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Cardiology

The Teacher Becomes the Student in Cardiac Rehabilitation

teacher becomes student in cardiac rehabilitation George Hays is an exercise physiologist in cardiac rehabilitation at Cape Coral Hospital. His job is to help people who have had heart attacks, heart surgery or the diagnosis of heart disease get stronger and more heart healthy through monitored exercise. At 55 years old, George didn't think he would be on the other side of cardiac rehabilitation, but in May 2012, he became a patient.

"I'd noticed symptoms for a while—shortness of breath, palpitations—but I brushed them off, telling myself that they weren't that bad," he says. "The day I experienced severe chest pain—squeezing all across my chest—I knew I needed to see the doctor."

George made an appointment with cardiologist, Robert Cross, M.D. He went to the appointment ready for a referral for a cardiac catheterization—a procedure that allows cardiologists to view blood vessels, arteries and veins of the heart, and helps diagnose and treat cardiovascular conditions.

Dr. Cross referred George to interventional cardiologist, Murali Muppala, M.D., who performed the procedure that found a 90 percent blockage in one of George's main arteries. Dr. Muppala inserted a stent to open the clogged artery.

"I was shocked and embarrassed," George says. "I've never been one to go to the doctor. I knew my blood pressure was high, but I had no idea that my cholesterol was as high as it was. I'd become really lenient with my diet and was pretty inactive due to chronic gout. I know I should have kept up with doctor visits, but I was stubborn."

While he was in the hospital, George was visited by Lisa Harvey, RN, a cardiac rehabilitation nurse and one of his colleagues. "All of the things Lisa reviewed with me while I was in the hospital were things I knew, but now I had to take them to heart," George says. "I had to take all of the things I knew and incorporate them into my reality." George—like many others with heart disease or those who have had a heart procedure—lacked confidence about what he could and should do. He decided to participate in cardiac rehabilitation.

"It was a transition," says Janet Burch, RN, a cardiac rehabilitation nurse and George's co-worker. "We start our patients slowly, but because George knew a lot, he wanted to do more and be more independent."

George says he learned quickly that he couldn't push himself too hard or try to do too much. He progressed through cardiac rehabilitation and continued to get stronger.

Now, as he works with patients, he shares his own experiences. "I moved from sympathy to empathy," he says. "When I talk to patients and say 'we,' I really mean 'we.'"

Janet adds that George's experience is a good reminder that heart disease doesn't discriminate. Even with all he knew, George still was diagnosed with heart disease.

“"I'd noticed symptoms for a while—shortness of breath, palpitations—but I brushed them off, telling myself that they weren't that bad,” says cardiac rehabilitation patient, George Hays. “The day I experienced severe chest pain—squeezing all across my chest—I knew I needed to see the doctor.”

Cardiac Wakeup Call

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