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Cardiac Rehabilitation Helps Heart Patients Recover Just Ask Bill

Dr. Larry Antonucci's Blog Posts


Feb. 15, 2023

At Lee Health, we have a multidisciplinary team of registered nurses and exercise physiologists who help patients following heart attacks, heart surgery, coronary artery bypass, heart valve replacement or repair, angioplasty or stenting, and other heart conditions. The team is part of the cardiac rehabilitation program.

“Cardiac rehab is a comprehensive program that includes individualized exercise programs, education and behavioral modification to help patients who have been through a cardiac event reduce their risk factors and recover,” explains Marion Harris-Barter, RN, BSN, M.Ed., CCRP, Lee Health’s system director, cardiac rehabilitation. “Research shows that patients who attend the program have better health outcomes, including reduced re-hospitalizations, better long-term survival, improved endurance and strength and a better quality of life.”

If your heart condition requires a hospital stay, your rehabilitation starts while you are there. “One of our registered nurses visits and educates you on your diagnosis, risk factors and the importance of attending cardiac rehab,” Marion explains. “Your physician will usually make a referral to outpatient cardiac rehab when you are discharged from the hospital.”

Outpatient cardiac rehabilitation starts with an orientation and a one-on-one evaluation to determine individualized goals and an exercise prescription. “This phase of cardiac rehab is medically supervised, includes education, support and exercise, and is typically completed in 36 sessions. Our patients can attend cardiac rehab two or three times a week,” Marion says. “We have three locations for our outpatient cardiac rehab: Cape Coral Hospital, Lee Health Coconut Point and Medical Plaza One (near HealthPark Medical Center). Our Medical Plaza One location sustained damage from flooding from Hurricane Ian, so it is closed for renovations and repairs. We set up a small satellite program at HealthPark Medical Center until we can reopen – which we hope to be able to do this month.”

Cape Coral resident Bill Ruggles can attest to the value of the cardiac rehabilitation program. He had his first open-heart surgery in New Jersey in 2012 – an aortic valve replacement and an ascending aortic aneurysm repaired. Then, in 2021, as he was moving to Southwest Florida, sepsis following dental work damaged his replacement valve and another valve, so he was referred to Michael DeFrain, M.D., a cardiothoracic surgeon with Lee Health’s Shipley Cardiothoracic Center.

“Dr. DeFrain told me the surgery would be very high risk because it would be my second open-heart surgery,” Bill explains. “But he said he had a plan to do it safely so I could continue a life of health and happiness. He said he had the team and the facility to do it, so my wife and I said, ‘yes.’ We are people of faith and had a lot of people praying for us.”

Bill had the surgery. “I was on the operating table for 10 hours, in an induced coma for three days, and then I spent two weeks in intensive care,” he says.

When Bill was ready to start cardiac rehabilitation at Cape Coral Hospital, he did so using a walker. “I went through it in stages,” he explains. “At first, I was monitored with a device. Then, I did the rehab on my own. I’m a former athlete, so I pushed myself – within reason, and before I knew it, I was ready to go.”

Bill was motivated and pushed himself but said the team’s positive attitudes helped, too. “The attitudes, bedside manner, sense of humor, professionalism – it was all fabulous,” he says. “I was facing a lot of challenges when I started cardiac rehab, but I felt positive. I looked forward to my sessions. I worked hard and had fun, too.”

Feb. 13-19 is Cardiac Rehabilitation Week, which is meant to raise awareness of the program and its positive effect on outcomes on heart health. I am proud of our talented and caring team and their efforts in motivating, inspiring and supporting healthier hearts and lives, like Bill’s.

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