The month of February and thoughts of Valentine's Day often get our hearts beating a bit faster. But keeping our hearts healthy year-round is the focus of the Cardiac Rehab program at Yampa Valley Medical Center.
The medically supervised program, directed by Susan Cowan, MN, RN, offers exercise, education and support from fellow participants who have suffered a similar cardiac event.
"Cardiac Rehab improves cardiovascular function and increases your ability to exercise and participate in activities you enjoy. It also restores and builds self-confidence," Cowan said.
The American Heart Association dedicates February as Heart Healthy Month. With more than 1 million people suffering heart attacks each year, cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer in the United States. More than 14 million people have coronary artery disease.
A major contributor to coronary artery disease is a diet high in fat. This results in elevated blood lipid (fat) levels that deposit fatty plaques on the coronary artery walls. These deposits can ultimately contribute to blockage, depriving the heart of oxygen. When this happens, the result can be a heart attack.
For those who have suffered a heart attack, blockage, heart surgery or any other cardiac event, Yampa Valley Medical Center's 12-week Cardiac Rehab program is designed to help participants establish an overall healthier lifestyle.
"We have people who are referred by their doctor for the 12-week program and then choose to continue our maintenance program," Cowan said.
The social support is a large factor and provides a positive atmosphere for people to share their experiences, thoughts and feelings.
"Many patients leave with new friendships and lifelong exercise partners," Cowan added.
The Cardiac Rehab program also benefits those individuals who lead very active lives and have avoided suffering a major cardiac event. This is true for 72-year-old Hans Geier of Steamboat Springs. Although Geier skis more than 100 days a year and considers himself in great shape, he became short of breath and nauseated during a hike last summer with his wife.
"I thought I should get checked out," he said. "I ended up having three blocked arteries, one at 70 percent and two at 90 percent. I was really lucky; I know that if I didn't have such a strong heart and active lifestyle, I would have had a heart attack."
Geier received stents for his heart in Denver and avoided open-heart surgery. Currently, he participates as a Phase III patient in the Cardiac Rehab program at YVMC. Cardiac Rehab provides three phases. The first is when the patient is still in the hospital recovering from a procedure.
The second level takes the patient out of the hospital and into a 12-week gym program of being closely monitored with an EKG, during moderate exercise. A Phase III patient is an individual who has completed the 12-week program and chooses to continue the rehab on his or her own with the support of the Cardiac Rehab team.
"Hans is committed to the program and participates to make an impact on his overall health," Cowan said.
Geier agreed. "I participate because I want to live a healthier lifestyle without the fear of having a heart attack," he said.
The most important element of cardiac rehab is the patient. Nurses, doctors and other medical personnel may provide guidance, but it is up to the individual to commit to consistently following the program.
"You have to stay motivated and have the tenacity to stick with it," Geier said. "The benefits are tremendous. I feel so much healthier, and I'm more aware of my overall health."
Mindy Fontaine is public relations coordinator at Yampa Valley Medical Center.