Dedicated, driven, passionate.
A warrior, a leader.
These are all words that come up in conversation when people are asked about Connie Dagon, project manager in Riley Hospital for Children’s Clinical Data & Research Outcomes Center.
In fact, she is the heart of the cardiac research department, and what better time to spotlight her than during Heart Month, her colleagues say.
“Connie is a true warrior for the CV Surgery service line,” said Kristin Foster, a registered nurse and data manager in the center. She is the true hidden gem behind the scenes helping our patient care providers put meaning behind their work.”
Dagon loves data. She works with numbers and reports every day. But behind all those numbers are kids, and that’s what really drives her.
“Oh my gosh, it’s the love of babies,” she said. “That’s why I’m still here. I just turned 75 years old, that’s how much I love my work.”
Dagon was recruited to Riley in 2005 by Dr. Elaine Cox, chief medical officer at the hospital. At the time, Dagon was working with adult patients at IU Health University Hospital, but Dr. Cox, whom Dagon called “a great friend and mentor,” asked her if she would be interested in collecting and studying data from a new congenital heart study involving children.
“I jumped at the chance,” she said. “I love kids. I have nine grandkids and one on the way.”
One of those grandchildren is a Riley kid, and her son also was treated at the hospital decades ago. So, the family’s Riley history is a special one, she said.
Dr. Cox said Dagon walked the team through how to do a prospective study “and kept us on the straight and narrow during it due to her vast experience.”
Dagon feels a personal connection to her work, Dr. Cox added. “She cares so much about each of the patients she tracks, invests in them and their families, as well as cares about the team. Connie is not only a great part of our team, she is a woman of principle, compassion and love for her work and the people it has brought into her life.”
Her role in collecting data on pediatric heart patients is invaluable to surgeons such as Dr. John Brown, who has worked with her for many years.
“She’s one of those special finds,” he said. “Someone who has a passion for what she does, is well-liked by her co-workers, a real leader and one of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet.”
Dagon, certified by The Association of Clinical Research, and her team track all cardiac surgeries done at Riley, as well as cath lab procedures on congenital heart defect patients.
They’re looking at success rates, length of stay, morbidity, mortality, etc. among patients. All of that data is submitted to national databases, where reports are compiled, then disseminated to surgeons and cardiologists in the Heart Center. In addition, the center manages multiple studies with the Congenital Heart Surgeons’ Society.
Riley’s congenital heart surgery program recently received an exceptional three-star rating from The Society for Thoracic Surgeons, one of only a dozen pediatric hospitals in the country to receive the designation.
Dagon was instrumental as a leader in helping Riley achieve that benchmark, Foster said.
Without data to understand outcomes, Riley would not be recognized as a leader in pediatric medicine, Dr. Brown said, and Dagon helps bring it all together.
“I dread the day when she feels she has to retire,” he said. “She’s one year older than I am, and I hope as long as I’m working, she is too.”
Dagon also offers direction to medical student/resident research participants. She’s known as the “go-to person” to start any research project.
Erin Pattee, program director, strategic planning for Riley, said Dagon’s leadership and mentoring makes everyone around her better.
“She has a passion for ensuring the data we abstract and analyze is utilized for process and quality improvements, ensuring our patients receive the best care possible.”
For her part, Dagon said her pride in Riley all stems from the “incredible” people here.
“It’s amazing to me the things we’ve been able to do over the years. So many advances we’ve made in terms of surgical techniques and helping babies survive and thrive, when 10 to 15 years ago, they would not have,” she said.
“There’s a great deal of joy in watching all that unfold. I just feel very privileged to be part of this group of people.”
– By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist