An unexpected heart

Kate Anderson with her parents, Ruth and Phil

For the first 24-hours after surgery, Phil Anderson had to have a nurse in the room with him monitoring his vitals. The machines surrounding his bed and tubes connected to his body were endless. The number of people allowed in the room at a time had to be watched and limited. His wife, siblings, and children were left to wait in the designated family room during and after his surgery.

Kate Anderson, daughter of Phil Anderson, remembers anxiously waiting to hear of the life or death situation her father was currently in. After agonizing hours the nurse finally came into the waiting room and states that he’s starting to move his feet, Kate explains.

Phil Anderson was a heart patient that had gone through a five hour-long, eight hours including prep, emergency open-heart surgery. His chest had been split open — heart and lungs stopped.

The then 59-year-old man had quadruple coronary bypass surgery. This surgery restores blood flow to a person’s heart by diverting the flow of blood around the blocked section. According to Texas Heart Institute, more than 500,000 procedures are done each year in the United States.

He looked weak with his pale, swollen skin. “He wasn’t himself, it’s hard not seeing your dad the strong man he is but rather a weak hospital patient,” Kate stated.

A tube was placed in his mouth leading down to his throat and countless numbers of cords and IVs connected him to his lifeline. “He was coming back to the pain of reality, but he was still far from whom he once was,” Kate remembers.

The day his stomach tubes came out and was taken off oxygen was hard. The hopes of having a good day were destroyed as his iron and glucose levels were not improving and he was placed back onto oxygen and an IV was reattached to his wrist. “His weakness couldn’t hide the frustration and disappointment I saw in his eyes,” Kate explains.

She described the week leading up to when her father could finally come home. She explains that seven days had passed since he was rushed to the hospital after passing out. Six days since getting a “code blue.” Four days since getting his chest cut open and sewn shut, three days since his first walk post surgery, and two days since his bad day. In those long seven days, his family had waited. They had waited for results, for surgery, for progress. And finally, her dad was coming home.

The light green and blue hospital gown was replaced with his own khaki shorts and navy blue golf polo. His vitals were stable, and there was nothing left for the hospital to do, Kate explains.

Once home, the hospital hallways were replaced by the familiar, quiet street. The green grass, tall trees, and bright flowers were a relief from the stale hospital hallways. Although he did not need a medical walker anymore, his muscles and strength were gone, leaving him weak and slow, Kate states.

She recalls seeing her mother support him as they walked up the driveway and across the street and later that same day, he walked up his first flight of stairs post-surgery. It was the same 14 steps he had gone up effortlessly just a week before.

Kate and her mother smiled as they showed a picture of him at the top of a snowy mountain. His younger physique looked strong against the vast mountainous range, and the group of brightly colored jackets and big, bug-eyed ski goggles stuck out against the pure, untouched snow.

The photo was at Glacier National Park. They explained he had climbed and backpacked numerous mountains and rock formations, including Devil’s Tower. He had even made his way to snow mountain climbing before calling it quits with the arrival of his fourth child, Kate explained.

He was also a marathon runner. He would run 26.2 miles easily. That’s what hit the family the hardest. He was a healthy man. The question of how and why were in their minds, Kate states.

He is a Vietnam veteran. He plays golf four times a week during the summer. He loves to bike and take his two dogs on a walk. He is an avid hunter. He eats a full 1–2 servings of vegetables and fruits for lunch a day. “The suddenness is what got us. We were all shocked that a healthy man could have such unexpected heart problems,” his wife Ruth Anderson stated.

For two weeks, he was restricted to walking 400-feet three times a day, and was to read a packet that told him how to live his life for the next year and beyond. He had to watch his mobility, making sure he didn’t bend over too far, stretch or reach too high, lift too much, or do anything else that would put stress on his chest.

This meant that he could not drive for two weeks, work for six weeks, and golf, or hunt for at least a year. There was not much he could do at home, but insisted on doing as much as he could.

When asked if he was bored while being at home during that time, not able to do anything, Phil replied, “There’s nothing boring about living.”

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