Cardiac survivor wants to help others through challenging times

Provided photo Tom Jones talks with Jennie Blythe, RN, at UVMC Cardiac Rehab.

Provided photo Tom Jones talks with Jennie Blythe, RN, at UVMC Cardiac Rehab.

For Miami Valley Today

TROY — It’s not unusual for Tom Jones to offer time and a listening ear to others in cardiac rehabilitation.

Jones, a Bradford area resident, knows what it’s like to be surprised by a cardiac incident and the emotions that can follow.

After more than 60 years of good health, he had a heart attack during Thanksgiving week last year. A heart catheterization at Upper Valley Medical Center followed; three blockages of 90 percent, 95 percent, and 100 percent were found. Jones was quickly transferred by ambulance to Miami Valley Hospital for open heart surgery.

“I had never had surgery, never been sick, never had a prescription other than an antibiotic. My cholesterol was always at normal,” Jones said. “I wasn’t the poster child, I didn’t think.”

And yet, he was tired a few days before that November Sunday when he experienced tightness in his chest. “It felt like something was sitting on my chest, although I didn’t have pain,” he recalled.

He took a nap, felt better and promised his wife he’d seek medical attention the following day. Jones visited the Premier Health Urgent Care in Troy, where a nurse was concerned by inverted waves in an EKG and strongly recommended a hospital visit.

Jones went immediately to UVMC’s Emergency Department, where additional evidence led to the heart catheterization the same day and surgery the following day.

“I am the person who always went to see people when they were sick. I was not used to being the one (sick). I don’t like the attention. I handled it by trying to make everyone else smile,” he said.

For example, on waking from surgery and seeing wires and tubes all around he commented, “I woke up feeling dangerous. Everybody in the room was laughing.”

He was home by the following weekend and soon referred by his cardiologist to the UVMC Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Program and nurse Tami Maniaci McMillan.

“Tami and all of the staff were very helpful. When something like that happens, you are scared, apprehensive, nervous,” Jones said. He soon was in the routine of exercise at the rehab room. Using humor to cope, Jones became comfortable around staff and the other rehab patients.

“I turned my monitor off … to see if they (staff) paid attention,” he said of monitoring equipment placed on each program participant, so staff can detect any issues during exercise. “I was messing with them a little bit, seeing if I could get them to smile. I wanted them to know, ‘I am OK, I am blessed.’”

Once the 12-week rehabilitation program ended, Jones opted to continue to visit the cardiac rehab unit out of enjoyment of the staff and other participants. He also wants to help ease the fears of others in the program, making himself available to talk and provide support, if needed.

“I hope I have been a help just to talk to them and say, ‘How are you doing today?’ I reassure them this is just a little hiccup and we will get through it. If I can help anybody, I sure try,” he said, adding he thinks men can become more depressed when looking at their mortality.

He recalled a recent encounter with a fellow rehab participant whose eyes told Jones all he needed to know. “I said, ‘If you need somebody to talk to, talk to me. I have the same thing. We are here, let’s help each other.’ He really perked up. It is not just me, but others, too, who try to help,” Jones said of the program.

Now, 63, Jones said his recovery has gone well. “I appreciate what they did here (UVMC) and at Miami Valley Hospital very, very much,” he said.

Provided photo Tom Jones talks with Jennie Blythe, RN, at UVMC Cardiac Rehab. photo Tom Jones talks with Jennie Blythe, RN, at UVMC Cardiac Rehab.