Jean Phillips

Keeping Your Health in Mind 

By Samantha Leader | Photography by Alexis Emm 

Jean Phillips, a retired Syracuse City School District educator and administrator, was familiar with the impact of heart disease. Her sister passed away from a heart attack at age 61, and her brother passed away from heart disease. Conscious of her own health, Jean kept current with regular stress tests, ate heart-healthy foods and walked regularly.

So, when the day came that she needed quadruple bypass surgery, Jean was surprised, to say the least. Like many other survivors, when her own struggles with heart disease began, she didn’t realize what was happening.

Walking around New York City, on a trip with a few friends, Jean began to experience shortness of breath.

“[It was] very unusual for me,” Jean said, recalling it was the only symptom she experienced.

When she arrived home, Jean returned to her normal routine. But her friend, Debbie, couldn’t shake the fact that something seemed wrong.

“She would call me, asking if I went to the doctors,” Jean said, “but I told her I was going to wait until my yearly [appointment].”

Eventually, Debbie didn’t take no for an answer. She was taking Jean to the emergency room. Rounds of overnight tests led to a week of testing, and then, before she knew it, Jean was having quadruple bypass surgery.

Half a year before her experience, Jean had lost her husband to cancer. When she returned home for recovery, it was to an empty house. She was happy to find many people were happy to check in on and support her.

“Going through this experience showed me the support that I had from my friends and family,” she said.

Jean’s recovery included three months of cardiac rehab, taking into account diet, exercise and future ways to prevent heart disease. She was happy to have people guide her through the healing process, Jean said, noting the nurses were especially helpful.

For a while, the doctors monitored her heart every three months. Now, a year and a half later, Jean is back to yearly checkups.

Living through a major health complication like Jean’s is an eye-opening experience. Now, she’s even more conscious about her diet, exercises at least four or five times a week, always listens to her body and asks questions at the doctor.

“If you go to the doctor and they don’t find anything wrong, ask them to run that second or third test,” Jean said, explaining that it doesn’t mean you don’t trust your doctor; it just means you trust your instinct about your body.

She stressed the importance of keeping your own health off the back burner. Women tend to fall into the role of caregiver, making sure their family eats healthy, exercises regularly and makes necessary trips to the doctor. When it comes to their own health, though, sometimes they fall short.

Be aware of your whole body, Jean suggested. She advised that women go to physicals and discuss everything, continue to exercise — walking is her favorite — and listen to family and friends.

“Live every day to the fullest, don’t sweat the small stuff and be thankful to God,” she said. SWM

For more information on maintaining your heart health, visit