacher, most recently at James Hubert Blake High School in Silver Spring, Md. Before that, he was at Rockville’s Magruder High.

And before that, he was at Tilden Middle School, where one of his students was Michael Mayer, now a Tony-winning Broadway director responsible for such shows as “Spring Awakening” and “American Idiot.”

D’Anna began his career not in drama, but in football. He coached the sport at his alma mater, Good Counsel, an all-boys Catholic school then in Wheaton, while also teaching English. He was drawn to drama when he saw how excited students got about it.

He’d just started at Magruder when the drama teacher quit and he was asked whether he could mount “Bye Bye Birdie” in six weeks. There was a scant $1,200 in the drama department’s account. D’Anna spent it all in a day on lumber for sets, freaking out the principal.

“I said, ‘Calm down. In theater, you’ve got to spend money to make money,’” D’Anna said.

In 2006, D’Anna was approached by the publishers of the hit Disney movie “High School Musical” and asked if Blake would like to be one of the first high schools to actually perform it onstage.

It would seem like a no-brainer, but D’Anna knew his students, knew they might think it beneath them.

“High school kids like musicals that are more adult,” he said. “They want shows like ‘Les Miserables,’ where everybody dies at the end. They like anything with a lot of teenage angst in it.”

But they agreed to do “High School Musical,” and it went great.

The next year D’Anna rewarded them with a “Les Mis” that rivaled anything seen on a professional stage. You can find it on YouTube, where the opening number has been viewed more than 107,000 times.

“The job of every human being is to tell the story of their life, as well as the stories of the people we love,” said D’Anna, 72.

Theater is one way we can do that.

“I think that’s why theater affects people so much,” he said. “I think they leave with new ideas in their head, humming new songs.”

Here’s a story: D’Anna didn’t normally go backstage when his shows were running.

It was his custom to watch from the auditorium with the rest of the audience.

But when Magruder did its last performance of “Bye Bye Birdie” he wanted to congratulate the cast, so he moved to the wings to watch.

“I could feel this magical warmth, a pulsating that came off the stage and into the wings,” he said. “I was looking at the kids dancing in the final number. They were just pouring their hearts out. When they took their final bow, we couldn’t get the cast off the stage. They just sunk to their knees and cried.”

Take a bow, Mr. D’Anna.

Twitter: @johnkelly

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