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 Tami Maniaci McMillan, lead nurse for cardiac rehabilitation at UVMC. “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.