Rehabbing Injured Hearts

February 22, 2021 Providence News Team

This year, nearly 800,000 Americans will have a heart attack and another 550,000 will receive a diagnosis of heart failure.   

Surprisingly, the vast majority will ignore one of their best options for successfully recovering their health: a carefully-designed blend of exercise therapy, education and support called cardiac rehabilitation.  

Numerous studies show those who participate in cardiac rehabilitation have lower rates of death and a higher quality of life, including more energy, lower rates of depression and a more successful recovery.

“The data is clear: cardiac rehabilitation helps people live longer and do better,” explains Jesus Vera, MD, a board-certified interventional cardiologist at St. Jude. “Research has even documented a direct correlation between the number of cardiac rehab sessions and a patient‘s outcome: mortality falls with each session completed.”

Giving hearts—and patients—a better future

St. Jude’s comprehensive cardiac rehab program is designed to improve the health of anyone who has experienced a cardiac event, whether heart attack, heart transplant, stent placement, bypass surgery, heart failure, angina, or valve replacement.  

Covered by both Medicare and commercial health plans, patients participate in two or three sessions a week for 12 weeks. During each hour-long session, advance-practice cardiac nurses and exercise physiologists guide patients through EKG-monitored exercise.  Nutritional coaching, medication and symptom education, and stress management are other components offered by a multidisciplinary cardiac rehabilitation-certified team.

“The gains in strength and well-being are impressive, but so are the gains in confidence and vibrancy,” explains Mel Leopoldo, MSN, RN, CCRP, Clinical Coordinator, who says many patients report feeling better after completing the program than they did before their heart event. “So often, fear, anxiety and depression follow a heart attack or surgery, and patients begin to put themselves on the sidelines. We help people understand that yes, you can energetically step back into life—and we’ll help you.”

So why doesn’t everyone do the smart thing?

Surveys show that ignorance is the primary reason for not participating in cardiac rehabilitation: most people are unaware of the documented benefits.  But a second obstacle is the “I can do it on my own” mindset which typically isn’t successful. According to Mel, the emotional and psychological support provided by the cardiac team and other participants can play a significant role in rehabbing a heart.

“You’re with people who have the same diagnosis, fears and challenges that you do,” she says, explaining that participants often form friendships with staff and each other. “There is a level of expertise and encouragement here that simply isn’t available in a gym surrounded by fit twentysomethings.”

If you have had a heart attack, heart-related surgery, or been diagnosed with heart failure, we can help. Ask your primary care physician or cardiologist for a referral to the St. Jude Cardiac Rehabilitation Program. To reach us, please call (714) 992-3000 ext. 3789.

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