My Cardiac Rehab Experience
Last updated: March 2023
After suffering my second stroke in December 2018, and my LVAD (left ventricular assist device) surgery in January 2019, I started being evaluated for cardiac rehab. According to the American Heart Association, "cardiac rehabilitation is a medically supervised program designed to improve your cardiovascular health if you have experienced a heart attack, heart failure, angioplasty, or heart surgery." Before starting cardiac rehab I had to be cleared by the heart team and the different therapists that were coming to see me.1
After I finished all of my therapies, (speech, physical, and occupational therapy) and was off sternal precautions, my doctors cleared me for cardiac rehab. For those of you unfamiliar with sternal precautions, it is a list of things you cannot do after heart surgery. This is because your sternum has been split open during surgery and it needs to heal. Some examples of sternal precautions include not raising both your hands over your head, do not lift more than 5-8 pounds, and do not drive. That also includes riding in the front seat because if you are in an accident the pressure from the airbags will cause even more damage to your sternum. It takes about 6-8 weeks for the sternum to heal.
I was really excited to start because prior to the second stroke, I would describe myself as a gym rat. A gym rat meaning someone who goes to the gym...a lot. A lot meaning 6 to 7 days a week. So cardiac rehab for me, was my chance to get back into the gym.
My experience participating in a cardiac rehab program
The first day was like an orientation day getting me familiar with their system and what patients are expected to do when they get there. Besides them thinking my mom or dad was the patient, my first day of orientation went well. My first cardiac rehab appointment was scheduled, and I was off to the races.
Cardiac rehab is done at a hospital and it is overseen by a cardiac nurse and a cardiologist. My first day of cardiac rehab was sometime in April and I remember my dad taking me to my first session. First, you must get your blood pressure checked and finger sticks (for people with diabetes). They would check your blood pressure to make sure the pressure is not high and finger sticks to make sure it is not too low. The next step is for you to get hooked up to the medical devices they use to monitor you while you are exercising. This included a heart monitor so they could keep track of the heart rate on their computers. Once the monitors were on, they could see what everyone's hearts were doing from their computers.
Next was the warm-up. There were warm-up exercises that were listed on the wall. A combination of stretching exercises and movements. Then they had me do 10 minutes per machine. I think there were 4 total machines I did on the first day. There were different level 1 machines that you could do and when they felt you were ready you could go to the level 2 exercise machines. The first machine I got on was the bike so they could get a baseline of where I was starting from. They had me ride the bike for 5 or 10 minutes while changing the resistance. When this was over, I had to do 4 machines for a certain amount of time. After each exercise, we had to go and let the nurse know how long we went for, at what speed or resistance we did it, and how difficult it was. There was a scale from easiest to hardest that we had to rank each exercise.
Later in the program, at about 4 weeks out, I could finally do weight training. The time spent on the machines got greater as well. This went on for 3 days a week for 8 weeks.
Finding independence and a supportive community
Each week got better and I felt like I had my independence back. I was driving to every appointment by myself and it felt great. I met some good people while I was in cardiac rehab, although I was the youngest person in there by a mile. It also gave me a chance to share my journey with everyone. I enjoyed every second of cardiac rehab because I have always loved exercise all my life and I am grateful for the whole staff that helped me along the way.
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