Mary Ann Parkhurst in her garden

Mary Ann Parkhurst in her garden

“The idea of a heart attack wasn’t even on my radar"

Mary Ann Parkhurst is so passionate about gardening that she likens it to raising children: Both require dedication, close attention, and daily effort, she explains. So, most days, she can be found in the expansive and richly colorful garden behind her home on Spartanburg’s west side.

But it wasn’t long ago that it appeared uncertain whether Parkhurst, a certified Clemson Extension Master Gardener, would be able to handle all the digging, weeding, watering, transplanting, and pruning it takes to cultivate and maintain such an impressive collection of plants. In late 2017, she suffered a heart attack.

“The idea of a heart attack wasn’t even on my radar,” said Parkhurst, who believed she was in excellent health.

After all, in addition to working up to several hours a day in her yard, she also walked each morning with her husband, Dale, and kept an active volunteer schedule at Hatcher Garden and at her church.

Nonetheless, over the course of several days in early December, she felt fatigued. Then, on Dec. 6, her chest began to hurt. Dale took her to their family doctor’s office, where the nurse practitioner immediately recognized symptoms of a heart attack. Parkhurst was transported to the Spartanburg Regional's Heart Center.

Dale followed the ambulance to the emergency room, fearing the worst.

“It was just frightening to know that she’s got a problem and there’s nothing I can do about it,” he said.

Doctors discovered a 99 percent blockage of one of her arteries. Parkhurst underwent angioplasty during a three-day stay at the heart center. She praised the support caregivers provided.

“The nurses, everyone – they were wonderful. I can’t say enough good things about them," she said. 

Still, the road to recovery was daunting. For weeks, Parkhurst felt weak and listless. “This is no way to live,” she thought.

Her cardiologist recommended that she participate in the cardiac rehabilitation program at the Spartanburg Regional Heart Wellness Center. Parkhurst, no stranger to physical exertion, was eager to build her strength back, but her insurance would not cover the full cost of the rehab program.

One of her nurses let her know that she might qualify for support from Spartanburg Regional Foundation’s Harrison Chapman Fund. The fund was created by the children of Harrison Chapman, whose life exemplified community service and philanthropy in the Spartanburg community. Its aim is to help patients who lack insurance or do not have full coverage to pay for the cost of cardiac rehab.

Parkhurst completed 18 sessions of exercise at the Heart Wellness Center, where trained staff members work on individualized plans with patients and closely monitor their progress along the journey to better health.

“It was awesome,” she said. “The staff was educated and very professional.”

When Parkhurst completed the program, she said it “felt like I was leaving friends.”

The timing of her rehab course was good: By spring 2018, she was ready to get back to work in the garden.

Throughout her yard, you could see the results of her talent and hard work: Some 70 azaleas were blooming all around. Perennials and annuals were flourishing. Hostas and ferns were lush and green. “There’s no way I would have been able to do it on my own,” she said.

It’s now been a little over a year since Parkhurst’s heart attack. She’s gotten good reports from her cardiologist and is continuing to build her stamina. She and Dale walk on the treadmill several times a week at the Westside Club. And, of course, there’s the garden, where Parkhurst is able to work for a couple hours at a time now without becoming fatigued.

All along the way, she believes the Lord has placed people in her path who have made her recovery possible: The nurse practitioner who understood her symptoms and acted quickly; caregivers at the Spartanburg Regional Heart Center; friends from church who have provided support for her and Dale; the staff at the Spartanburg Regional Heart Wellness Center.

And to those who contribute to the Harrison Chapman Fund, she has this say:

“I’ll tell you what – this is a worthwhile fund. Even if you never meet the people you’re helping, you can know that you are giving them a chance to really improve their lives.”

Donate to or learn more about Spartanburg Regional Foundation’s Harrison Chapman Fund.