by Wendy Smith
Dr. Walter Meyer, a longtime local physician, remembers a time when patients recovering from a heart attack were kept in bed for weeks. “When I started practicing medicine in 1956, we kept patients who’d had a heart attack in bed for the first week. The second week, we’d let them dangle their feet on the side of the bed. The third week, we’d let them get up and try to walk, and by the fourth week, physical therapy would have to come because they were so weak from lying around that they could barely walk. So, they’d get them up and help them walk the hallways. Then, the patient would go home and die.”
He was joking (kind of). The medical outcomes of this practice were not good. As treatment for cardiac patients evolved and improved, new research suggested that movement and physical activity were good for patients recovering from heart attacks, heart surgeries and the like.
In the mid 1980’s, Passavant nurse Patty Bryant was working on her master’s thesis, and chose to study whether a cardiac rehab facility would benefit the patients of Passavant Area Hospital. Through her research, it was determined that there was in fact a need for this service locally, and so Passavant’s Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehab Program began in September of 1985.
Patti Quigg was hired as one of two nurses to staff the new department, and she is still employed as the Cardiac Rehab Coordinator. In the beginning, the program was just 18 sessions long and designed for helping patients get active in a safe, medically supervised environment, after a recent heart or lung illness or surgery. Initially, the program was just 18 sessions long. But Patti recalls that people wanted to continue after those initial sessions (Phase II), and so the Healthy Choices program began in January of 1987. This extension of the program allowed patients to continue their exercise routine in a safe environment.
Dr. Meyer recalls seeing the positive difference in his patients’ recovery processes as they started to utilize the program. “I thought it was wonderful, I really did,” he says. “You could see what it began to do for patients; the early ambulation. Get ‘em up, get ‘em gong again. They improved. They could enjoy life again. Before, (heart patients) were practically invalids. They returned to work; they resumed a normal life, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Patti and Dr. Meyer agree that not only does physical activity contribute to the wellbeing of patients, but the social and emotional support is a big part of why people continue exercising and see improvements in their health. “It’s kind of like their own little support group,” Patti says. Dr. Meyer, who has been a patient of Cardiac Rehab for many years now, agrees. “There are lots of benefits besides exercise. The staff is really special for one thing. When patients get their weight and blood pressure checked regularly, they are more aware of their health and make better choices in general. And, you’d be surprised how many heart patients get depressed. The socialization helps.”
Because the initial rehabilitation (Phase I) begins when the patient is still in the hospital, the next step in the recovery process is called Phase II, which is the first step of the Cardiac Rehab program at Passavant. This phase is a structured and supervised outpatient exercise and educational program. Each session incorporates a variety of arm and leg activities including a 5-10 minute warm-up routine followed by aerobic exercise. The exercise routine is designed to fit the special needs and abilities of individuals, and the patient’s physician is sent an evaluation of their progress every 4 weeks. Participants are also provided with educational materials and classes covering risk factors, anatomy and physiology, diet, stress, and medication. They are weighed and their blood pressure is monitored regularly, and can discuss medications or any other concerns with the staff at each visit.
After Phase II, which lasts for 8-12 weeks, patients can choose to continue into Phase III. This phase is less structured and patients are monitored with the heart monitor at least once every 12 sessions.
The Healthy Choices Program is also a structured aerobic exercise program supervised by a staff of registered nurses certified in advanced cardiac life support that is open to Phase III Program members or those who have history of heart or lung disease, spouses of those in the Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehab Program, individuals needing a medically supervised program, and Passavant employees and volunteers and their immediate families. The program incorporates a variety of upper and lower extremity activities designed to enhance total fitness by using various aerobic equipment including treadmills, arm pulleys, exercise bicycles, rowing machines, cross trainers, a HealthRider, and a Stairmaster.
Patti recalls that when the unit opened thirty years ago, there were just five pieces of equipment in three dorm rooms in the old Passavant Nursing School. Today, there are over 25 pieces of equipment located in the newly renovated facility.
The renovation began last fall and updates include a new walking track and a bright, open space that can better accommodate the 100 patients who come to exercise each day.
The Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation program is part of Passavant’s Cardiopulmonary Department, which has a new director, Beth Homes. Beth looks forward to even more exciting advances for the rehab patients in the future. “I am thrilled with the staff and patients. They are such a delight and I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of such a successful program and to have the privilege to work with them. It’s an honor to work with such a great team.”