Cardiac rehab boosts odds for heart patients

Published: Feb. 6, 2020 at 10:26 PM CST
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Jane McKinley can get moving with a smile on her face these days.

That wasn't the case just one year ago.

"My body wasn't doing what it was supposed to be doing," she said.

Diagnosed with cardiomyopathy 20 years ago, her body was gaining fluid, and it was affecting other organs.

"I had trouble just walking to the car to go to the store. I couldn't do grocery shopping. I couldn't go out to lunch or dinner or do laundry," Jane said. "I just was tired, very tired all the time."

March 1, 2019, doctors checked her into St. Luke's Hospital in Kansas City. 25 days later, she received a heart transplant. A few months later, she stepped up her recovery by joining the cardiac rehab program at Cotton O'Neil Heart Center in Topeka.

Kelly Brown, an exercise physiologist with the program, says the main advantage of the program is the one-on-one attention.

"You have the staff members - and we're made up of exercise physiologists, dietitians, the nurses - and they give you that one-on-one support for those first few months which are the most critical after your heart event."

Participants in cardiac rehab learn nutrition, stress management, how to incorporate exercise into their lives, and signs and symptoms of what's normal - and what might be continuing heart issues.

"That gives them a little bit less anxiety to know that they can work at a certain level and everything is okay," Brown said.

Studies show patients who take part in cardiac rehab programs reduce their risk of cardiac related death and illness, and improve quality of life.

"It got me motivated to get out and start exercising and being around people again," Jane said.

It's all helping Jane take care of her precious gift.

"I just feel I have a lot more to live," she said. "I've been given a second chance at life, and with my family and friends."

Jane would like to meet her donor's family some day, and encourages everyone to give the gift of life.

Cardiac rehab programs can last six to 12 weeks. People wanting to be proactive should talk to their doctor about a referral for exercise counseling.