By Karen S. Gorby, RN, MSN, MBA, CENP, FACHE
For anyone with heart disease, our innovative Cardiac Rehabilitation Program can help those individuals who have had a heart attack, heart surgery, heart failure or a stent placed. Our expansive multidisciplinary program is designed with the patient in mind, but we know that a cardiac event doesn’t just happen to the patient. The event also impacts their family. Participants and their families are supported in their recovery throughout the 36-week program. They gain strength, set goals for themselves and receive all-important peer support. Studies show that patients who participate in cardiac rehab have fewer hospitalizations, better quality of life, fewer recurrent heart events and a lower risk of dying.
Cardiac rehab is critically important in the treatment of these patients. The program becomes a lifeline for them in more ways than one. We create a personalized exercise program that participants can perform in our facility. The program is aided by advanced monitoring technology and close supervision by clinical staff. The staff educates them about adopting all the best heart-healthy strategies to support their future heart health. Education includes classes on heart health, nutritional guidance, medication and other lifestyle recommendations. These include daily exercise, elimination of tobacco products, and development of effective stress and anger management techniques. Healing from a cardiac event and engaging in practices to prevent recurrent heart problems takes a concerted effort in adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle.
Another powerful aspect of the rehab experience is forming bonds with fellow participants. No one can truly understand what a patient has been through unless they’ve experienced it themselves and, although each patient’s story is unique, they share commonalities that form the nucleus of close friendships. Our rehab staff witnesses these friendships blossom and grow right here at the Rehab Center.
Though our patients were successfully completing our rehab program, we noticed that there was also great need for follow-up support aimed at rehab graduates. Often we find that after completing cardiac rehab, patients can backslide for a variety of reasons. They may do better with more structure and supervision. They might not have access to a gym membership or transportation to even get to a public park. Let’s face it, gyms can be intimidating and even feel unsafe in this time of COVID-19. Upon completion of the program, patients would naturally wonder, what’s next?
In response to patient concerns and questions, we developed the Well Steps program. The program continues to support our AMC Cardiac Rehabilitation Program graduates. Rolled out last January, Well Steps allows patients — and their spouses — to continue coming to the Rehab Center, a supportive, familiar environment with state-of-the-art equipment. They can access our facility, the exercise machines, and the expertise and encouragement of staff for five evenings a week, Monday through Friday, until 9 pm. The cost is only $35 per month for rehab graduates and $20 for spouses. The program continues to allow them consistent interaction with their rehab classmates, which keeps those bonds strong. The development of Well Steps enables patients to keep adding to the momentum they built in rehab, and is a prime example of how we always seek to remove barriers to care for our patients.
Well Steps also serves a preventive purpose. In addition to being available to those recovering from a cardiac event, it’s also open to community members who have a history of heart disease or are otherwise at risk. Risk factors include diabetes, high blood pressure, sedentary lifestyle, stress/anxiety and high cholesterol. Additionally, Well Steps participants can take advantage of our wide variety of heart-health classes at no extra charge. The measurable benefits of cardiac rehab and programs like Well Steps include reduced likelihood of suffering a future cardiac event, the ability to return to engaging in enjoyable activities and an overall higher quality of life.
Our clinicians are also talking to patients about atrial fibrillation, or Afib. Afib is a heart rhythm abnormality where an irregular heartbeat contributes to blood pooling in the heart. The pooling of blood increases the likelihood of a clot forming and being pumped to the brain, causing a stroke. Stroke is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Afib can stem from many conditions, including high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, heart chamber abnormalities, thyroid disease, lung disease and even sleep apnea. It’s important for patients to discuss their risk factors with their physicians in order for proper prevention and treatment to be instituted.
We’re grateful to have Marian Taylor, MD, as our Medical Director of Cardiac Rehabilitation and Education. Her expertise and compassion for patients make for a dynamic rehabilitation program and educational offerings that always put the patients first. “Our rehab program is a key treatment component that’s highly customized. Patients can partner with their physicians, rehab center staff, and fellow program participants to support their physical and emotional health, which we know are intertwined,” she explains. “We’re learning new things every day about heart research, treatment and how patients recover. Our goal is to provide our patients with every opportunity to empower themselves and strengthen their bodies and souls throughout recovery and beyond.”
Karen S. Gorby, RN, MSN, MBA, CENP, FACHE, is Chief Executive Officer and Chief Nursing Officer of Angel Medical Center.