Outpatient Cardiac Rehabilitation Exercise Program

On November, 16, 2005, Albert Panza, an 86-year-old Lakewood resident, collapsed in the third floor atrium of Lakewood Hospital. Three times a week for four years he had been attending the cardiac rehabilitation program. That day, he was at the hospital to attend a party. He brought along a box of cookies. He took a piece of cake. He sat down at a table with others. Then he lost consciousness.

Three months later, Monday, Wednesday and Friday at six p.m., Mr. Panza is on a bicycle, his heart rate and rhythm checked by nurses trained in advanced cardiac life support, his tolerance monitored by a master's prepared exercise physiologist, his warm-up and cool-down led by a Wellness Instructor. Along with Mr. Panza's physician, they comprise the cardiac team responsible for monitoring Mr. Panza's heart health.

Albert Panza is enrolled in the Outpatient Cardiac Rehabilitation Exercise program at Lakewood Hospital. Located on the third floor atrium of the hospital, the area is filled with stationary bicycles, air-dyne bicycles, arm ergometers for upper body strength, treadmills, stair-steppers, Nu-Step for people with limited mobility, cardiac monitors and a defibrillator.

Each one hour class has about 40 attendees. The average age is 65. All have some form of heart disease. Specifically, attendees must have had a heart attack, angioplasty, bypass surgery, have angina or coronary artery disease. Referral is made by a physician. Medicare usually covers the first 12 weeks. After that, the cost is $40 a month.

Three days a week, sometimes more than an hour before class begins, participants begin to gather. Their voices fill the air as they greet each other and check in with staff. Check in includes blood pressure and medication monitoring.

Some attendees go right to work, walking the perimeter of the atrium or working at a machine while chatting with a friend. Some meet in small groups at tables or seating areas off to the side.

On Friday, February 3, the day designated by the American Heart Association as Go Red for Women, most everyone in the rehabilitation program wore red. Rhonda Loje, Observer photographer, and I, were greeted warmly as we approached a group of men congregated around a table. They teased us and each other. They told us they had been attending the group "three years," "I'm six years," another said, "seven" someone said. They willingly shared their reason(s) for attending the class. They have had "angioplasty and a stent," "quadruple bypass two years ago."

Mr. Lou Sala and, Ann, his wife of 47 years, attend classes three days a week. Lou usually meets with the guys. On February 3, Ann was chatting with a friend while she worked on the arm ergometer.

"The program is a blessing. We've all become friends and family," one person said. Socialization is one of the purposes of the program. Many attendees develop friendships and phone each other between sessions. Some go out after the class for a meal or coffee.

But once the class starts, it's all business. Talking stops. The nurses monitor heart rate and rhythm. The exercise physiologist checks on how a specific program for a patient is working. A Wellness Instructor leads the warm-up and cool-down exercises. Everyone is paying attention.

Often, after a traumatic event, patients become depressed. They may be fearful that if they overdo they may have a heart attack. Or they may develop an attitude that no matter what, they won't let it get them down. They vow to continue on as if nothing has happened. The Cardiac Rehabilitation Exercise Program is designed to assist heart patients in determining when they are ready to resume previous activities, including return to work. "This is a place you can feel comfortable exercising. You can do other things outside because you know your body is going to tolerate it," said Joanne Arunski, R.N., adding, "This program improves your lifestyle."

Mr. Panza agrees. He has resumed his activities of daily living, including driving. Dressed in a brown suit and a white shirt, his brown eyes smiling, he said "I love them all. They did wonders for me."

To find out more about this program, call Lakewood Hospital 216521-4200 extension 8179.

Note: In addition to Ms. Arunski, the Cardiac Rehabilitation Exercise Program team consists of Registered Nurses, Suzy Lamb, Ann Schmitt and Lynn Gardner; Exercise Physiologist, Jennifer Arnold; Wellness Instructor, Ron Galizio. I thank them for their help with this article and for all they do for the community.

I've heard that you can tell a lot about a person by looking into their eyes. Something about the eyes being the window to the soul. Well, if that's true, I've caught a glimpse of people who feel blessed to be alive, who are grateful to those who help them, and who, despite their own concerns, are generous. Special thanks to the patients in the Cardiac Rehabilitation Exercise Program, especially Mr. Albert Panza.
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Volume 2, Issue 5, Posted 12.27 PM / 08th March 2006.