Cardiac Rehab Helps Heart Transplant Patient Regain Active Life

February 2020

Dwayne Zobell understands what it’s like to face death. Nearly five years ago, he had quintuple bypass surgery. Then, three years later, he underwent a heart transplant. Through it all, Dwayne continued to participate in cardiac rehabilitation, a program that would provide him with much-needed encouragement and support and that has helped him return to an active life. Dwayne has allowed us to share his story, hoping it will help inspire others who may be facing their own difficult health journey. He is also passionate about cardiac rehab and wants others with heart disease to know the many health benefits that the program offers.

Dwayne Zobell participates in cardiac rehab at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center.

In April 2015, when he was only 59 years old, Dwayne Zobell was told that his coronary arteries were completely blocked. To save his life, Dwayne underwent immediate quintuple cardiac bypass surgery at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. Dwayne came through the surgery without complications but then suffered a stroke five days later.

“I knew that having a stroke was a risk of the surgery, but it was a discouraging setback,” he shared.

Still, Dwayne committed to doing all he could to recover from the bypass surgery and stroke. He worked on getting stronger by participating in supervised cardiac rehabilitation programs, including the program at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center (CRMC) when he was in town.

“I knew it was important to do everything I could to try to make by heart and body stronger,” he said.

Later that year an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) was placed in Dwayne’s chest. If the heart goes into an abnormal rhythm, the ICD will deliver an electric shock to help restore the heart to a normal rhythm. At the same time that he received the ICD, Dwayne learned that his heart function was at 26 percent and that he would likely need a heart transplant in the near future.

“I am an independent person,” Dwayne shared. “It was hard having to be dependent on people during this time. It was also discouraging because of everything I had gone through and was facing.”

For the next several months Dwayne was placed on different drug therapies to try to stabilize his heart.

Despite everything, Dwayne’s heart function continued to decline, dropping to 19 percent by September of 2017.

“I was at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and one of their criteria for being on the heart transplant list was having a heart function of 15 percent or lower,” Dwayne explained.

Dwayne ended up going to Baylor Scott & White Heart and Vascular Hospital in Dallas, TX, for another evaluation. By October Dwayne had started the qualification process for a heart transplant.

“This was a difficult and life-changing time,” Dwayne recalls of the months and years leading up to the transplant. “A lot of hard decisions had to be made along the way.”

Though he continued to be closely monitored, Dwayne wasn’t officially put on the transplant list until May 2018, after a stress test and heart catheterization indicated that his heart function was rapidly deteriorating.

On August 7, 2018, after 65 days of waiting, Dwayne and his transplant team were notified that a donor heart was available. Dwayne underwent heart transplant surgery the next day and was discharged from the hospital eight days later.

Fortunately, Dwayne’s outcome has been a good one. His heart function is currently at a stable 60 percent, and his body shows no signs of rejecting his new heart.

Dwayne credits a large part of his recovery on the skill of his doctors and surgical teams and on the cardiac rehabilitation programs he has faithfully participated in since he had bypass surgery in 2015.

“My transplant physician, Dr. Amarinder Bindra, told me, ‘If you go into a transplant running, you’ll come out walking and alive. If you go into a transplant walking, you’ll come out dead,’ ” Dwayne said of the need to be as fit as possible before transplant surgery.

Dwayne participated in 29 cardiac rehabilitation workout sessions during the spring and summer before his transplant surgery.

Dwayne was back in a cardiac rehab program in Texas within two weeks of receiving his new heart and would stay in that program for the next three months.

Currently Dwayne divides his time between Cheyenne, Omaha and Sioux City, IA. When he is in Cheyenne, Dwayne continues to be a regular participant in CRMC’s cardiac rehab program.

Dwayne views cardiac rehab as “part of the deal” when it comes to staying as healthy as possible after a heart disease diagnosis.

“Financially, cardiac rehab is an inexpensive insurance policy that you are taking out on yourself, and I am grateful to the hospital for providing it,” Dwayne said.

Another reason Dwayne likes CRMC’s cardiac rehab program is because it offers a built-in support network, which he said is critical for heart patients, who may be nervous about becoming active again.

Dwayne also likes CRMC’s program because it’s adaptable and offers personalized care and encouragement.

“The staff here collaborated with me throughout the post-transplant journey, to ensure everything I was doing was appropriate and safe,” he said.

Dwayne took up one of his favorite pastimes, cycling, just a few months after undergoing a heart transplant.

One example was when a sonogram revealed blood clots in Dwayne’s arm after a PICC line was placed for IV medications. “After that my blood pressure readings had to be taken on my legs to prevent the clots from dislodging and possibly causing another stroke,” he said.

Dwayne plans to continue cardiac rehab for the foreseeable future, “to help maintain an active life and as a tribute to my donor,” he said.

Dwayne is accompanied by friends and CRMC cardiac rehab staff at the 2019 Great Bison Shuffle.

A month after his transplant, Dwayne walked in a 5K for the American Heart Association, and he took up cycling, one of his favorite pastimes, 10 months after the transplant. Last year, he also participated in the CRMC Foundation’s Great Bison Shuffle fundraiser, which benefitted the hospital’s cardiac rehab program. Dwayne walked alongside friends and cardiac rehab staff to show his support for the program.

Another reason Dwayne continues cardiac rehab, he said, is so that he can keep volunteering for good causes, something he did regularly before he got sick.

“I am so grateful for this gift I’ve been given,” Dwayne said. “I want to do my best to honor my donor and donor’s family and the sacrifice they made. I do that by giving back to others through volunteer work, both here in the United States and internationally. And I plan do everything I possibly can to take care of my health and my heart.”