Submitted by PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center
“I was sure I was just having indigestion. I had no idea how much danger I was in,” recalls Beverly Fincher of the night she nearly lost her life. “It had been bothering me each evening after dinner – a little pain just above my stomach. But on the sixth night, the pain hit me so suddenly and severely that I couldn’t even talk. I managed to push the button on the emergency device that I carry around my neck, but the pain was so bad I had great difficulty speaking with the dispatcher.”
Beverly was in the throes of a massive heart attack, caused by bloods clot in her heart. Rescue crews came quickly, saving her life. “The doctors put a stent in my heart to get the blood flowing again, but I was in bad shape,” says Beverly. “Even before the heart attack, my health had been deteriorating. I’m 85, and I guess I just figured my years of being active were over.”
With the heart attack, Beverly’s health hit a new low. “I had to get a walker, and I couldn’t even stand up straight. I could only shuffle around all bent over.”
Two months after having the stent implanted, Beverly was showing little sign of improvement. Her doctor asked if she would enroll in the cardiac rehabilitation classes at her local hospital, PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center. Beverly didn’t hesitate. “Absolutely,” she told him. “I need help. I’m not living a life.”
Beverly wasn’t sure what to expect.
“On my first day I talked to Annie – the nurse who leads the classes. She said ‘If you’re going to come in here, you’re going to have to work.’ She had a bullwhip hanging on the wall! I asked her if she would use that on everybody, and she said ‘Well, I do if they don’t straighten up!’ We had a good laugh about that.”
Anneliese Hill, Charge Nurse for the cardiac rehabilitation program, recalls how weak and tired Beverly was on her first day. “She came in stooped over with a walker, and her energy was very low. But she did everything we asked of her. By the tenth session she felt strong enough to leave her walker at home. We added weight training to her program, and she continued to get stronger and stronger.“
Within three months Beverly was ready to graduate from the cardiac program. It was time to celebrate – in style. Beverly shared with Anneliese that she had danced a little at a family gathering the night before.
“Beverly told me that she had danced a two-step the night before,” said Hill. “I said, ‘Well Beverly, I’m a dancer, too, and now you can dance with me!’ We two-stepped on out the door. It was great fun!”
“Seventy-percent of people who are eligible for cardiac rehab don’t take advantage of the opportunity,” says exercise physiologist Matt Nipper, coordinator of the cardiac and pulmonary rehab program at PeaceHealth Southwest. “Anyone who has had a myocardial infarction, a cardiac stent, or bypass or valve surgery is eligible to participate in this program – fully reimbursed. It’s a valuable tool. Unfortunately, the majority of eligible people don’t take advantage of it. It’s a shame because 100% of the people who come in and do the work see improvement.”
Beverly not only put in the work, she soon found that, despite her age, she was serving as one of her group’s inspirational leaders. “Sometimes in the class, Matt would point at me and say ‘Look at Beverly. She’s 85 years old and she’s getting it done. If she can do it, we can all do it!’”
Although her cardiac rehab program is officially over, Beverly says her commitment to heart health will never end. “My son got me an exercise bike so I can continue to work out right here in my house. I’ve also signed up to exercise at the Firstenburg Center three times a week. I really miss my cardiac rehab workouts with the group. Annie and Matt are wonderful, and it was so great to meet other folks working hard to overcome their heart issues. I don’t think I could have done this alone. I’m grateful this rehab program exists. It has given me back my health.”
Anyone who has experienced a cardiac event and is interested in learning more about the effectiveness of cardiac rehab is encouraged to learn more.