Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation Programs Offer Life-Changing Care
Helping people recover after having a heart attack or being diagnosed with pulmonary disease is the focus of Cheyenne Regional Medical Center’s (CRMC) Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation programs.
Pulmonary Rehabilitation (Rehab) provides support, education, therapy and an individually tailored and multidisciplinary approach that can help stabilize and sometimes even reverse the course of certain diseases that affect a person’s lungs.
Pulmonary disease can result from smoking or exposure to caustic chemicals or other airborne hazards. It can also be caused by genetics or aging.
According to CRMC’s Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehab Program Manager Carrie Nix, the most benefit from Pulmonary Rehab is gained by starting the program as soon as possible after a diagnosis of pulmonary disease is made.
“The sooner someone can get into rehabilitation, the better,” Nix said. “If we can start helping someone early in the disease process, we offer a better chance of that person regaining more pulmonary—or breathing—capacity.”
The same is true for Cardiac Rehab, which helps people recover from a heart attack or cardiac arrest. The rehab process starts immediately, with Cardiac Rehab education that is provided as early as the day of the event while patients are still in the hospital. Then the focus is getting patients enrolled in a Cardiac Rehab program, where the supervised exercise begins.
“We can often help people return to their previous levels of fitness and activities of daily living if we can get them into Cardiac Rehab as soon as possible after a heart attack or cardiac arrest,” said Nix. She added that a primary component of Cardiac Rehab is to get people up and moving as quickly and safely as possible.
“Back in the 1960s, cardiac rehabilitation programs were formally introduced as it was discovered that patients improved when they were ambulating rather than lying in bed for extended periods,” Nix said. “Since then, monitored exercise programs have become a crucial part of the recovery process for heart patients.”
On a recent weekday, several Cardiac Rehab patients were busy getting their hearts and cardiovascular systems pumping in the program’s supervised gym, at CRMC’s east facility.
“We have different kinds of cardio equipment and weights so that people have lots of choices. We can tailor our program to meet the needs of patients with a wide range of abilities and goals. The main thing for us is to see that our patients are getting adequate exercise, but in a safe and controlled environment,” Nix said.
The program also offers education, therapy and support and has close ties to the local Mended Hearts patient and family support group.
Over time, patients either graduate from Cardiac Rehab or can continue at a higher level that often offers a more rigorous exercise regimen.
“We provide different levels of rehabilitation, based on the person’s fitness and comfort level with exercise. Our primary focus is to get people back to their lives and to do so safely,” Nix said.
CRMC’s Cardiac Rehab program began in 1987 when Dr. David Silver came to town to start the region’s first cardiothoracic surgery service. One of his requirements for starting the service was that a cardiac rehabilitation program be in place, said Karen Buck, who formerly managed the two programs and who recently retired.
The success of Cardiac Rehab prompted the hospital to begin Pulmonary Rehab in the mid-1990s.
‘Nothing More Rewarding’
Today the two rehabilitation programs co-exist, sharing space, equipment and employees, which include three registered nurses, three exercise physiologists, a respiratory therapist, a program manager and an office administrator.
Since their start, the two programs have treated several thousand people successfully. In 2017 alone, the Cardiac Rehab program registered 15,000 patient visits, and the Pulmonary Rehab program registered 3,000 patient visits. (A patient visit is when one patient participates in any phase of the program on one day.) Overall, about 200 patients participate in the various levels of the two rehab programs each year.
Both programs are also certified by the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation. The programs must apply for recertification every three years and must submit extensive documentation showing that they each meet a set of strict, evidence-based national standards. The Cardiac Rehab program has been certified since 1990. The Pulmonary Rehab program has been certified since 2000.
The rewards of participating in CRMC’s Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehab programs are many, both for the patients and staff, Nix said.
Patients frequently share handwritten notes, including the following sent by a patient treated in 2017:
“I found Cardiac Rehab to be an invaluable part of my recovery and knowledge for me to continue my life. Their help with medication issues, physical, and mental issues kept me going in a positive direction. I simply would not have had such a successful recovery without Greta, Liza, Lilli, Carrie 1 & 2, Laura, Kim, Curtis, and the rest of the support team at Cardiac Rehab. I will always be grateful for their assistance with my recovery process.”
“We see so many patients who are able to gain back their confidence and their ability to go on with active, full lives by going through these rehabilitation programs,” Nix said. “And for all of us, there is really nothing more rewarding than to be a part of this life-changing work.”