St. Mary's Rehab team 2019

When you think of cardiac rehabilitation, you think mostly of exercise. But spend any amount of time at St. Mary’s Cardiac Rehab, and the first word you’ll think of is family.

“You get to build relationships with patients,” said Jon Clark, MS, exercise physiologist. “You see them at their hardest time. They really connect with you and lean on you and trust you. It’s really quite special when they complete the program.”

Cardiac rehab is a medically supervised program designed to improve the cardiovascular health of anyone who has experienced heart attack, heart failure, angioplasty or heart surgery. It’s made up of three components: exercise, education and counseling. St. Mary’s uses a team approach with the exercise physiologists, nutritionists, RNs and counselors working together on an individualized plan for each patient.

“We use treadmills, bikes, rowing machines and other equipment to help patients get their strength back after a procedure,” said Cindy Gibson, MS, exercise physiologist. “But we also work on their self-confidence. Cardiac rehab is both physical and mental. Many of our patients are scared. We teach them how to return to a healthier, active lifestyle,” she said.

Clark and Gibson agree that patients make the most progress when they make a complete lifestyle change. “It improves their life,” Clark said. “They find out they haven’t felt good for years. And when they get that feeling back, it’s really powerful. It’s about the quality of life.”

For some patients, improvements do not come fast enough for them personally. “Sometimes we have to remind the patient of their progress,” said Mary Grace Watts, RN, cardiac rehab personnel. “You remember when you came in on a walker and two months later, you can do this? I like celebrating that with them. Most people make a lot of progress. There’s a misconception among patients that you’re going to be sick the rest of your life. No. You come in to get better than ever before.”

St. Mary’s Rehab has three stages: Inpatient, Outpatient, and Maintenance. Gibson said there are some patients who have been coming for maintenance 15-20 years. “That’s the type of atmosphere we want here,” Gibson said. “They become our family and we want what’s best for them. And we help their family members too. It comes full circle.”

“When they graduate from us, they can do everything they want,” Watts said. “It prevents them from holding themselves back in life. After they’ve had surgery, they can take their own health into their hands. We help get that ball rolling.”

St. Mary’s Cardiac Rehab, accredited by the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation, requires a physician referral. For more information, call (304) 526-1253.

Cardiac rehabilitation has demonstrated benefits, yet fewer than 20 percent of eligible patients participate. If you recently experienced a cardiac event or surgery but have not participated in a cardiac rehab program, why not?

Here are some frequently asked questions about cardiac rehab, courtesy of the American Heart Association:

Q: At my age, I don’t see how cardiac rehab could help. Isn’t it really too late for me?

A: Cardiac rehab isn’t just about having a healthier future and living longer. It’s also about a better quality of life right now. Talk with your medical team to find out how a cardiac rehab program can be tailored to your age and physical capacity.

Q: I just never feel good. How am I supposed to benefit from cardiac rehab if I’m too sick to go?

A: Feeling lousy can make us want to crawl in bed and stay there. Sometimes, that’s what our body needs as it works to heal. But that dynamic can also become a trap that leads to other health problems. Talk with your medical team. Tell them exactly how you’re feeling: where you have pain or discomfort, and what symptoms you’re experiencing. If they determine that you can safely participate in cardiac rehab, ask them to be specific about any limitations you face and how much you should push yourself. Cardiac rehab helps you improve and feel better when you stick with it over time.

Q: I have too many responsibilities at work and home to bother with cardiac rehab. How can I resolve work schedule conflicts and balance everything?

A: It can be difficult to put your health first when you have other responsibilities. But remember, without a healthy heart you can’t do anything else. Communicate with your family and your employer so that everyone understands: Your heart problem wasn’t a few days off work. It was a wake-up call. If you want to get back to your regular responsibilities, make cardiac rehab your top priority.

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