Linda Cox – Cardiac Rehab Rockstars: My Cardiac Rehab Experience – Chapter Two
In April 2016, at age 67, after back-to-back ER visits I was admitted to an Atlanta-area hospital with congestive heart failure. I spent five days in the hospital and was initially given a very dismal diagnosis. Following discharge, my cardiologist said I would benefit from working with that hospital’s heart clinic but no structured physical rehab program was offered to me. After a month and a half, I sought a second opinion and formal cardiac rehab program. I transferred my care to Dr. David Markham with Emory Healthcare in Atlanta. He specializes in advanced heart failure and transplant cardiology and had a broader approach and more positive outlook. With his encouragement, I began the program at Emory St. Joseph Cardiac Rehabilitation (CR) in May.
I was very weak after leaving the hospital, but by the time I started CR I was able to walk almost a mile despite my 20% ejection fraction. With a substantial staff of exercise therapists, nurses, and a consulting physician, this was a MUCH larger program than my first rehab experience after my heart attack in 2008. It began with an orientation class covering a variety of cardiac-related topics as well as a one-on-one meeting with an exercise therapist who prepared my individualized exercise plan. The first phase of CR was with a class of about 15 patients. All of us wore cardiac monitors and the staff carefully tracked our exercise exertion and our progress. Because I was primarily with the same people three times a week over the course of 34 sessions, we became a mutual support group and I always looked forward to seeing everyone. The same was true of the staff who were encouraging, compassionate and shared in my accomplishments as well as my frustrations.
After 34 weeks, I moved into the next phase at the same facility which involved no heart monitor but charting my own exercise progress. I learned to gauge how I was doing and when I could push myself a little harder to give my heart a better workout. Six months after my CHF diagnosis, I was amazed that all the hard work (and additional medications) had paid off. My EF had returned to the 40% it had been before my trip to the ER! I successfully completed three months in the second phase of my program and was given the option to continue working out in the same place on my own or move to a gym. I have chosen to remain at Emory because of the support I have received here and because I feel safe. After the emotional trauma of a second major cardiac event, it has taken me a long time to even begin to regain confidence in my body and its ability to function properly. This program and the people who work here, along with my cardiology team are a huge part of the reason I feel so good about my life today. I have a level of confidence in my health that I haven’t experienced since before my 2008 heart attack. It’s an amazing feeling!