Phil and Margaret Vaske have done most things together over their 63-year marriage. They didn’t anticipate that open heart surgery would be one of them.
Last month, Margaret, 82, developed back pain, and Phil, 86, started having chest pain. They went to the emergency room near their apartment in Sun City Center, Florida, to be examined.
There, doctors determined that the Vaskes had recently had heart attacks around the same time.
The couple was transferred to the cardiac intensive care unit at HCA Florida Brandon Hospital. On Monday, they underwent back-to-back surgeries performed by the same doctor. Margaret had a quadruple bypass, Phil a triple bypass.
The couple is now recovering in next-door rooms at the hospital. But their son, Jeff Vaske, said his dad has been sneaking into his mom’s room to check on her.
“Turn your back and Dad’s walked over from his neighboring room, standing there holding hands with Mom,” he said.
Margaret said Phil has always been one to take care of her.
“I had breast cancer twice. I had a hip replacement. He’s been my rock whenever I had something wrong with me,” she said.
The Vaskes still aren’t sure what to make of their mirroring health issues. Phil, the quieter of the pair, chalks it up to pure coincidence. But Margaret is convinced there’s a lesson they’re meant to learn.
“This is the Lord’s way of telling us something,” she said, clutching her rosary. She encouraged people to see their doctor or go to the hospital if they’re having pain consistent with a heart attack.
Chest pain is the most common symptom, but women in particular may experience shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, and back or jaw pain.
‘They’re doing it together’
Even before their marriage, the Vaskes were somewhat inseparable.
As children, Margaret and Phil lived next door to each other on a farm in Bancroft, Iowa. Their fathers were best friends.
In the late 1950s, after Phil returned from the Navy and Margaret graduated high school, they started going to dances together.
“We’ve been together ever since,” Margaret said.
At their wedding, Margaret learned that not every moment in life would be perfect: The day was scorching hot and the church had turned off its fans so she was sweating through her dress, she said, with only a thin handkerchief to dry off. When the officiant handed Phil the ring, it dropped — but Margaret picked it up.
“I said, ‘Here it is.’ And right after that I was just as cool as a cucumber,” Margaret said.
After raising their five children in Iowa, the Vaskes retired to Florida 27 years ago to live near Margaret’s mother and escape the snow.
They hope to be discharged to a rehab facility Monday. After that, they’re looking forward to seeing their friends and settling back into their apartment, Margaret said.
Jeff said he’s not surprised to see his parents lean on each other during this difficult time.
“A major factor in getting them through it [is] that they’re doing it together,” he said.