February 2001
Cardiac Rehabilitation: "Pay Yourself First"

Woman on Treadmill After a major cardiac event such as a heart attack or open-heart surgery, you can’t just continue with life as usual. Marge Connery and Juliette Pittman know that. They needed to make permanent, major lifestyle changes in order to keep their hearts healthy. So both, at their physicians’ urging, entered Bridgeport Hospital’s Healthy Heart Program (formerly Outpatient Cardiac Rehab), (which is recommended for anyone who has had a heart procedure, not just Bridgeport Hospital patients). Marge and Juliette’s goals were to develop heart-healthy dietary habits, practice stress reduction techniques, get in shape, and learn how to exercise the right way for their heart condition. But it’s not always easy—especially the exercise part. In fact, that can be downright scary.

After something as stunning as a cardiac event, “many people feel a huge fear of their own body,” says Karen Nefores, RN, who was Marge Connery’s rehab nurse. “Through Bridgeport Hospital’s three-month, three-times-a-week program, we help them overcome this fear.”

Participants start out exercising slowly, and progress at their own pace. They wear a heart monitor while they exercise and are guided every step along the way by experienced cardiac nurses like Lee Jimmie, RN and exercise physiologists like Wendy Bjerke and Denise Donofrio. Gradually, they begin to go further, faster, and they become more secure. With time and repetition, they improve their fitness level, gain more vitality and most importantly, strengthen their heart. Marge Connery’s biggest obstacle was her schedule. As the mother of two young girls, a hairdresser, and a sales representative for Mary Kay Cosmetics, Inc., she was so busy, she kept a list of everything she had to do each day. “I didn’t have time for exercise and stress management,” Marge recalls. “I showed Karen my date book, and she said, ‘Oh, no, no, no—you need to slow down. You need to make your health your number one priority!’”

Financial advisors always say that in order to save, you can’t just tuck away the dollars that are left at the end of the pay-check—you need to pay yourself first. “It’s the same with cardiac rehabilitation,” says Karen. “You can’t thrive by squeezing exercise in when you have a few minutes at the end of a busy day. You need to put it at the top of your list. You need to pay yourself first. Establish a time and place to exercise, and don’t skip it when your day gets full. Skip something else instead—something less important.”

Woman MeditatingSuzanne Pollard Quintner, MS, RD (registered dietitian), cardiac rehabilitation coordinator and stress management instructor, feels the same when it comes to stress management. “Stress is definitely associated with heart problems,” she says. “It’s important to learn to let go of the small stuff. Meditation, guided imagery, and deep breathing are some of the methods we teach our patients to help them learn to unwind.”

Juliette Pittman’s main problem was that she wasn’t eating well after she got home from the hospital. Cardiac Rehabilitation dietitian Deborah Zippel helped her with a personal consultation, and taste-tempting, heart-healthy recipes low in saturated fat. “I cook differently now,” says Juliette. She also controls her portion sizes. “It’s just a matter of cutting down,” she says.

After her Healthy Heart Program (formerly Outpatient Cardiac Rehab) ended, Marge Connery opted to take Bridgeport Hospital’s Project Heart Smart program, a six-week program open to anyone in the community who wants to reduce the risks of heart disease—whether they’ve had a heart episode or not. The once-a-week sessions include exercise, stress reduction, dietary advice, cardiac education, and delicious gourmet heart-smart meals.

“Project Heart Smart reinforces everything you’ve learned,” Marge explains. “We heard about advances in treating heart disease, reading food labels, the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats…a lot of interesting information. We did stress management every week with Pam McLaughlin, APRN, and got to try tai chi and yoga as well. Stress management is a huge thing with me,” she adds. “Also, the dietitian went over my diet. She gave me a list of things I can eat, not just what I can’t.”

Marge and Juliette have both learned to change their way of living, long-term, for their hearts’ sake—and their families’ sake.

“If I don’t take care of myself,” Marge points out, “who’s going to take care of my kids?”

For information on the next Project Heart Smart Program dates, fees, and locations, or for information on Bridgeport Hospital's Healthy Heart Program (formerly Outpatient Cardiac Rehab), call 888-357-2396.