Heart Attack Survivor to Benefis Heart and Vascular Team: ‘You Saved My Life … I Haven’t Wasted It’

​Francie Robertson of Cascade promised her husband, Bud, she would be with him through his cancer care and to his final chapter. What she didn’t know was that her heart was in terrible condition.

“I didn’t see it coming,” she said. “I was busy around the house all day. I didn’t have any shortness of breath or fatigue.”

Then, Francie noticed a strange numbness near her voice box. Something clicked in her mind that she was having a heart attack, and she called to her son to take her to the hospital.

If she hadn’t made that call, she probably wouldn't have woken the next morning.

“I had a good Emergency Department doctor,” she said. “He knew heart attacks can present differently in women so even when my tests came back normal, he kept me for observation and gave me some medication. Within four hours, boom, the tests showed I was having a heart attack.” 

Her son rallied his siblings, who range from Alaska to New York, to come to the hospital. 

Meanwhile, the Benefis Health System Heart and Vascular team met to evaluate whether it would be worth intervening despite the grievous prognosis given her heart’s condition. They decided yes, they would try.

“They gave me that chance,” Francie said. “I’m very indebted to them, and I’m so good now.” 

Francie had four bypasses, and her surgeon, Dr. Steven Bailey, also dealt with extensive blockages and a clot between the chambers, along with other issues. Cardiologist Dr. Michael Eisenhauer saw her through two weeks in the intensive care unit onto her rehabilitation at The Grandview at Benefis. 

She was unconscious for days, and finally, her son sat at her bedside and told her, “You’re scaring us. We need you to let us know you’re still in there.” Tears rolled down her face, she squeezed his hand, and she drifted away again, to heal some more.  

Francie said Bud cried after every visit to her hospital room. He was afraid of losing her, and their children doubted he would last long if she died. They braced to lose both their parents at once.

A year and a half since becoming “a walking miracle,” Francie, 77, brought cherry pie decorated with crust hearts and a letter of gratitude into her most recent checkup with Dr. Eisenhauer. In the letter, she wrote, “You saved my life, so I want you to know I haven’t wasted it.”

Dr. Eisenhauer shared the pie and the letter with those on the team who helped see Francie through.

“This is what we are here for, and this is what we do every day,” Dr. Eisenhauer said. 

Francie and Bud, a longtime history teacher at C.M. Russell High School, raised five children and tended 40 foster kids in their nearly 58 years of marriage. 

“We had a good life together,” she said. 

Because Francie survived her heart attack, she was able to help care for Bud as his condition deteriorated.

Because she survived, she was with Bud and their children when he succumbed to cancer nine months after her heart attack. She was at his bedside, holding his hand in his last moment, saying goodbye with a kiss, thanking him for 60 years together, promising him they would meet again, and assuring him she would be OK. 

Because she survived, she has sewn quilts and stockings for her son’s students, and she’s cared for a friend through a hip replacement and the loss of her husband. 

Because she’s still here, Francie has been to her grandchildren’s band concerts and has continued to care for them after school, even earning the moniker “Cookie Lady” among the neighbor kids at her grandchildren’s bus stop.