Along with Cardiac Rehab, Humor is Great Medicine

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Cardiac Rehab “Grad” Celebrates Better Heart Health

Harriman resident Keith Howell has a reason to celebrate – he “graduated” from cardiopulmonary rehabilitation at Roane Medical Center on March 1, 2024.

Howell has dealt with heart disease for many years. Much like diabetes, people often live with heart disease and can learn to manage it. After his first heart attack in 2008, Howell participated in cardiac rehab at Roane Medical Center and knew he liked and trusted the staff with his care.

Amy Garrett, cardiac rehab RN at Roane Medical Center, with Keith Howell, who recently completed Phase 3 of cardiac rehab.

What is Cardiac Rehab?

Cardiac rehab is a medically supervised exercise program for people who have had surgery or a health event involving the heart or lungs. The program strengthens the heart muscle through gentle exercise under the guidance and supervision of a team of medical personnel that consists of nurses, exercise physiologists, dieticians, and respiratory therapists.

Cardiac rehab is often recommended by physicians for people who have undergone certain heart surgeries, had a heart or lung transplant, heart stents or balloon angioplasty, and many respiratory diseases.

In many instances after a heart event, the heart muscle is weakened and can result in patients feeling weak, short of breath, and unable to complete minimal physical activity. However, the heart is a muscle! It can gain strength and stamina with lifestyle factors like diet and exercise. That’s where cardiac rehab comes in.

Building Strength after Heart Events

Howell faced several more heart events. He had an emergency stent placed (a small device inserted into the artery to keep it open, allowing proper blood flow) and later required double-bypass surgery. This procedure creates a new path for blood to flow around a blocked or partially blocked heart artery.

Howell began Phase 2 of cardiac rehab last November, following his heart surgery. He attended monitored exercise sessions three days a week for one-hour workouts. In addition to a treadmill, he used an arm bike and a recumbent elliptical machine, which engages arms and legs simultaneously.

Amy Garrett, RN, is one of the clinicians who worked with Howell. She recalls, “He was pretty sick and debilitated when he came to us and was not able to apply much exertion. However, he was always smiling, joking and kidding around, and his sense of humor was contagious. We encourage that here, because humor is great medicine!”

Customized Rehab Program Meets Patient’s Needs

Garrett says, “Keith started by walking on a treadmill at zero percent incline and a speed of 1.7 mph. He is now walking on the treadmill at a two percent incline and a speed of 2.8 mph.” She explains that Howell increased his MET level — the units of energy used in doing various activities — from 2.3 to 4.0, which she describes as “great.” 

She adds, “He worked out on the recumbent elliptical, and increased his difficulty level from six to 11. He has increased his total exercise time in cardiac rehab from 39 minutes to 53 minutes per session. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes per week of exercise, so he’s getting that just being here. We encourage patients to do more walking and other activities on their own, but he’s meeting that goal.”

A Holistic Approach to Heart Health

Patients can maintain good heart health by attending follow-up appointments, taking prescribed medications, decreasing stress, eating a well-balanced diet and continuing with cardiovascular exercise.

“All those things go together,” Garrett says. “Exercise is important because it touches all those risk factors. It helps cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure, sleep, stress, and weight management – it’s the gift that keeps on giving!

“Cardiac rehab patients have the option to continue exercising here in our maintenance program [Phase 3] after they graduate from Phase 2. Some go to another gym, but many keep coming here because it’s comfortable, they’ve made friends, and they have our staff to assist them if needed.” Medical personnel are always present to offer encouragement, take patients’ vital signs, and answer questions, she says. “It feels like a big family.”

Tools for a “Heart-Healthier” Future

“In our program, we are our patients’ biggest cheerleaders,” Garrett says. “They learn how to exercise, but most importantly, ways to manage risk factors that can help them in the future. It’s not a quick fix, but a lifelong process. We want to give them the tools to help avoid future heart problems.”

Howell, who is retired, maintains a steady heart-healthy diet and keeps his weight from fluctuating too much. He enjoys being able to walk his long driveway to his mailbox with ease. “I couldn’t do that before,” he says. “This cardiac rehab program is a huge asset to the area — they do a great job. It felt good to slowly gain my momentum back. I started out not being able to do much, but over time, the workouts got harder but easier at the same time. I can tell a big difference from when I started.”

For more information, call 865-316-2825 or visit our web page to learn more about cardiopulmonary rehab at Roane Medical Center.

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Covenant Health

Headquartered in Knoxville, Tennessee, Covenant Health is a community-owned, healthcare enterprise committed to providing the right care at the right time and place. Covenant Health is the area’s largest employer and has more than 11,000 compassionate caregivers, expert clinicians, and dedicated employees and volunteers.

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