Francis -- Heart and Health

[During the last years of his life, Francis worked with Dick to fill in the gaps of his biography. Dick's comments and additions are in brackets such as this.]


In 1982, Francis was planning to tour Scandinavia with Dr. Tracey and friends from the Detroit Dental Clinic Club.  At 69 with a trip of heavy suitcase lifting in front of him, Francis thought he should get a physical before departing.  During the exam, his cardiologist, Dr. Guavara, asked about any episodes of shortness of breath.  Given that Francis had had such an episode the year before, Dr. Guavara recommended heart catheterization.  The catheterization subsequently showed significant occlusion of one of the major arteries.  A triple bypass followed in September of 1982.

Francis’s only rehabilitation was walking, to be increased each day.  Eventually he walked three miles most every day in an hour, typically up and down Marquette. [After his recovery, Francis seemed to return to his active life, rather than a specific time set aside every day for aerobic activity.  For instance, he continued to mow the large lawn at Brown Street nearly until his death. He commented during his recovery that he thought his work as a dentist (which required standing most of the day) would provide him with enough exercise.  He then responded, "I was almost dead wrong!"  However, he made no permanent change to his lifestyle but stayed very healthy until the very end of his life.  For years he would would briefly ride an "exercycle" machine in the living room.  This was passive exercise which has now been discredited as providing any real benefit.

Francis maintained the same weight through most of his adult life and was able to wear the tuxedo he bought to attend officer events at Fort Bragg in the early 1940s.  He could probably wear the same uniform as well. In addition, throughout his working career he came home for lunch and took a 20 minute nap.]

Heart Attack

Francis’s health remained good until 1996 until he visited John and Paul in Sunnyvale, California.  Colleen Dillon and her future husband were living in the area and joined the three Schmitts for dinner.  That night at 3AM, Francis experienced unusual chest pains but didn’t know if it was from his heart or John and Paul’s cuisine.  At 5 AM, Francis woke Paul who took him to Kaiser Permanente Hospital a ½ mile away. [John and Paul told their father that Francis had been out with them all day climbing the local mountains; he was 83 years old. They were in their early 20s.]

Francis recovering after his California heart attack, still as much the fashionista as ever

After clearing the admissions hurdles, the staff administered clot busters to Francis as he was having a heart attack.  After several weeks of recovery, he transferred to Stanford University Hospital. Within a week, he returned to Garden City with the assistance of Mary, landing in a massive lightening storm at DTW.

Other cardiologists estimated that Francis lost 15% of his heart muscle and about 35% of heart function.  Francis then curtailed his exercise program.

Although viewing himself as being on borrowed time, all went well for Francis until he was involved in an automobile accident in February 7, 2003, when he lost consciousness for a few seconds and hit a tree on the corner of Brown and Merriman.  His favorite vehicle was totaled.  Five days of subsequent testing at Garden City hospital failed to reveal the source of his blackout.  Dr. Guavara then referred Francis to an electro physiologist, a cardiologist with additional training in implant technology.  Before he could get to the appointment, Francis passed out briefly three more times.  The electro physiologist immediately hospitalized Francis (at Oakwood Hospital) and installed a pacemaker/defibrillator.  This was somewhat of a family affair with three of Francis’s sons: Greg, Philip, and Tom. Greg knew two of the staff people.

The defibrillator has not fired in its first year to Francis’s knowledge (although the pacemaker may be kicking in unnoticed.)  [Most likely, the defibrillator never fired and when Francis decided in summer 2006 to enter hospice, Phil and Paul (who attended him with great diligence) tried to borrow a magnet to deactivate the defibrillator.  Eventually they decided to call in a technician to do the job.  Doctors!]

As of his 91st birthday in 2003, Francis had outlived all of his younger brothers and outlived all the cousins his age (and several younger).  Only his Uncle Joseph R. Schmitt lived longer to 93. 

[Francis ended this discussion here in 2003 but lived 31 months longer so his children will write up his final illness.]

Multiple Myeloma

[Given the heart problems of Francis's male anscestors, including that of his father who went on digitalis at age 42, Francis assumed that he would die of heart disease -- hence the title he put on this section.]

[Dick needs one of the medical siblings to write this up]

[Sometime after that, Francis noticed that he was losing energy.  With a little help from his children who served as patient advocates with what many of them consider mediocre specialists, his blood specialist determined that Francis had Multiple myeloma, a cancer of the white blood cells which often produces anemia.  Francis accepted this matter-of-factly as you would expect a pretty matter-of-fact guy told at age 92 that he has a fatal disease with median life expectancy of 2-4 years.

The disease was treated with drugs for about 18 months at which time Francis sensed that he was failing and resisted attempts by his children to intervene to get more aggressive treatment (although Cheryl and Phil made a bit of progress in this regard.) 

Francis agreed to stay at Cheryl and Phil's a few weeks to recover his strength.  From there, he entered hospice and slowly faded away, sleeping most of the time.  When he would awake, he would summon Phil and Paul, the two family doctors, and want a progress report as to why he was not already dead.  Paul put his Washington medical practice on hold and stayed at Francis's side through many weeks.]

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