Our Cardiac Rehab Program helps heart patients heal mentally and physically

Heather Leusink, MS
Clinical Exercise Physiologist
Cardiac Rehabilitation

Most people know physical therapy as something that happens after a knee replacement or some other major surgery that requires a bit of rehabilitation.

But what happens after heart bypass surgery?

At Williamson Medical Center, cardiac rehab is what happens.

Our cardiac rehab department is open to anyone who has had any kind of heart condition, bypass surgery, stent(s), angioplasty and even congestive heart failure – regardless of where the surgery was done. During discharge, heart patients are told they should attend a cardiac rehab program. We get referrals from all Nashville hospitals and have been operating with a waiting list since we opened the program in 2007.

Social Support

What people may not expect about cardiac rehabilitation is that it is tailored to each individual, but done in a group setting, which is so important to these patients who have had a major heart event. In addition to actual physical rehab, what I see as a crucial factor is the social support it offers. Patients can leave the hospital thinking “Should I feel this?” “Is this normal?” The group dynamic offers these folks a lot of peace of mind.

Our rehab classes are limited to six people and we have several different groups that meet each week.

How it Works

The first day a patient comes to us, they work one-on-one with the staff. We go through their medical history and find out if they have any pre-existing conditions we need to know about. We will then start with low-level exercise, such as walking on a treadmill while the patient is wearing a heart rate monitor. We find a level that feels good to them, using a rate of perceived exertion (RPE) scale. We progress through different types of exercise to find what’s best for the patient. We look at that every week to see if their heart is ready for more.

For example, we might have a bypass patient who is four weeks out from surgery, so we might start them off at about 1.4 miles per hour on a flat treadmill. Someone who is six weeks out from having a stent put in might start out at 2.5 miles per hour. Bypass patients can’t run until 12 weeks after their surgery, so we might put them on a recumbent bike or an arm ergometer after eight weeks to build their cardiovascular endurance.

We also add in weight training and stretching as well to help the patient have a complete and total recovery.

Healthy Minority

In addition to recovery, we are also trying to help them make positive lifestyle changes that become habit. Unfortunately, only about 25 percent of our patients exercised prior to coming into our program.

The good news is that about 70 percent of our patients stick with their exercise program after leaving our program. Once they begin the program, many times the patient will see their blood pressure go down, they have more energy on the days they exercise and they just feel better in general.

I’d say the majority of the people who come through this program leave here a lot stronger than when they came in.

Beyond Rehab

In addition to the actual exercise program, we also teach a 30-minute education class on cholesterol, blood pressure, heart function, the emotional issues that come with heart disease, nutrition, heart medications, exercise and weight management, stress and stress management.

Most of our patients are here for 12 to 18 weeks, so once they are done, we send them with an exercise prescription and teach them to adjust their program as they go. They always get all of our contact information and they know they can call us anytime – and they do! We want to help people stick with their program, so we are happy to talk with them after they graduate from cardiac rehab.

For more information on the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program at Williamson Medical Center, call 435-5338.

Heather Leusink, MS, CEP, is a clinical exercise physiologist with Williamson Medical Center’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Program.