A normal workout turned scary for one man

Cardiac rehab lights the way for one heart patient's recovery

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It was just another normal workout for Ricky Buffington. That is, until the chest pains started, followed by the chills, hot flashes and anxiety.
“I knew something was wrong,” Ricky said.  “Scared, I called my wife and told her what I was experiencing and asked her how far she was from home. She told me she was thirty minutes away and to hang up and call 911.”
Thankfully, Ricky listened to his wife and called for help. Once first responders arrived and stabilized him, they transported him to Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center where a cardiac catheterization at Sentara’s Heart and Vascular Center revealed he had two blockages.
Ricky was fortunate. His quick actions may have saved his life. He wasn’t one of the almost 610,000 people in the United States who die of heart disease every year. In fact, the day following his procedure for the two blockages, Ricky was ready to go home.

Before his discharge, the staff at Sentara’s Heart and Vascular Center approached Ricky about participating in a cardiac rehabilitation program. Doctors prescribe rehab for patients following heart surgery or a heart attack; it is designed to guide the cardiac patient back to a healthy productive life through exercise, education and support.
Ricky already knew how to train and get into shape. After all, before his heart attack, he had exercised regularly and participated with his family in 5K’s and some half marathons. He wasn’t sure a cardiac rehab program would be that helpful for him.
Ricky isn’t alone in his hesitation to participate in Cardiac Rehab. Pamela Rozmajzl, R.N., Team Leader at Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Program says the statistics are disheartening, “While cardiac rehabilitation can reduce the risk of another heart attack, less than 14-35% of heart attack survivors and approximately 31% of patients after CABG (Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting) participate in a cardiac rehab program.”
Ricky weighed his options and decided to take advantage of rehab. It’s a decision he can’t believe it took him so long to decide on, “I totally underestimated the program. It was the right thing for me and truly educated me on proper recovery.”
Ricky found the main component of the cardiac program is exercise. Patients are encouraged to begin with 28 minutes of cardio and work up to 45 minutes, 5 times a week by the end of their 3-month program.
“Patients are typically very anxious to begin any exercise following a cardiac event for fear that they will bring on another event,” says Pamela.
Nurses help to alleviate those concerns with education and close monitoring. Patients are connected to cardiac monitors so nurses can see how their heart is performing during exercise. Any irregularities can be dealt with immediately.
While some patients are hesitant to exercise, others rush ahead, pushing their bodies too fast.

Ricky admits he falls into that category, “I was feeling pretty good and pushed myself beyond my limits, and my body let me know I overdid the workout. The staff at the cardiac rehab program reminded me to stick to the program at home, as prescribed, because I was still healing.”
Nurse Rozmajzl explains, “We give our patients a target heart rate. It’s a number we tell them you shouldn’t surpass.  We encourage patients to purchase a heart monitor, and we do a lot of education on how to monitor your heart rate. As the heart becomes more conditioned, each beat becomes more effective and efficient.”
This emphasis on the target heart rate enables patients to continue to increase their activity level without endangering their heart

While exercise is an important part of the program, nurses also emphasize the importance of a proper diet and the importance of decreasing stress. Through his experience in the rehab program, Ricky learned he wasn’t eating as healthy as he had originally believed.
He and his wife took what he learned and began working on his diet, eliminating bad choices and decreasing portion size. “I’ve learned there is a difference between what we think is right and what is best,” Ricky says.
If you ask Ricky what he has learned from his experience, he will tell you he no longer takes his health for granted. He’s learned how to take better care of himself through the program and is living a healthier life because of it.
“This experience will always be a part of my life because it changed my life,” Ricky says.  “Rehab was overall a great experience. I would recommend it for anyone. A heart attack isn’t anything to take lightly.”