At St. Joseph’s, patients with heart disease learn how to get healthy and stay healthy.
Rick Ho thought he simply had the flu. He was feverish, achy and nauseous but didn’t think much of it. He grabbed some Asperin and went to work. When the symptoms didn’t subside, he headed to an emergency room. Within hours, the 44-year-old was in the operating room undergoing quintuple heart bypass surgery. There was concern he would die on the table.
Three months later, Rick celebrated by biking five kilometres. At five months, he ran 10 kilometres. He calls the Cardiac Rehabilitation and Secondary Prevention Program at St. Joseph’s Hospital “completely transformative”.
"I was on the brink of a massive and potentially fatal heart attack. And now I’m more fit than I’ve been in decades."
Rick is among a growing number of people in London benefitting from cardiac rehabilitation. A push to ensure care for heart attack patients and others with heart disease doesn’t stop once they leave hospital has many more individuals receiving rehabilitation and the guidance they need to stay healthy.
In recent years, the number of referrals to the Cardiac Rehabilitation and Secondary Prevention Program (CRSP) has nearly doubled and its impact significantly strengthened thanks to various efforts, such as reaching heart patients before they leave hospital, making the referral process to the program easier, and helping patients turn lifestyle changes into lifelong habits.
"To practice innovative cardiac rehabilitation you need an approach with a broad reach and expertise that serves as a resource for hospitals and the region," says Dr. Neville Suskin, Medical Director of the program, now located at St. Joseph’s Hospital.
Done right, adds the cardiologist, the impact can be tremendous. The CRSP program conducted a study that shows preventing a second (or third) heart attack can result in a 30 per cent savings in health care costs from reduced hospitalizations. "There are few interventions in medicine that can do that."
The CRSP program is designed for men and women with heart disease who have had a heart attack, angina, angioplasty or heart surgery. An interdisciplinary team provides patients with a medical evaluation, including exercise stress testing, a prescribed exercise program, lifestyle education, psychological services, nutrition counselling, smoking cessation therapy and more.
Instead of waiting for patients to come to the program, London heart patients are now connected with the CRSP before discharge from hospital. They can even begin smoking cessation therapy before they leave hospital.
"We have implemented a strategy in the inpatient setting so that patients are getting the right care and understand the importance of follow-up and risk reduction," says Dr. Suskin.
About 500 patients are seen each year at St. Joseph’s CRSP program, which also has four satellite sites in Sarnia, Owen Sound, Ingersoll and Chatham. In a unique partnership with the YMCA in London, exercise prescribed by the CRSP team is carried out at the downtown Y, where patients attend supervised exercise sessions and also work out on their own for six months.
"Ultimately, what we want to do is help patients establish and maintain an active lifestyle, gain strength and confidence, and take charge of their health, says Dr. Suskin. "The key is sustainable, behavior change. As part of that, we want people to become habitual exercisers."
Rick was surprised by what he learned through the CRSP about the benefits of exercise. "The order of magnitude and life transforming power of that half hour of exercise a day is staggering. Then I got to live it."