"It’s actually a fun place to be," says Elmhurst resident Dan Heintz, 86. Is he talking about a restaurant? A golf course? A bowling alley? No, he’s referring to the cardiac rehabilitation program at Elmhurst Hospital that he’s been going to for almost five years after bypass surgery at another hospital.
"You get to know the other people in your group," says Heintz. "There’s a lot of encouragement, but there’s also kidding around. If I miss a couple of sessions, someone might tell me, ‘We thought we’d have to put your picture on a milk carton.'"
Cardiac rehab is a program designed to help patients get better and stay better after a heart attack or cardiovascular procedure, events that can bring emotional, as well as physical, challenges. There can be uncertainty about what lies ahead and, in some cases, feelings of isolation. Many patients find welcome relief from these concerns when they go through cardiac rehab.
Phase 1 of the three phases of cardiac rehab begins in the hospital, early in the patient’s recovery from a heart attack or cardiovascular procedure. The focus is on gradually increasing the patient’s activity level until they are strong enough to go home.
After the person is home for a while, they can begin Phase 2, an outpatient program involving three medically supervised, outpatient sessions a week for 12 weeks.
Elmhurst Hospital exercise physiologist Kent Kennel says each Phase 2 session at Edward and Elmhurst Hospitals begins with staff checking the patient’s blood pressure and setting them up with a heart monitor. Next, a nurse, dietitian or exercise physiologist will lead a short education segment on exercise, nutrition, stress management or another heart topic. Patients have a chance to share their experiences and ask questions.
Finally, the group hits exercise bikes, treadmills or other machines with guidance from an exercise physiologist. At Edward, Kennel helps cardiac rehab patients gradually and safely intensify their workouts.
"Many of our patients come to realize that they don’t have the major limitations that they thought they would have," says Kennel.
Heintz says his surgeon had told him, "There is no reason for someone in your situation to (limit yourself) by not staying active."
If rehab sounds like work, it can be, but it’s served with a healthy side serving of group support and good-natured interaction.
Says Heintz, "If somebody shares that they are scared, others will say, 'We’ll get through this.' At other times, we just like to talk about sports and other interests or careers.
"For me, being committed to the rehab program gives me the get-up-and-go I need to exercise. I don’t have the motivation at home, even though I have a treadmill. I look forward to coming in and meeting other people. And interaction with the staff is a big part of it. They have no problem calling you on something if you’re not giving it your best effort. But the bottom line is the feeling you get that they care."
Like Heintz, Patti Pfeiffer, 66, is in the optional Phase 3 of cardiac rehab, which focuses on exercise that’s supervised, but not monitored.
The Naperville hairdresser, who is in her tenth year of rehab at Edward Hospital, has seen significant improvement in her heart condition during that time.
"I’m sure that going to rehab is one of the reasons for my health today," says Pfeiffer. "And the social aspect is what keeps me coming here. I’ve made friends here over the years and I see some of them outside of rehab.
"I tell people who are hesitant about doing rehab that they would be surprised at how welcoming everyone is, and how you get a feeling of belonging. The staff makes you feel like you’re important to them."
"Cardiac rehab benefits the patients’ overall health by supporting lifestyle changes, especially in diet and exercise," says Kennel. "It doesn’t hurt to have a little fun along the way."
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