Exercise is Life

It happened the morning of July 20, 2006. I got up at my usual 7:15 a.m., kissed my wife good-bye, checked my calendar...

It happened the morning of July 20, 2006. I got up at my usual 7:15 a.m., kissed my wife good-bye, checked my calendar for the day, got dressed, walked downstairs and … had a heart attack. The sudden pain in my chest, while not that of the proverbial elephant sitting upon it, was formidable. In addition, the cold sweat pouring out of my body confirmed what was happening to a stunned 54-year-old. Before I knew it, I was at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Langhorne, Pa., in one of that facility’s three catheterization laboratories.

There was a clot in my left anterior descending artery, the “widow maker.’’

Luckily, I was treated promptly — I did suffer some muscle loss – and now walk around with three drug-emitting stents. I have to watch what I eat, follow my medication regimen and participate in an exercise program. Nearly 18 months later, I feel as good and, my friends say, look as good as ever. Believe me, even after coming home from the hospital five days later, I was scared. It takes a few months until you, and your family, settles down after such an event. I credit one facet of my recovery–cardiac rehabilitation–as a key component in putting a smile back on my face.

Cardiac rehabilitation, a medically supervised exercise program, did three things to improve both my mental and physical psyche:

• It restored my physical confidence. If I could do a 50-minute supervised workout, obviously I realized my heart can still function.

• The associated counseling helped relieve a lot of the stress. I needed the psychological help at the time, as did my wife.

• A bond is formed with other patients who are in the same boat as you. Some may have problems that are worse and you become a helping hand to them as well.

So I am a fan of cardiac rehabilitation. Out of it came an exercise program I have stuck with—and enjoyed–the last several months. A recent nuclear-stress test was completed without a problem–six demanding minutes with 12 percent grade. My ejection fraction is 42, something I certainly can live with. I realize the cardiac rehabilitation program I graduated from is not for every patient every cardiologist treats. This for you, the doctor, to discuss. Yet, I also wonder, as does Dr. Dennis Bloomfield, a cardiologist affiliated with Richmond University Medical Center, president of the Staten Island Heart Society and a monthly contributor, along with the Richmond County Medical Society, to The Staten Island Advance, why only 30 percent of patients eligible for such programs actually take part in them.

“This is a problem that doctors, not insurance companies, have to grapple with,’’ he states in a Dec. 17, 2007, Advance column. My insurance carrier was more than willing to pay for eight weeks of cardiac rehabilitation. I know how much the program at St. Mary’s Medical Center contributed to my recovery.

That 30 percent figure, for whatever reason, and from a layman’s perspective, makes me wonder why more aren’t given the opportunity to experience cardiac rehabilitation. I really feel, in one’s recovery from a heart attack, “exercise is life.’’