Last July, Patty Phelps was put on hospice at the age of 70. Two different doctors from two Oklahoma hospitals had told her she would not survive the heart surgery she needed to live. She went home, with her family at her bedside, and began to get her affairs in order.
Patty says it all began in 2004 when she was working on her yard. She began coughing up blood and discovered she had blood clots in her lungs after a trip to the Emergency Room. After being hospitalized in the ICU for five days, she was stable enough to be transferred to a local VA hospital, where she remained for three weeks. Patty returned home, but noticed her symptoms worsened over the years. “Everything I did exhausted me,” she says.
She was told by doctors she had a heart problem and “they would keep an eye on it,” she says. However, by the summer of 2012, Patty knew it was time to do something and learned the heart valve replacement surgery she needed may be out of reach. “They told me I wouldn’t live to come off the table,” Patty says of the first conversation she had with her cardiologist. Another cardiologist told her the same devastating news. “If I lost 90 pounds, he said he maybe would,” Patty recalls. “But he said I wouldn’t live.”
Patty returned home on hospice and spent most of the time in bed. Her health continued to weaken and at one point she lost consciousness for at least a day. On a January morning, as she drifted in and out of consciousness, she overheard a comment about her dying. “It went through me,” she says. The comment was a tipping point for Patty. She told her family she was not dying and slowly started to gain some strength. “I kept trying to do what I could for myself,” she says of fixing her own meals and deciding to find an answer for her health.
“I went on the Internet,” Patty says of her determination to get better. “I happened to land on Hillcrest and Oklahoma Heart Institute. I saw Dr. Johnsen and made an appointment. It was fate.”
A family member drove Patty to her first appointment with Oklahoma Heart Institute cardiologist Dr. Gregory Johnsen. They talked about her health history and for the first time in recent years, a doctor gave her hope. “He wanted to take tests,” she says. “If they were positive in any manner, he would set me up with a heart surgeon.”
Patty took the tests Dr. Johnsen had ordered and received a call a couple weeks later. On the other end of the phone, the receptionist told Patty, “he said to tell you not to miss the appointment with Dr. Phillips.” At this point, Patty says her kidney function was hovering around 28 percent, she had serious liver problems and she couldn’t breathe very well. However, she was determined to make it to the appointment to see Dr. Phillips. “I wasn’t ready to die,” she says.
Cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon, Dr. Michael Phillips, met with Patty and explained the risks of undergoing surgery to replace her aortic valve. “He said, ‘If you’re willing to take the risk, I’ll do it,’” says Patty of the answer she had been waiting for.
The surgery was successful. Patty returned home from the surgery and this time, did not need to be on hospice. She is getting stronger and more independent. Her family, Patty says, is in disbelief. “I started giving stuff away – antiques, collectibles,” she says. “They didn’t believe I was going to make it.”
This week Patty returned to Vacation Bible School in Vera where she volunteers making snacks for the campers. She had not been physically able to volunteer for the last six years, but now credits her teams of doctors and nurses at Oklahoma Heart Institute for literally giving her life back. “That whole team are the most precious people,” she says. “I don’t have the words. They’re fantastic at being human and what they do.”