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Heartfelt Gratitude: Teresa Samsil continues learning through grief and a heart scare

September 14, 2018 1:40 p.m.

While motivated by concern and the desire to serve, nurses are notorious for neglecting themselves while attending to others. This was certainly true of Teresa Samsil, a nurse for 30 years, a wife, mother and grandmother.

The Hidalgo resident was getting ready for church last March when she felt tightness in her chest. The pain worsened and then radiated through her neck and down her arm. “This was serious,” she recalled. After dialing 911, Teresa was transported to the Sarah Bush Lincoln Emergency Department where it was identified that she was having a heart attack. She was then airlifted to HSHS St. John’s Hospital in Springfield. She underwent a cardiac cath, but her condition did not call for surgical intervention. In Teresa’s case, medication, diet and lifestyle changes were determined to be the best first course of intervention.

Teresa began cardiac rehabilitation through Sarah Bush Lincoln’s METS (Monitored Exercise Testing Services) program. METS offers cardiac and pulmonary exercise and education to people who are recovering from illnesses or surgeries, to those who are at risk of developing illnesses and to people who are battling chronic illnesses or diseases of the heart or lungs. A team of doctors, nurses, exercise physiologists, respiratory therapists, dietitians and certified diabetes educators help participants get back on their feet to create lasting, healthy lifestyles.

While Teresa was initially engaged in METS, she didn’t have the energy she had hoped for, but she chalked it up to grief. Not long before, Teresa’s husband of 42 years, Tom, had died after an extended illness.

One day, Teresa began having chest pain while exercising in METS. She had been a participant for two months. Cardiac rehab nurse Paula Enstrom, RN, gave her a “time out” and a nitroglycerin tablet for angina. “Paula knew something was wrong and exactly what to do for it,” Teresa explained. “When my chest pain stopped, I was allowed to walk slowly again on the treadmill, but the pain came back. Paula stopped me again and gave me a second nitro, but my pain continued to worsen. They then took me to the Emergency Department.”

Before long, Teresa was being wheeled into the cardiac catheterization lab for a balloon angioplasty and stent insertion to open up the artery. Prairie Heart Institute Interventional Cardiologist Amit Dande, MD, explained that the first option of medication, diet and lifestyle change was a good one, but it wasn’t working for her. “I am grateful for Dr. Dande’s knowledge,” Teresa said. “I feel so much better now. From the moment I met him, I always felt like I was in good hands. I knew he was doing what was best for me.”

By the end of June, Teresa was attending the METS cardiac rehab program three times a week for 45 minutes. She had worked up to exercising 8.5 minutes on the elliptical machine and she had lost 40 pounds. “All of the staff has been incredibly encouraging. Paula has given me the basics and the drive to improve. She has helped me understand angina better,” Teresa said. “I have a long way to go to a healthier lifestyle, but I am doing more things and working out on my treadmill at home, doing yoga and becoming more active in my church.” 

Teresa considers herself a life-long learner and is now studying her own health! She is paying attention to her body and is learning to distinguish between physical ailments and symptoms that might be exacerbated by stress. “It is amazing what grief can do to your body,” Teresa said. “I thought the physical pain was part of my grieving process. I was depressed and didn’t want to do anything, but I kept trying to keep myself busy. I thought I was more prepared for Tom’s death, but once it happened, I learned I was so unprepared.” 

While living on her family’s homestead with her grandson, Teresa finds peace in mowing the lawn and tending to the flowerbeds that her mother nurtured over the years. “If it hadn’t been for God, I wouldn’t have made it,” she said. “That’s where I got my strength. I depend on Him for everything. I feel His presence in the deepest, darkest places and find strength to go on.”

Teresa expresses her feelings of loss in a grief journal, her feelings of appreciation in a gratitude journal (this is where she celebrates the joy her three daughters and their families bring), and her caloric intake in a food diary. She has continued exercising two to three times weekly in the METS Phase 3 cardiac rehab program where she enjoys the ongoing support of the METS staff and other patients. Teresa rejoices in her improved health and the life that’s ahead of her.

For more information about The Heart Center, call 217 238-4960.

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