Mercy program monitors recovery

This week, Mercy Tiffin Hospital is observing Cardiac Rehabilitation Week with a theme of “Healing Hearts and Touching Lives.” The goal is to educate the public about the program and its benefits.

Cardiac rehabilitation is a program of education, support and exercise for people who have suffered a heart attack, had open-heart surgery, angioplasty with stents, heart valve surgery or have angina. The exercise portion includes working out on stationary bicycles, recumbent steppers and bikes, treadmills and free weights.

Those who come to rehabilitation need a physician’s referral.

Located in the first-floor cardiology suite at the hospital, the department is headed by registered nurse Kathy Weaver, assisted by Kathy Kuhn. Weaver has one long-term patient who has been coming for 14 years, but in general, only 20-30 percent of heart patients utilize cardiac rehabilitation programs, she said.

As new health care laws are implemented, cardiologists can expect to be questioned about referring patients to rehab and promoting the benefits it offers.

“They’re actually going to make it part of their performance measures that doctors might be judged on their reimbursements if they refer to rehab,” Weaver said.

Studies indicate cardiac rehabilitation helps heart patients by improving control of heart disease through dramatic lifestyle changes and medication; curbing depression and anxiety; helping people return to work sooner; reducing re-hospitalization and emergency room visits; and lowering mortality rates from all causes by about 25 percent.

“If your doctor doesn’t mention it, you should bring it up,” Weaver said. “It’s not just an exercise program. It’s exercise, education and support. There are proven reasons for each thing. You can’t just come and exercise.”

The education component helps patients understand what happened to them and gives them information on heart disease risk factors, including genetics, blood pressure, cholesterol levels,

smoking, diabetes, excess weight, stress and inactivity.

Even “doing everything right” is no guarantee for perfect heart health.

“Anyone can have heart disease, but healthy habits improve chances of survival if it does occur,” Weaver said.

She and Kuhn often detect red flags while patients are working out.

An elevated heart rate, blood pressure or body temperature, severe fatigue or breathlessness, or other symptoms can indicate the need for a doctor’s visit to address infections, problems with medication or other issues.

The nurses have sent a few patients directly from rehab to the emergency room.

“I did a survey from my patients in rehab. Anybody who’s been in the program, I had them fill it out,” Weaver said.