Health First Cardiac Rehab Patients Feeling Strong of Heart, New Location Open in Viera
By Space Coast Daily // September 13, 2023
dedicated exercise and rehabilitation program serving a range of patients
Program has been extremely successful in terms of improving the lives of cardiac patients, Pulmonary Rehab set to start in the fall.
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – For Julie Mielcarek of Cocoa Beach, working out at the gym wasn’t on her list of healthy habits to start New Year’s Day, but then, a lot has happened. On the night of April 5, she lay awake in bed “feeling like a ball was bouncing around my chest.”
She didn’t do anything about it immediately, though it lasted about two hours. At 6 a.m., she got up and watched mass on television. By 8 a.m., she told her husband to call 9-1-1.
She was, in fact, having a heart attack. It led to a five-day hospital stay.
“The next thing I knew, Cardiac Rehab was on the calendar,” she says.
Cardiac Rehab is Health First’s dedicated exercise and rehabilitation program serving a range of patients, from those with arrhythmias or who have suffered cardiac arrest, to those who have received minimally invasive valve replacements and other interventions.
Members get some coaching on the exercise equipment, but they’re also outfitted with exercise electrocardiograms (ECGs) monitored by a Cardiac Exercise Specialist.
New Location in Viera
Earlier this year, Health First opened a second Cardiac Rehab location at Pro-Health & Fitness in Viera. The original location is in Melbourne, a short walk across Hickory Street from Health First’s Holmes Regional Medical Center.
“The program has been extremely successful in terms of improving the lives of cardiac patients here in Brevard County,” says Health First Cardiologist Thomas Swain, MD, who is Medical Director of the program. “We look forward to continuing that success. We have an amazing team, and they have done an amazing job.”
Amid the free weights and heavy training machines on the second floor of Pro-Health & Fitness there is a dedicated space for Cardiac Rehab, with exercise ECG devices hanging from hooks on the wall, and across from them, treadmills, recumbent stationary bicycles, and an upper body ergometer (think bicycle for the arms).
On a recent Monday, Mielcarek and another half dozen members were joined by Cardiac Exercise Specialists Karen Damers and Jeremy Davison.
Each Time, A Little Stronger
“In my first visit, they talked about how they were going to make me stronger to help my heart. After taking my blood pressure, I went to one of the machines for so many minutes and so many watts of power. Each time I’ve gotten a little stronger and do more.”
In fact, she’s been doing a lot more. Damers says that at her first session she did 18 minutes of exercise total. Now, she was consistently putting in 31-35 minutes.
Specialists like Damers and Davison help Cardiac Rehab patients apply EKG monitors that transmit wirelessly to the specialists’ workstation. Damers and Davison also are able to monitor and record a work-load metric so that not just time but improvement on effort can also be demonstrated.
When new members come in, they’re often severely deconditioned. Only a minute or two on a treadmill or recumbent stationary bicycle produces windedness, even complaints. But as the workouts become routine, Damers and Davison say they notice something – more banter.
In Mielcarek’s case, “she’s been telling me about her past, about her career as a teacher, and stuff she likes to do. As she’s felt better, we’ve gotten more stories out of her,” Davison says.
Heart, Now Lungs
She’s also reported her energy moment-to-moment is much improved, and her sleep has gotten better, too.
When she left Health First’s Cape Canaveral Hospital following her heart attack, she was counseled that her heart was functioning at about 30%. Recently, she was told it’s up to as much as 70%, “so that makes me happy – and I don’t think that would’ve happened if I didn’t get out and go to Cardiac Rehab.”
As she understands it, to strengthen her heart, she must make it work harder. She feels safe at Cardiac Rehab putting in the work.
Mielcarek waved her hand at Damers and Davison – “they pay attention to you, they know your oxygen levels and blood pressure, that sort of thing. They are not going to force you to do anything you’re not capable of.”
Following the success of Cardiac Rehab, Health First is set to open a similar program for pulmonary patients later this year.
To learn more about Health First’s Cardiac Rehabilitation program or to schedule an appointment, visit HF.org/cardiacrehab.