Nov 9, 2011 7:58 PM by Dr. Anya Winslow

Save yourself from a second heart-related surgery

"It was a real shock," says a healthy looking 64-year-old John H. Robinson.

This past July he found himself on the surgery table of Dr. John Mehall at Penrose-St. Francis Hospital. Robinson had a prolapsed valve, an aortic aneurysm, and a blockage in his heart, all of which were repaired, but the road to recovery would take some time.

Robinson says he was shocked because "I was actively engaged in physical exercise and I've always been health conscious, and I was in very good shape."

In fact, he would bike up to 5 miles, roller skate, and walk the scenic Colorado trails with his wife.

After his surgery, he was weak and exercise was not really an option; however, the staff encouraged him to partake in a comprehensive cardiac rehabilitation program after his surgery.

As cardiologist Dr. Brian Metz of Penrose-St. Francis says, "There is data now that supports being more aggressive about lifestyle modification rather than just relying on pills," which appears to be more effective.

Just this month, the American Heart Association announced new guidelines that recommend all patients be referred to a comprehensive cardiac rehabilitation program after a heart attack, stroke, bypass surgery, or the diagnosis of heart-related chest pain or blockages in leg arteries.

The program takes a holistic approach to treating patients during their recovery process. It not only encourages them to exercise, but also addresses the psychological side of recovery.

Metz says, "[the new guidelines] also look at factors, such as depression, which happens quite frequently in patients after they've had a major heart event."

Robinson believes this part of the program also helped him during his recovery. "[I] learned how to not wallow in self pity. The focus is on my getting better," says Robinson.

The guidelines also recommend that patients with coronary heart disease:

- Stop smoking and avoid exposure to tobacco smoke.
- Get at least 30 minutes of exercise 5-7 days a week (this is an increase in the amount of exercise from 3 times per week).
- Reduce weight if you are overweight, obese, or have a large waist.
- Get an annual flu shot.
- Take low-dose aspirin daily unless your doctor prescribes a higher dose or recommends against it because of medical contraindications.

Metz stresses the importance of kicking the habit of smoking for recovering patients. By following the guidelines and getting people off the cigarettes and onto exercise Metz says, "We're looking at about a 25% improvement," in the overall success rate of preventing folks from having another heart-related surgery.

As for Robinson's next goal: "When my granddaughter visits next June, I plan to roller skate and bike ride with her," says Robinson.


* Note: The exercise program currently runs 4-6 weeks (5-7 days per week) and could be as long as 8-12 weeks, depending on a patient's needs.

* Note: Dr. Metz also added that almost every insurance company will cover the costs of the program.



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