Miracle Survivor: Heart Patient Tells Her Story

By Cindy Hadish

After surviving two heart attacks, a stroke and open heart surgery, all in the same day, Therese Plummer takes nothing for granted.

“Every day is a gift,” said Plummer, 54, of Marion. “Every day has new meaning.”

Even her doctors say Plummer’s case is out of the ordinary. It began March 29, 2014, as Plummer was getting ready for work. She experienced pain on the left side of her chest, shoulder and neck, along with dizziness and nausea, and even as she took a shower, Plummer broke out in a cold sweat that she couldn’t shake.

“It wasn’t a sharp pain,” she said, calmly remembering the day. “It’s like someone sitting on your chest.” Plummer decided to lie down, and the symptoms passed, but returned when she got up again, and her husband asked if she needed to go to the hospital.

They drove to the emergency department at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital, where a blockage was identified in one of her arteries. As staff prepared Plummer for a stent, her blood “went crazy,” she said. “It clotted everywhere,” and she suffered a heart attack.

Emergency personnel used paddles to defibrillate her heart and stabilize Plummer enough to prepare her for open-heart surgery, but she suffered another heart attack as surgery began. This time, medical staff had to break her breast bone and hand-massage her heart to save her life.

She underwent double-bypass surgery, but also had suffered a stroke and lost movement in the left side of her body, as well as experiencing organ failure. Doctors put her in a medically-induced coma to allow her body to recover, but at the end of that nine-day period, “I chose to sleep another ten days,” Plummer said, adding that during that time, “the only thing keeping me alive were the machines.”

During those ten days, Plummer had little brain activity and doctors worried about her future quality of life. There was discussion on numerous occasions about discontinuing care. Therese’s husband, Jim, was faced with making a decision about taking her off life-support. That was a Friday. He was given the weekend to decide.

That Sunday, a prayer vigil for Plummer was held at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, which the family attends and where she works part-time as a secretary. It was Palm Sunday, and the next day, Plummer said, “I woke up.”

Her father was in her hospital room that morning and she recognized him; a sign that her brain was functioning. She eventually was removed from the respirator, dialysis, and the feeding tube used since she had been in the coma.

Plummer began physical therapy, as well as speech and recreational therapy, relearning every day tasks, such as tying her shoes and brushing her teeth. A longtime smoker, Plummer said the last cigarette she had was on the day of her heart attacks. She came home from the hospital the day before Mother’s Day and returned to work at New Horizons Computer Learning Center in Hiawatha on July 7 that year.

“All of my doctors think I’m a miracle,” she said. So do others who hear her story, including those at the “Go Red for Women” luncheon in Cedar Rapids in 2015, where Plummer was a featured survivor.

February is known as American Heart Month; an opportunity to spread the word about prevention and warning signs of heart disease. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure, is the number 1 killer of most ethnicities in the United States and a leading cause of disability.

Experts recommend if you have symptoms such as severe chest pain, fainting, sudden onset of shortness of breath or symptoms of a stroke, to call 911. Early detection and treatment may help save your life.

One way to recognize and react to a stroke is FAST: Face drooping; Arm weakness; Speech difficulty; Time to call 9-1-1. If a person shows any of the symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get the person to a hospital immediately.

The American Heart Association’s 2017 Cedar Rapids Heart Ball will be Saturday, Feb. 25 at 6:00pm, at the DoubleTree Hotel by Hilton, 350 First Ave. NE.

Iowa City’s Heart Ball will be 6:30 p.m. Friday, March 24, at the Feller Club Room, Carver-Hawkeye Arena, 1 Elliot Dr. The event begins with a cocktail reception, followed by dinner, a live auction, dessert and dancing.

Last year, the Heart Ball campaign raised just over $71 million nationwide. For more about the American Heart Association, see: www.heart.org.

 

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