As we continue to celebrate Heart Awareness Month, I want to draw special attention to this week’s observation – Cardiac Rehab Week. This week celebrates the role cardiac rehabilitation, or cardiac rehab for short, plays in reducing the potentially devastating effect of heart disease. But, what is it?

Cardiac rehab is a safe, proven way to reduce risk factors for heart disease. It is a medically supervised program designed to help improve cardiovascular health after experiencing a heart attack, heart failure, angioplasty, or heart surgery. By reducing deaths and increasing the quality of life for those with cardiovascular issues, many professionals, including myself, feel cardiac rehab exceeds any pill or procedure.

Many people think cardiac rehab is essentially going to the gym. It's definitely not. You won't find medically trained, cardiovascular specialists supervising at the local fitness club. Cardiac rehab is also not an exercise program you complete in a few months, then go about your life as usual. Like losing weight, it can often be a lifetime commitment. The program is essentially composed of three important parts:

• Exercise counseling and training

• Education for heart-healthy habits

• Stress reducing counseling

At the St. Mary’s Heart Center, cardiac rehab programs are individually crafted for each patient. They are designed to help heart patients reduce and control risk factors for future attacks, improve cardiovascular fitness and, most importantly, learn to live well even with heart disease. Each program is typically created in “phases.”

Phase I gets started in the hospital directly after a cardiac incident. Most of the time we see that patients are highly motivated to get the process underway at this point and therapists begin crafting guidelines to fit the individual patient's needs.

After discharge from the hospital, Phase II begins. Plans presented in Phase I are reinforced and progressive during this phase which usually include monitored exercise sessions, lasting about an hour. These sessions are available Monday – Friday at varied times for participants’ convenience. Phase II continues for 12 weeks or 36 visits. Phase II is sometimes the bump in the cardiac rehab road. Days missed or skipped at this point can often turn into weeks and months.

The third phase is a maintenance program that provides a safe and enjoyable atmosphere for individuals who have completed Phase II and wish to continue on with their lifestyle choices and changes adopted during their rehab.

It’s important to know that Medicare and most other insurance plans cover cardiac rehab programs. Patients typically qualify if they've had a heart attack, angina, angioplasty, congestive heart failure, stents, open-heart surgery or a heart transplant.

You don’t have to face heart disease alone. The St. Mary’s cardiac rehab team is here to help and partner with doctors, nurses, pharmacists – plus family and friends – to support you in your pursuit of a healthy-heart.

-- Angela Haley is the Cardiology Services Manager at St. Mary's Medical Center. She can be reached at 816-655-5664.