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Month Focuses On Heart Health


2012 Heart Month Feature
Linda Cochran, left, a cardiac rehab patient, talks with Elaine Bohman, RN, at the UVMC CardioPulmonary Rehabilitation program center.

When Ray Lepore suffered a heart attack last fall, he asked the same question as many other victims – “Why did this happen to me?”

Lepore, in the midst of moving from a home in Troy to a new residence at Wayne Lakes near Greenville, was getting ready for work one morning when it struck.

“All of a sudden, it was like a pit bull just grabbed me in the chest,” he recalled. The pain went away briefly, but returned and was unrelenting.

A call to Troy paramedics landed him first in the UVMC Emergency Department, then at Good Samaritan Hospital, where two stents were placed.

“I was in good health, good shape and recovered pretty quickly,” Lepore said. “The first few weeks afterward were a very scary time. It is still very scary when I let myself think about it. Every sensation now that you have, you are wondering, ‘Is that related to my heart?’”

A short time after the attack he was back at UVMC, this time to participate in the CardioPulmonary Rehabilitation program at the recommendation of his doctor.

“I walked in here. Within five minutes I realized this is where I needed to be,” said Lepore, a sales engineer at Dickman Supply in Sidney.  “You are here with people who all are in the same boat and all are dedicated to taking care of ourselves. There is a great staff here that helps us every step of the way.”

He participates in the program three days a week, with his physical activity monitored by center staff. “They watch my every heart beat. It is another comforting thing, if anything goes wrong here, they are watching,” he said.

“I call this my lifeboat because we all come at it from different perspectives, but you are scared, you feel kind of alone and kind of lost,” Lepore said. “They reach out a hand to us and say, ‘Come on, we know how you feel, what you are going through. Let us give you a hand. We will help right the ship, get you on the right track again.’”

The goal of the CardioPulmonary Rehabilitation program is to make the patient’s heart and lungs stronger and healthier, said Tami Maniaci McMillan, lead nurse for cardiac rehabilitation at UVMC. Those seen in the cardiac portion of the rehab program have had a bypass, heart attack, valve replacement, stents placed or angina.

“We try to educate them about heart disease so they don’t have to go through surgery again. We provide psychological support, to help them feel confident again,” Maniaci McMillan said.

Patients are supervised by a nurse, are on heart monitors and get frequent blood pressure checks. The rehab program lasts eight to 12 weeks and is followed by follow-up and maintenance programs.

The rehab program’s first patient in 1985 still works out at the rehab center.  One of its newest participants is Linda Cochran of Troy, who had a heart attack in mid-November.

A second grade teacher at Newton school, she was working out on her home treadmill when she experienced a feeling of cold air in her lungs. She got off the treadmill and attempted to do floor exercises, but had to stop. She started making dinner, but still didn’t feel well. “I thought I had the flu,” she said.

For every unexplained pain, Cochran had an excuse. She attributed the throbbing she felt in both her forearms to a possible muscle pain caused by scrapping tile and pulling carpet during a recent renovation project she and her husband were completing. Finally around 2 a.m. the following day, she was up with pain across her back.

She turned to the Internet to research her symptoms and immediately found the throbbing she felt in her arms was tied to heart attacks. “It saved my life,” she said of that search.

Following a middle of the night trip to the hospital, she received a stent at Good Samaritan Hospital. Afterward, she learned her heart suffered some damage, probably because she waited to get help.

“The message I want to get out is, ‘If you feel different than you normally would feel, get it checked out,’” she said. “Go by your gut feeling. Your body tells you a lot of things.”

At age 49, Cochran said she exercised regularly, including lifting weights; had good “numbers” for body mass index and cholesterol; and thought she was too young to have a heart attack. One thing she could not control was a family history of heart disease.

Although initially reluctant to participate in the cardiac rehab program, Cochran  was convinced after in-depth talks with Maniaci McMillan. “I realized I was really in denial. I realized this was the place I needed to be,” Cochran said.

She participates in the rehab program and has worked with staff on a weight lifting plan that is appropriate for her, her heart and an irregular heartbeat experienced following her attack.

Maniaci McMillan said it is important to remind people not to ignore the warning signs of a possible heart attack and to seek help, if they occur.

One major sign for men is chest discomfort, which has been described as pain, pressure or fullness in the chest. The feeling could spread to the back or neck, the jaw or the arm or you could have tingling, numbness in your arms, she said.  For women, the signs are less obvious. They could include chronic fatigue, shortness of breath or an overall sense of not feeling well. 

“Many will say, ‘It will go away. I have the flu or I just over did it,’” Maniaci McMillan said. “By waiting, more damage to the heart could occur. Once the heart is damaged, it doesn’t grow back or rejuvenate itself.”

The problem could be something else, but the person needs to have the concerns checked, she said.

“When people have signs or symptoms, they will say, ‘It can’t be me. It can’t be my heart,’” Maniaci McMillan said. “Just because you exercise or think you eat right, heart disease does not discriminate, whether you are male or female, whether you have high cholesterol. It can be anyone.”

The youngest patient to participate in the rehab program was 21.

The program is seeing more people in their 40s and 50s, an increase attributed to lifestyles, stress and people not taking time to care for themselves.

People need to get regular check ups, especially if there is a family history of heart disease, Maniaci McMillan said.

For more information, call the CardioPulmonary Rehabilitation office at 440-4677 or visit us online.

Content Updated: December 1, 2014

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