By Erika Z. Byrd
The Cardiac Rehabilitation program at Desert Regional Medical Center is not your garden-variety exercise program. It is physician prescribed, medically supervised, ECG monitored, custom tailored, educational, supportive, and best of all – it's life changing.
The 36-session program, which is covered by Medicare and other insurance, is specifically designed for people with heart disease who have had a heart attack, coronary angioplasty, stent placement, coronary bypass, heart valve repair or replacement, heart transplant or stable angina to help them gain the strength and stamina they need to improve their quality of life and hopefully to prevent future heart events.
"Patients learn how to exercise, what is safe and how much to push themselves," said Alicia Rios, RN, a dedicated cardiac nurse who is part of the interdisciplinary team which includes nurses, a supervising physician and a respiratory therapist. "They also learn more about the medications they are taking and receive nutritional counseling to make better diet choices." The program is rewarding for both the patient and the nurse, Rios said.
"When they start the program, some people are only able to walk for a minute at the slowest speed on the treadmill," Rios said, "and by the time they graduate they are up to 30 minutes at a good pace."
Jack Smith, 53 of Palm Springs, is one patient who has greatly benefited. Smith had a heart attack in March 2014 that nearly took his life. It was his third heart attack.
"This last one required a coronary bypass, valve repair and aneurysm repair," he said. "They also cut out dead tissue and reshaped and reformed my heart. It's smaller now, but they tell me it's pretty strong.
"This program has really been life changing for me because, before I came here, I got winded just walking around the grocery store."
Once enrolled, he said his biggest obstacle was not the exercise or the dietary changes – it was overcoming fear.
"I had the drive to get better, but you get caught in the ‘cardiac prison' because you think you're going to die," Smith said. "This gave me the strength and confidence to push myself without expiring. The work showed itself immediately in how long I could do things and walk. It's really due to the care I've received at Desert Regional."
Smith has lost 80 pounds since his heart attack, and he's enjoying a more active life. Although his cardiologist isn't happy about it, he recently bought a Jet Ski and has been skimming across the Colorado River.
Another benefit of the cardiac rehabilitation program is the support patients receive from other patients, said Cardiac Nurse Jean Novales, RN.
"They meet others who are going through the same thing, and they can relate and they give each other support."
After patients graduate from the program, having learned better habits and tools to continue on their pathway to health, many transition to a free class – Fit After Fifty – offered Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the hospital.
Desert Regional Medical Center
1150 N. Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs CA 92262
760-323-6122 • www.desertregional.com/cardiac