Keeping the town’s heart beating well

The Cardiac Rehab Team at the DGH
The Cardiac Rehab Team at the DGH
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ALMOST everyone knows someone who has suffered from heart problems.

Be it a heart attack, heart disease or valve malfunctions, the ol’ ticker can take quite a beating in a whole host of ways.

Many of the issues can be put right by operations but for many people leaving the operating table can be where the hard work starts.

Lots of patients report having post operative apprehension about how far they can push their recently repaired heart. Can they still do exercise? Are they safe to carry on the way they did before? The list of questions is endless.

And that is where the DGH’s specialist Cardiac Rehabilitation Team (CRT) comes in.

Based largely in the hospital’s gym, the department helps more than 560 people a year get to grips with life after having heart problems – with as many as 200 accessing the service at any one time.

And, as the team explained during a recent visit, much of the work they have to do is addressing misconceptions over what is, and isn’t possible. The reality, according to Philippa Acton, is often far better than what the patient first imagines.

“We have to work on people’s perceptions,” she said, “because some people can be nervous after having any problem with their heart.

“The way we do it is to ease people into cardio vascular exercise gradually and build up what they are doing.

“During sessions we fit everyone with a heart monitor and we work out what heart rate represents a good and safe work out.

“There is also a guideline patients use to grade themselves on how much they are getting out of the exercise and adjust their effort accordingly.

“Our groups can number as many as 20 and it is important they all exercise as individuals because each one will be at a different stage of rehabilitation. They are not competing against each other, just doing the work which is best for them.”

Mrs Acton is one of several cardiac rehab sisters and is joined in the gym by Hilary Richards, Melanie Mills and Paulene Howse – each of whom plays a key role in helping people with heart conditions get the most out of life.

And, importantly, they are not alone. The team benefits from a host of volunteers – many of whom have been through the programme as patients and seen first hand the benefits of putting in the effort in the gym.

One such helper is David Satchell. He had a heart attack last year – although, as he explained, at the time, it was news to him.

“I had a pain in my chest which did not go away. I had no idea I was having a heart attack.

“At 3am it was still hurting so I went to hospital and found out what had been going on. The doctor said if I had left it until 6am like I had originally planned to, I would have died.

“The treatment I received was nothing short of brilliant and the help I got from the CRT was superb. I could not have asked for anything more.

“I genuinely think the girls here are the most under-appreciated team in the entire hospital. The care an attention they give each patient is amazing.

“I could see how hard pressed they work so though, how best could I help. In the end it was obvious – I became a volunteer.”

If one thing is obvious during the Herald’s visit it is that hard work pays off. Patients may all be at different stages on their journey to rehabilitation, but the emphasis is on helping people help themselves.

And, as Mrs Acton was keen to point out, there are things people can do to cut down their prospects of ever having to access the CRT team’s services.

“All things in moderation is the best advice we can give,” she said.

“If anyone has a family history of heart disease, high cholesterol or other cardiac problems, they need to look at what the risk factors are and limit them.

“Life is about having fun and we can help people find a way to do that and stay fit.”