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Program has lots of heart

February 01, 2012
Heart disease has always been a killer in this country and all over the world. But it's also been the focus of many health experts, and study after study has been done to help gain knowledge on the prevention and treatment of heart problems.

However, there always has been an issue with reoccurrence, or another heart attack or heart problems, after a patient has received treatment. That has finally been addressed in the last few years and is beginning to pay off as patients participate in programs like the cardiac rehabilitation program at Harrison County Hospital in Corydon.

Program coordinator Michele Howard checks the blood pressure and heart rate of George Schulte as he exercises at the Cardiac Rehab Center at Harrison County Hospital. Photo by Lee Cable
When a person walks into the Cardiac Rehab center at the hospital, it looks much like a fitness club or gym, complete with treadmills, exercise bicycles and other work-out equipment. But upon closer observation, it becomes obvious that the people using the facility are closely monitored by a well-trained staff. The patient's blood pressure, heart rate and other vital information is closely watched on a computer during their workout, reducing the danger of over-exertion and allowing a patient to progress at a safe and comfortable level.

"Our patients are usually here by physician referral," Michele Howard, an RN and coordinator of the cardiac rehab program, said. "But we do have walk-ins occasionally. The program is designed for those people who have had what we call a heart event. Our Phase 1 patients have had a major heart event, like bypass surgery, heart valve repair or even a heart transplant. Phase 2 includes things like stint placement. Phase 3 is for those who want to continue with the program after they complete Phase 2. We also have a Phase 4, which is for people without heart disease but have risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity or those who are smokers."

After a patient has a heart event, like bypass surgery, they will be allowed to recuperate for a certain amount of time. Then, after being cleared by their doctor, they can begin the cardiac rehab program. At the beginning of each visit, they are interviewed to give nurses information on any changes in medications or problems they may be experiencing before they start exercising. They then are led through a series of warm-up stretches before getting on the machines. During the exercises, they are constantly monitored and, at the end, they go through a series of "cool-down" stretches. The information recorded during monitoring is stored in a computer to be used to detect changes from one visit to the next.

That extensive monitoring is a reason many people like to participate in the program.

Dean Bradley of Depauw had extensive heart surgery 12 years ago. He still comes to the Cardiac Rehab unit to exercise.

"I had four-way bypass surgery," he said. "Two months later, I had three arteries stopped up again and they had to put in stints. One year later, they had to go in and put about 40 tiny holes in my heart. They have a name for the procedure but, I can't even pronounce it. I actually started working out here a month before my surgery, and I think that helped my heart get a little stronger. If I quit coming here, I probably wouldn't exercise. I like being monitored because I don't want to over-do it, and it makes me have more confidence. I come three days a week and can honestly say this is a great program."

On a recent Wednesday, several patients were working out on the treadmills, some were on the bikes and others were going through the stretch procedures. Kristina Combs, a fitness specialist, mingled throughout the center, helping and coaching patients. A physical therapist was also on hand to help patients. Cindy Walter, an RN, monitored the computer screen for any problems.

"We keep a close eye on everyone here," Walter said. "If we see any problem or if someone becomes tired, we have them stop and sit or lay down. If needed, we're located right next to the emergency room, so doctors are close by. That gives people a lot of confidence. And knowing they are being monitored helps them get past their fear of over doing it."

Leroy Borgelt of Elizabeth has been using the center since October.

"I actually had heart surgery in Cleveland, Ohio," he said. "I have a condition called Marfans syndrome and they had a specialist there, but it was still something they weren't too familiar with. Actually, they may be using me as a case study. But after I had surgery and returned home, this place helped a lot. They got me moving and that helped. After you've gone through serious surgery, it's really easy to just sit still and do nothing."

And getting patients moving after a heart event is something Howard believes is important.

"Sedentary or stressful lifestyles are detrimental to good health," she said. "But there are things you can do to make a difference — things you can control — and we can help with that. For instance, you can control high cholesterol, weight, food or smoking, and controlling those things can prevent a reoccurrence. And after surgery, patients often suffer from fatigue or a shortness of breath. Exercise can help with that. Every patient here gets an individualized exercise plan, and they can be educated about what will help them. After surgery, you're tired and sore; you don't feel good. But the more you sit around, the harder it is to recover. You have to take control of your own health and be informed.

"If anyone has any questions or concerns, they can come in and talk to us. I'll contact their cardiologist if there are questions. And some people return to work after they recover. If they can't make it in to exercise after going back to work, we'll set up a program they can do at home or in a gym after work. All exercise is beneficial. It gives you a more positive outlook, it makes you feel better about yourself and your health."

For more information about the Cardiac Rehab program, stop by the center, located next to the emergency room in the hospital, or call 738-7887. The center is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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