Off The Record: Graduate hopes McDowell's heart rehab program keeps on ticking

May 03, 2004|HERB BROCK

If someone were to hook up Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center's cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation program to a heart monitor, would the screen show a flat line?

The short-term answer would be no. The long-term answer is up in the air.

The 12-year-old program currently is under review by the brass at the Danville hospital. Word is that the hospital's leaders periodically review all of its programs and services to see if they are working and if they are cost-efficient. That's good management.

But word also is there is a possibility that, at the end of the review of the heart and lung rehab program, it might be scrapped in favor of a new, broader program that would address overall health and lifestyle issues involving not just heart patients but patients with other conditions. That's good planning - as long as McDowell's leaders don't tinker too much with a program that has meant a lot to a lot of area people with bad tickers.


I happen to be one of those folks. I'm an April 2002 graduate of the three-month program aimed at rehabilitating a wide variety of heart patients, including those who have had heart attacks, have had stents and angioplasties done to their hearts and/or have had bypass operations or just have a cardiac disease needing more than medicine. There even have been a few patients who have had heart transplants. About the only kind of heart patient who has not been through the program is the Tin Man, but only a wizard can help him, anyway.

Literally hundreds of area people have been through the program since Anna Oster, its director, started it in 1992. Since then, Oster and two full-time registered nurses, one full-time licensed practical nurse and a part-time respiratory therapist have monitored and worked to improve the heart and lung health of a rotation of 15 to 20 new patients a month staggered over three-month sessions over the last dozen years.

For an hour or so three days a week, a program participant works out on various pieces of cardiovascular equipment, from treadmills to rowing machines, and is carefully monitored by nurses while doing the exercises. The immediate goal is to steadily improve repetitions on each piece of equipment. The long-range goal is to get the heart in as good a shape as possible.

Your mind gets a workout, too, as participants are provided tons of information about the heart, heart disease, exercise, diet and lifestyle issues and their impact on health and are tested periodically on that info. In addition, cardiac nurses, dietitians, lifestyle counselors and other experts hold programs where participants can ask questions.

The program offered me a lot, and I eventually took a lot from it. But at first I wanted nothing to do with it.

I recall that cold winter day when I started the program back in 2002. Instead of being a student eager to learn about myself and ways to extend my life, I behaved more like a habitual class-cutter who had been assigned to Saturday detention. I felt like I could home-school myself. I was a walker and that could be my exercise. I was a reader, and I could read all the brochures at home.

But the upbeat attitude and professional demeanor of the staff made it hard for me to continue my curmudgeon-like behavior. No Nurse Ratcheds among them. These women not only sounded like they knew what they were talking about, they also appeared genuinely interested in making sure I listened to what they were saying.

And it became fun to be with my classmates. A diverse group of folks, ranging from city slickers to country boys, and ranging in age from our late 30s to our early 80s, we did have at least one thing in common - our hampered hearts. And once we got beyond swapping boring tales of our heart attacks and conditions - heart patients feel an obligation to let their fellow victims, family members and perfect strangers know every detail of their attacks and other events and do so in a second-by-second recounting - we actually had fun.

Some of the fun involved challenging each other, like betting who could go longer and faster on the treadmill. Some of the fun involved teasing the nurses, like making a double cheeseburger and a vat of fries the object of our wagers.

The last stage of the class involved taking a written test and doing a speed-walk to see how far we can walk in a six-minute period. For the record - and to rub it in the face of a certain smack-talking classmate named John - I nearly aced the written exam and set a record of 2,500 feet for the six-minute walk.

I left a class I didn't want any part of wishing I could re-enroll. It was fun and informative, eye-opening and heart-mending. And I say this knowing there are many alums who share my feeling.

As they review the program, perhaps one of the McDowell leaders who will be deciding its future could at least audit the class, if not take it. If they leave it deciding the program has no merit, they have no heart - and no head.

Here's one cardiac rehab alum who hopes the program, in one form or another, keeps on ticking.

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