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After Heart Surgery or a Heart Attack, How to Recover

For cardiac patients, here’s an invaluable gift.

Rick Hamlin
Credit: Jim Anness

Whenever I hear of someone who has had heart surgery or suffered from a heart attack, I offer my prayers and then ask, “Have you talked to your doctor about cardiac rehab?”

Cardiac rehab was a gift to me not just once but twice. Thanks to it, I run and work out at the gym knowing that I am doing the right thing, not just for my body but my soul.

February is American Heart Month, and I offer my own experience as a witness.

I was born with a bicuspid aortic valve—a valve that has two flaps or cusps, instead of three. Because of it, at age 52 I had an aortic aneurysm. By miraculous intervention, both godly and medical, it was discovered, and I had the surgery that saved my life. A new bovine valve was installed.

Afterwards I had cardiac rehab, and soon was working out. All along I knew that bovine valve would have to be replaced, but for almost 14 years, it worked just fine. Until last summer.

First, I was hospitalized with a lung infection. When I came home, I still didn’t feel right. Couldn’t go up a flight of stairs without experiencing breathlessness. One August morning I woke up and could barely breathe.

To make a long story short, I went back to the hospital and had a second surgery, getting a new valve. I felt much better.

But even after several weeks of recovery at home, life was not back to normal. I wasn’t running at home or working out. I was just too fearful about what I could do or couldn’t do. Time for cardiac rehab. Take two.

What a gift it was! I’d go to a gym affiliated with my hospital and work out with others who’d suffered similar heart incidents. What a community.

We were hooked up to monitors with a registered nurse on hand to watch our progress, checking our blood pressure and heart rate, making sure we were okay. We did cardiovascular and strength-building exercises that increased with difficulty as time progressed.

At first, I was just ambling slowly on a treadmill. By the end of two months, I was running. Just like I used to.

Because there were health experts on hand, I could be confident that I was doing the right thing. I could push myself without fears. In between workouts, we also got advice on a nutritious heart-healthy diet and counseling on leading a balanced life.

Best yet, the whole program was covered by our health insurance—the nurses, the nutritionist, the physical therapist, the aides. Like going to the best gym in town and not having to pay a cent.

I often recall what that first surgeon said: “Hearts can be fixed.” Yes, they can, but the body and soul also need fixing. I often reflect on what Jesus said about loving “the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength.”

I, for one, wouldn’t be able to do all that without cardiac rehab. If you know of someone who might be helped by it, check it out.

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