Heart Rehabilitation –Stick with it

Even though he was only 56 years old, Dennis knew that the heavy pressure he was feeling in his chest was probably a heart attack. A call to 911 was all it took to put the lifesaving process in motion. Paramedics arrived at his home in just a few minutes. An EKG confirmed he was having a heart attack and the results were faxed to the hospital. By the time he arrived at Penrose Hospital, the heart team was waiting for him. Only 30 minutes later, doctors had opened the blockage in his heart. Dennis did the right thing by calling 911 right away. Cardiologists will tell you that “time is muscle” and the longer treatment is delayed, the more damage is done to your heart. Now, Dennis was faced with the reality that he had to bounce back from this event and make some changes in his life to prevent another heart attack.

“While I was still in the hospital recovering, the nurse on the floor explained the recovery process to me and the benefits of cardiac rehabilitation,” said Dennis. “She even scheduled my evaluation for me.”

Dennis was fortunate to have a nurse who explained the rehabilitation process to him. Research shows that only about one third of heart patients even try cardiac rehabilitation. A recent study, published in December 2009, shows that patients who participate in cardiac rehabilitation and complete the recommended number of sessions are less likely to die or suffer another heart attack in the following three to four years than people who  complete only a few sessions of cardiac rehabilitation.

So what is cardiac rehabilitation? It is a comprehensive program of exercise, risk factor modification, education, on-going assessments and referral to nutritionist and other professionals based on an individual’s needs. People who have had open heart surgery, heart transplants, heart attacks, stents and even people with stable angina are recommended to participate in the program.

At Penrose-St. Francis Health Services, patients enrolled in cardiac rehab come to the hospital an average of three times a week for as many as 36 sessions to participate in monitored physical activity. They may walk on a treadmill, use a stationary bike, work with appropriate weights or even practice relaxation techniques. Throughout the session, individuals are on a heart monitor so the nurses can monitor their heart and help them understand how hard they are working.

“The program teaches you to exercise at a level that benefits your heart,” said Dennis.

But cardiac rehab is more than just exercise. Participants meet one-on-one with professionals to talk about diet, lifestyle, medications and more. Often, this is the first time that patients truly understand what it means to eat right and make lifestyle changes that can benefit their heart such as smoking cessation or stress reduction.

Does cardiac rehab work? The numbers don’t lie. In the first six weeks of the program, Dennis lost 20 pounds and dropped his cholesterol level by more than 60 points. Not everyone will see changes this dramatic but of the 300 people a year who participate in the program at Penrose, those who stick with the program do see changes in their overall health.

“So, if you or someone you love experiences a significant heart related event, talk to your doctor, nurse or health care provider to see if cardiac rehabilitation is right for you,” said Helen Graham RN-C, manager of the cardiac rehabilitation program at Penrose-St. Francis Health Services.

For more information about heart disease, signs and symptoms of a heart attack or to just speak with a nurse about your heart health, contact Ask-A-Nurse at 719-776-5555.

File of Life

The File of Life is a mini medical history posted on the outside of a refrigerator or carried in one’s wallet which enables medics to obtain a quick medical history when a patient is unable to offer one. The personal wallet size version is an invaluable resource to emergency medical teams responding to critical, life-threatening situations outside the home. The file lists the patient name, emergency medical contact, insurance policy, social security number, health problems, medications, dosages, allergies, recent surgery, religion and a health care proxy. To request your free File of Life, please call 719-776-6207.