Excited to Exercise Again - Cardiac Rehab After Massive Heart Attack

Fortunately John’s wife, Kathy, was home when he suffered a massive heart attack on December 6, 2014 while putting up the Christmas tree. “I felt really clammy,” he says of taking a break to sit down on the couch. That is the last thing he remembers before being transported in the ambulance to Oklahoma Heart Institute. “My wife called 911, performed CPR and brought me back to life.”

Cardiologist Dr. Robert Smith and the cardiac catheterization lab team where ready for John’s arrival. “By the time paramedics got me into the elevator, they said I sat up, said I didn’t feel well and went code blue,” John shares. CPR helped save his life again on the way to the cath lab, as well as several times during the stent procedure to open three blockages in his main arteries - one at 100 percent.
When John woke eight days later recovering in the hospital, he received a visit from the cath lab team. “They said I was totally grey and they had seen this enough to know that I was probably not going to make it,” he recalls. “They used the word miracle.”
John was on his way to a remarkable recovery from a 100 percent blockage without major damage to his heart or brain. When he was strong enough to take the next step in his recovery in January, John says he was excited to begin cardiac rehab. “I was real excited, because I looked forward to being able to exercise again,” adds the avid jogger, who had participated in several Tulsa Run races. “I was so excited that I was alive and able to begin to get stronger.”
As John began the monitored exercise program at Hillcrest Exercise & Lifestyle Programs, he not only learned what exercise thresholds were safe for the current condition of his heart, he also learned about his medication, a new heart-healthy diet and signs to look for that might be indicative of any future heart problems. That is when he began to realize that there were signs the first time.
Six months prior to his heart attack, John noticed he wasn’t able to jog as he normally would without feeling pain. It resided in his shoulder and would seem to strike every time he went running. However, he thought it was from a torn rotator cuff and never thought anything more of it. Now running less, he recalls one time he went jogging with his daughter, but wasn’t able to make it more than a few blocks. Could it be he was just out of shape? He was also no longer able to mow the yard without taking breaks. Nearing his 60th birthday, the signs did not appear to be anything more than a problem with his shoulder and getting older. “I kept associating that pain with my rotator cuff instead of my heart,” he says. “We had all the indications and should have gone in earlier.”
Today, John is half-way through the 12-week program, attending his monitored exercise sessions three times a week. He looks forward to a full recovery, returning to jogging one day, his annual ski trip and being there for his son’s wedding in two weeks. “He was really in prayer for me, because he didn’t want me to miss his wedding,” adds John.
With the support of his wife, Kathy, John says they have made several changes already including their diet. Instead of bacon and eggs every morning, they enjoy oatmeal, fruit, bran flakes and ground turkey in recipes for dinner instead of red meat. He admits, they’re still working on finding the right burger recipe, though.
John credits cardiac rehab and his team of nurses and consultants with helping him bounce back from what could have been a devastating cardiac event. “I really enjoy the people,” he shares. “They all have been really encouraging and helpful. It is very well worth it.”
For anyone facing cardiac rehab for the first time, John offers this advice: “Expect to have very knowledgable, trained professionals that want to see your heart recover at a pace that is healthy for you. I’ve seen people who haven’t worked out at all and they take the same care with them as they do with me and then progress with them. It is really important to know that they are going to watch you for the state that you are in and take you as far as you want to go.”
To learn more about cardiac rehab at Oklahoma Heart Institute, click here.