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Mecca couple shares heart adventure

Staff photo / R. Michael Semple Fay and Mark Robison of Mecca form a heart with their hands to illustrate their shared experiences of each having open heart surgery four months apart last year. Fay had a quadruple bypass surgery in May. Mark had a double bypass surgery in September. He was tested after his wife had open heart surgery.

Editor’s note: On the Health pages in February, which was American Heart Month, we shared the stories of area residents. The series concludes today.

MECCA — Over five decades of marriage, Mark and Fay Robison have shared plenty of experiences. Each undergoing open-heart surgery four months apart last year was perhaps the least expected.

“We both said after the surgeries we never want to go through that again,” Fay Robison said.

Fay, 77, a retired General Motors Corp. product evaluation supervisor who managed the Grand Valley Hunting Ranch in Orwell for 10 years, underwent quadruple bypass surgery last May.

Mark Robison, 71, a retired General Electric Ohio Lamp Plant supervisor, joked that since Fay had been feeding him the same things she ate for the last 50 years, maybe he should get checked, too. In September, it was his turn. He underwent double bypass heart surgery.

Now they’re making brand new memories together.

“We take turns sitting at the table filling up our pill boxes,” Fay said.

“When I’m done with my rehab, I’ll be pushing her to join me (working out and walking at home),” said Mark, who finished his rehab work Friday. Now he’ll move his workouts to the exercise equipment in the basement of their state Route 46 home and to walks around Mosquito Creek Reservoir, which borders their backyard. And he’s taking Fay with him.

The couple’s shared cardiac adventure began last spring.

“I woke up about midnight with this horrible what I thought was indigestion,” Fay said. “It kept getting worse. About 3 a.m., it went away. The next morning, I was fine.

“At dinner that night, the pain started to come back.”

Mark wanted to take Fay to the hospital. She waved him off. She wasn’t going to the emergency room for mere indigestion. There was no history of heart issues in her family, so obviously this pain couldn’t be anything serious.

“Then it became severe. It went up my arms, shoulders, neck and jaw. It seemed like everything was getting involved.”

She went to Trumbull Regional Medical Center, where she did not exhibit the classic symptoms of heart issues, nor was her bloodwork showing any of the typical markers, Mark said. Doctors decided to perform a heart catheterization anyway, just to make sure, he said. That showed the blockages that the other tests didn’t catch.

On May 2, she underwent her bypass surgery, followed by a week in the hospital and two more weeks at The Rehab Center at Ohio Living Lake Vista in Cortland. Six weeks after surgery, Fay entered the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program at Trumbull Regional.

“That was a godsend,” she said. After heart surgery, one isn’t sure about doing anything. Cardiac rehab includes information on exercise, diet and reassurance. “You feel like you’re going to be safe. I was afraid to start exercising, but I’ve enjoyed it.”

When Fay went back to the doctor for a checkup, Mark quipped that he ought to get checked, too, because they shared the same lifestyle. “I said jokingly, ‘Well, it’s been 50 years. Maybe it’s the way she’s been feeding me.'”

The cardiologist assured him that that wasn’t likely.

“I had no symptoms that I was aware of,” Mark said. “The summer before, I got a little more tired than I used to walking from the lake and working in the yard. But I was 69.”

Mark said it was around that time he had seen a television spot about a new test for one’s calcium score. Calcium buildup can cause blockages in the arteries that lead to heart attacks. The Vietnam War veteran signed up for a test through the Veterans Administration hospital. It came back high.

Mark went to Fay’s cardiologist with the test results. More tests were ordered, followed by a heart catheterization. Then a double bypass surgery.

Fay shuddered as Mark described the procedure: “It’s kind of scary when you think of the fact that they cut you open, split you apart, hold your heart in their hands, cut some pieces out of your arteries and put some pieces in.”

He was in the hospital for 4 1/2 days and now is doing everything he used to do before. He said he always has been active and that helped his recovery time.

“We can’t say enough about the cardiac rehab program,” Mark said.

“We’re doing better watching what we’re eating,” Fay said.

While they weren’t what she considers “salt people,” shaking salt onto everything, it’s been eye-opening to realize how much salt is in prepared foods, even canned vegetables, she said. “I’m reading a lot of labels now. Even half-and-half that you put in your coffee has salt in it. It’s surprising what has salt in it — everything.”

They eat more fresh vegetables, more fish and less processed foods.

“But we still eat ice cream,” Mark said.

“I used to have a bowl,” Fay said. “Now I have a scoop.”

“My own opinion, cardiac scans are a pretty good thing to have,” Mark said.

“I don’t know what anyone can do to make the heart 100 percent safe,” he said. “But eat right, exercise, take care of your cholesterol and take care of your blood pressure. I ignored my cholesterol for a long time.”

This time, the shared experience they plan is a more heart-healthy daily life together.

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