An Olympic figure skater and lifelong exerciser, Skip Millier never expected to have a heart attack. But the pinch he felt while playing tennis one July day was the start of events that changed his life. A big part of that change was his experience at Crozer-Keystone’s Cardiac Rehab Center.
“When my heart attack was diagnosed, I wondered if my life was over,” Millier says. “But, today, I feel strong and healthy, and I’m back on the tennis court. I owe it all to cardiac rehab.”
A New Start
Nurses play a key role in the successful rehabilitation of cardiac patients at the Crozer-Keystone Cardiac Rehab Center, located in a private area inside the HealthplexÒ Sports Club in Springfield Hospital’s Pavilion I. A nationally certified program, the Cardiac Rehab Center serves patients who have suffered a heart event, offering them a fresh start at building a stronger heart, a healthy lifestyle and renewed confidence.
“Cardiac rehab is all about quality of life,” notes Domenic Pisano, D.O., medical director of the program. “Our goal is to help patients feel better faster, get stronger, reduce stress and decrease the risk of future heart problems.”
To achieve those goals, the program addresses the total spectrum of impact that a heart event has on the body and mind. “We recognize that a heart event affects an individual both physically and emotionally,” says Mary Jane McDevitt, RN, BSN, CDE, nurse manager, who oversees the program. “So our program focuses on education, exercise and encouragement in a positive, supportive environment.”
Four staff nurses in the Cardiac Rehab Center provide this support. They include Geri Edwards, RN-BC, BSN, and Veronica Navazio, RN, who both previously worked in Crozer-Chester Medical Center’s Cardiac Rehab; Valerie Fusco, RN, BSN, who came to Springfield from Taylor Hospital; and Brenda Maginnis, RN, BSN, a 10-year Springfield veteran.
All four nurses are members of the Tri-State Society for Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation. Edwards is also a member of the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation. “We attend conferences several times each year to keep up to date with cardiac rehab guidelines which are constantly changing,” says Edwards.
Education for Prevention
Helping patients understand the heart and their own condition is key to the prevention of future problems. Staff nurses use hands-on learning aids to educate patients about the heart and circulatory system, procedures the patients may have had, and the effects of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, stress and other factors on the heart. At the same time, patients learn about the medications they have been prescribed, and how changes in nutrition and lifestyle can keep their hearts strong and healthy.
According to Edwards, “Cardiac rehab is not just exercise. It’s a comprehensive education and exercise program not usually offered elsewhere. We make education a priority here, because we see that it makes a real difference in easing concerns and helping patients see the benefits of exercise and lifestyle changes.”
Exercising for Life
Equipment at the Cardiac Rehab Center provides cardiovascular exercise and resistance training to strengthen muscles, improve heart function and increase stamina and endurance. To alleviate patient fears of exercising with a recuperating heart, reassurance is provided through monitors worn by each patient, with readouts captured on a central screen viewed by staff nurses.
“If we detect a problem or concern, we have a direct line to the patient’s physician and can intervene immediately,” notes Edwards. The cardiac rehab staff has direct access to emergency equipment and are ACLS trained.
The center’s unique environment is also a factor in building confidence. Only eight or fewer patients are in the center at one time, and nurses are always attentive. The emphasis is on safe exercise in an upbeat, positive atmosphere.
“While patients are in the exercise room, nurses are communicating with them constantly to help them learn what cardiac-friendly exercise is and isn’t. This helps them develop confidence and feel less fearful,” says Edwards.
Because a heart event can create feelings of sadness, stress and fear for both patients and their loved ones, cardiac rehab also addresses individual and family emotions.
“When patients first come to the Cardiac Rehab Center, they are afraid of every pain they feel,” observes Edwards. “Everything is exaggerated after a cardiac event. We reassure them that everyone in their situation feels this way, and they are going to be on an emotional roller coaster ride for a while. We teach them how to evaluate their discomfort, and we encourage them to participate in the free support group offered at the Center to help them deal with their fears.”
Known as “Young Hearts,” the support group meets monthly with psychologist Keith Petrosky, Ph.D., to talk about the effects of a heart event on families, children, work and other areas of concern.
After patients complete the 6- to12-week cardiac rehab program, they often return to visit the nursing staff, sometimes for emotional support and other times for educational information. “We listen to their concerns, answer questions, and encourage them to maintain their healthy lifestyle changes by using the Healthplex wellness program,” says Edwards. “We form a bond during their rehab that endures long after they are finished. Our patients know that we really care about their well being.”