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Cardiac Rehab - A Personal Story

David & Joanne Privett

As a cardiac nurse for decades, I’ve cared for thousands of patients with heart disease. Somehow, I found that this could never have prepared me to help my own husband after surviving his heart attack at only 53 years old.

Coming home from the hospital, Dave struggled with simple tasks. A flight of thirteen stairs to enter our house soared like Kilimanjaro before him; our usual walk along the seashore produced fear and trepidation rather than joy and tranquility. He couldn’t concentrate on anything except how he felt. Every pain or change in breathing made him question if he was having another heart attack. His young life was now focused on pills, side effects, amounts of sodium or cholesterol in his favorite foods. On the calendar, doctor’s appointments replaced cultural events, vacation days, and weekend getaways. Worst of all, he began to feel useless and burdensome. Of course, he wasn’t a burden—I was so thankful that Dave had survived—as a cardiac nurse I knew the statistics and how blessed we were. I also knew that many patients lose confidence and fall into anxiety and depression after such a serious, life threatening, event.

I began to worry if I would ever get my husband back. I thought about cardiac rehab, and, like a good nurse, began to do some research. The literature showed that cardiac rehab patients are less likely to get readmitted to the hospital, have a much better quality of life, and even live longer than those who don’t attend cardiac rehab. I found other advantages like weight loss, lower cholesterol, less risk of depression, and more successful stress management. With all these benefits, I was a little surprised that no one had mentioned it to us, but then I read that only one in five candidates are actually referred to cardiac rehab by their doctors.

Two months after his heart attack, Dave began cardiac rehab—more appointments on the calendar, but these soon became something he looked forward to. The sessions provided a safe place to regain his strength and endurance as he would be monitored by experts, which was a great comfort to him. He now had goals to achieve and a course to follow. He really impressed me with reports of all he learned in the education sessions. Gradually, I began to see his despair turn into hope. Eventually his strength returned, and his confidence was renewed. Today, Dave is still in the gym three days a week, he’s lost weight, improved his diet, and feels he is in the best shape of his adult life.

I was so impressed with the program that I became a cardiac rehab nurse and eventually took a position at one of the busiest programs in the greater Boston area. I work with a great team of exercise physiologists, dieticians, nurses, and physicians dedicated to helping patients get their lives back, just as Dave did, after various types of cardiac events.

Using my personal and professional experience, I now guide patients through the process of achieving cardiac health and reducing the risk of future heart disease. The program offers many great benefits to patients of every fitness level. We work closely with heart disease survivors—every one of them my heroes for taking up the tough fight of improving their lives and cardiac health. It’s not easy to make lifestyle changes, but many of the graduates of this program have changed their diets, learned to manage stress, and gained understanding of the clinical management of their particular brand of heart disease.

If you, a family member, or cherished friend have survived a cardiac event, don’t be defeated by the psychological, emotional, and physical scars that may occur—you are not alone—the team at your local cardiac rehab program have what it takes to help. We can help get your life back, just like my husband did. So, if you’re looking for the light at the end of the heart disease tunnel, look to cardiac rehab and enjoy the sunshine!

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