Running to Win

Fort Sanders Regional Cardiac Rehab gets patient up and moving again

It shouldn’t have been so hard.

The distance from the parking garage to the building where Greg Womack worked was about two city blocks. As a longtime runner with an extensive list of races in his past, Womack, 56, had always been able to make the brisk walk to work quickly.

Stopping along the way to catch his breath was something new and unsettling. “It was very scary there for a while,” he says.

Shortness of breath can be an indication of heart problems, and for Womack, it developed so gradually that almost a year passed before he was correctly diagnosed. In May 2022, he was stopped in his tracks with quintuple bypass surgery (all five of the major coronary arteries) at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center.

Under the care of cardiothoracic surgeon Petros Leinonen, MD, and interventional cardiologist Christopher Capps, MD, Womack had an excellent prognosis for recovery. But getting there would be a marathon, not a sprint.

Post-surgery and on his first day at Fort Sanders Cardiac Rehabilitation, Womack knew he was a long way from the finish line.

On Your Mark

Cardiac rehabilitation at Fort Sanders Regional is a comprehensive approach to help heart patients regain quality of life. Exercise is balanced to build both strength and endurance. 

“At Fort Sanders Regional Cardiac Rehab, we are ready to help our heart patients take the next step,” says Brenda Leuthold, RN, program manager. “Our staff works diligently with each patient to meet their individual needs and to help them make lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of cardiac events.”

Patients are monitored by medical staff with a physician on call, so exercise is both safe and beneficial. Nutrition counseling gives patients an additional tool to fight heart disease from the inside out.

During goal-setting, which is a starting point for every patient, Womack decided he was determined to regain the ability to do two things. He wanted to pick up his granddaughter and he wanted to run again.

Womack quickly learned that if he was willing to put in the work, his goals could be well within reach. He followed the guidance of the medical staff and soon had a circuit of exercises that he performed regularly.

“They pushed me, and at least once a week they would ask me what I wanted to do next – where I wanted to improve,” Womack says. “After surgery, I did good to walk down the hallway, then a month after surgery I was walking a mile or two every day.”

Get Set

Weights, steps and the arm ergometer (also referred to as an “arm cycle”) built total body strength. There were multiple treadmills, and Womack zeroed in on one that was designed with runners in mind.

“Probably around week six or seven they had me running on the treadmill,” Womack says. “It was kind of scary at first, but it felt good to get back to running.”

After 12 weeks, he was able to pick up his granddaughter. “We roughhouse and play. She gets on my back and we crawl around on the floor,” Womack says with a grin. “She calls me ‘Horsey’ and off we go!”

Going Forward

Womack is back on the race course and there’s no stopping him now. Within a few months of rehab Greg Womack is back on the pavement after several weeks of monitored exercise through Fort Sanders Regional’s cardiac rehabilitation program. he completed several 5K races, and half marathons are now well within reach. There is joy every time he is on a race course and he’s made a promise to send a finish-line photo to Dr. Leinonen when that first half marathon happens.

“If you feel something going on, get checked even if you don’t think it’s anything serious,” he advises. “Don’t be scared. The earlier you can catch this, the better.”

Womack is quick to say that his progress was more than just the result of hard work and the staff’s medical expertise. There was a very human element involved, too.

“I feel like they genuinely care about the patients, about your well-being, about your family,” Womack says. “I consider them family now. I would 100 percent recommend them.”

Leuthold witnesses the dramatic progress of patients every day. “As patients become more active with exercise, we see them happier and feeling more confident,” she says.

To learn more about Fort Sanders Regional’s award-winning cardiology services including cardiac rehab, visit FSRegional. com/cardiology/ or call 865-331-1111.






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