SIDNEY — Tilda Phlipot, of Sidney, will never forget the day before her 55th birthday.
That’s the day she had a heart attack. The remedy was a long time coming.
The problem started April 4, 2014, and Phlipot, the director of the Shelby County Historical Society, didn’t know that’s what was wrong.
“I had just come out of a meeting. I felt a big pressure in my chest,” she said. It wasn’t pain. It felt like a great weight.
“They say it’s like an elephant sat on your chest. That’s just what it felt like. I couldn’t get it off.”
Then came the first of Phlipot’s many rationalizations that day.
“I thought if I could just sit down and get a deep breath, it would get better,” she added.
But sitting down to take a deep breath didn’t work. Next, she “borrowed” blood pressure medicine from a staff member. Phlipot wasn’t on blood pressure medicine, but she thought her co-worker’s pill might help.
“I took the pill and nothing happened,” Phlipot said. “Well, I felt a little better.” Enough better that she agreed to a ride to the hospital. She made it to the door of the emergency room.
“Even though I had insurance, I was scared about who would pay the bill,” she said. She didn’t go in. Instead, she thought of another possible “solution.”
“I convinced Herb (Minchew, a society volunteer) that if we had lunch and I had a pop, I’d get rid of the heartburn,” she said.
But drinking pop didn’t solve anything. The pressure was still there.
“So, I thought if we took a nice ride, I’d feel better and I could go back to work,” she said. Minchew drove to the mall and Phlipot delivered some promotional fliers.
But taking a nice ride didn’t work. By that time, she was short of breath and not sure she could walk back to the car.
“But I didn’t let him take me to the hospital even yet,” she said. “I thought if I could just get to my house, I could take my blood pressure and lie down and rest. I took my blood pressure and it was stroke level.”
That was what convinced her that she should head back to Wilson Health (then Wilson Hospital). Immediately, she was connected to an EKG machine. Within minutes, she was told that she’d be taking a helicopter ride.
At Kettering Medical Center, doctors inserted two stints and sent her home to recover. It was time to make some changes in how she lived her life.
“I had to change what I was eating. I had to start exercising,” she said. Phlipot went on a heart-healthy diet. She worked out in the cardiac rehab unit of the hospital and began a walking regimen.
But diet and exercise, in the end, didn’t work either. Her heart rate was chronically low, but just high enough to prevent the insurance company from paying for a pacemaker.
She credits the nurses in the cardiac rehab unit with keeping her going during a long, frightening, uncertain time. Teresa May and Rita Meyer are registered nurses who have been in the cardiac unit for 10 years.
“They told me when I was dehydrated, when my numbers were good and what that meant, and all that was reported to my doctor’s office. We were building a case for a pacemaker,” Phlipot said. The nurses told her to watch her vital signs and to let them know if she were worried.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’d go to bed at 8 and by 11, I’d be texting Teresa May to see when my numbers would be low enough that I should go to the hospital,” Phlipot said. “I would be so scared.” May, off the clock and and at home, would text back and forth with her until Phlipot fell asleep.
In September 2015, the historical society director was erecting a Field of Flags in Custenborder Park. Her heart rate at the rehab unit that morning had not been good. Meyer, like May, on her own time, found Phlipot in the park and took her vital signs to make sure she was all right.
“We will do whatever it takes to keep our people healthy,” May said.
It’s efforts like those that have made heart patients think of the rehab staff as family.
“They know when we’re having good days and bad days. They hold us when we cry. They know when we’re scared,” Phlipot said.
In May 2016, the elephant returned to her chest.
“But it was a small elephant,” Phlipot said. This time, she went straight to the hospital, where it was determined that she had not had another heart attack. But doctors did more tests. A chemical stress test showed that her heart was barely working at all.
In June, doctors inserted three more stints. And Phlipot’s diet was restricted further. But the stints and new diet still didn’t solve her heart problem. And she became terrified when a nurse she met while vacationing in Virgina told her that low heart rates had been connected to dementia in women.
Back in Sidney, she saw an associate in her cardiologist’s office, because her regular doctor was unavailable. She asked about a pacemaker and the associate sent her to see an electrophysiologist in Kettering. He was the one who finally scheduled her to get the heart-pumping device.
Phlipot finally received her pacemaker in November 2016.
“Every day is a good day now,” she said. But her lifestyle will be forever different.
“I will never get off my diet. I’m on more cholesterol medicine now. I will never be able to go off the medication. I will never be able to stop exercising,” she noted.
In the rehab center, May explained why continued activity is important: “The heart is a muscle, and like every other muscle in your body, it needs to be conditioned and remain conditioned to have health.”
May, Meyer and other cardiac rehab unit staff members evaluate Phlipot’s condition and adapt her exercise plan every time she’s there. She continues to visit the unit three days a week, does an exercise routine at home every morning and evening and, weather permitting, puts in three miles a day.
“She finally realized she needed to take care of Tilda,” May said. “She is great at taking care of everybody else, but (when she is here it) is Tilda time.”
“It’s my commitment to myself,” Phlipot said. “And every morning I wake up is a gift.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.