UTMB gives cardiac patients new lease on life

Thursday, March 01, 2012

UTMB’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Center helps teach recovering heart patients a new way of life. Nurse Sandra Fontenette has worked in the center for 12 years and sees an average of 12 patients a week. “Everyone should take their heart health seriously, and do so now, before it’s too late,” she said. “It’s simple: Just love your heart.” [Note: This article was written by Kristen Hensley of UTMB’s Office of Public Affairs and published Feb. 21, 2012 in The Galveston County Daily News.] 

Paul Hart on treadmill

Above, Tiki Island resident and heart attack survivor Paul Hart works out on a treadmill at UTMB's Cardiac Rehabilitation Center while exercise physiologist Jessica Anderson monitors him.

The sudden tingling sensation in Paul Hart’s left arm told him immediately that something was seriously wrong.

“It was April of last year, and I was driving around Houston,” Hart, 73. said. “The tingling was odd, but it was more the feeling that my entire arm was plunged in ice water that terrified me.”

The Tiki Island resident knew he was having a heart attack. He was able to keep his composure long enough to pull into a car dealership he was passing — coincidentally, the same dealership where he had bought his new car only two weeks before.

Within five minutes, EMS was rushing Hart to the emergency room, where the cardiologist would place two stents in one of his arteries.

“The first thing I thought when I awoke was, ‘I made it.’”

About a month later, he was taking hesitant steps into the Cardiac Rehabilitation Center at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Weakened, but with a renewed sense of purpose, Hart would begin his journey back to health.

“The rehab center saved my life, really,” he said.

He praises Jessica Anderson, the center’s exercise physiologist.

“She is beyond description, pushing me in the right way to do better and get better. She is amazing.”

Under Anderson’s watchful eye, Hart worked with free weights, an elliptical machine, treadmill and recumbent bike and slowly regained his strength. He now boasts an active lifestyle.

But while Hart’s symptoms clearly indicated a heart attack, 68-year-old Bill Bond had a somewhat different experience.

The retired Navy lieutenant commander was attending a squadron reunion in November 2010 when he noticed a tightening in his chest while walking in San Francisco. He thought it unusual, but waited until he returned home to Galveston to get it checked out.

An EKG would reveal he was in danger of having a massive heart attack. He was rushed to the hospital and within days was undergoing a triple bypass.

“I was shocked,” said Bond, who had been extremely fit his entire life. “I’d never spent even one night in the hospital.”

He realized later that his diet likely was to blame. A fan of fast food, Bond would have to learn a whole new way of eating.

With the help of a cane, Bond walked into the Cardiac Rehabilitation Center about three months after his surgery to begin his personalized, monitored sessions.

“My diet changed immensely in the months after my surgery,” he said. “Jessica, along with nurse Sandra Fontenette, inspired me and educated me on how to eat right. They were such a big part of my rehab program; in fact, I never want them out of my life.”

Fontenette has worked in the center for 12 years and sees an average of 12 patients a week. She said she believes the program helps patients emotionally as well as physically.

“The patients come here after a life-changing event. They arrive weakened and discouraged but they leave feeling alive,” she said. “The patients end up sharing their stories of survival and they develop close relationships. It’s hard work but it’s also good socialization for them.”

Bond now stays far away from fast food, and enjoys cooking his meals at his beachside home. He admits he once took his health for granted but now embraces a heart-healthy lifestyle, walking around 20 miles a week on the beach.

“I should have thought of this in my 40s,” he said.

Fontenette agreed. “Everyone should take their heart health seriously, and do so now, before it’s too late,” she said. “It’s simple: Just love your heart.”

She credits the inventive program to the tight-knit group of professionals who work in the medical branch’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Center, including Dr Ken Fujise, the chairman of cardiology, Dr. Shreyas Modi, the center’s medical director, Rosario Mercado-Young, the director of non-invasive cardiology services, Jessica Anderson, the center’s exercise physiologist, and Toni Hernandez, their patient services specialist.

“Together, we make this an incredibly successful program; and best of all, we’re saving lives every day,” Fontenette said.

UTMB Health's Cardiac Rehab Team

The team at UTMB's Cardiac Rehabilitation Center includes, from left: Nurses Sandra Fontenette and  Patrick Skowron;  Exercise Physiologist Jessica Anderson; Medical Director Shreyas A. Modi, MD; Patient Service Specialist Toni Hernandez; and Rosario Mercado-Young, Director of Non-Invasive Cardiology & Cardiac Rehabilitation.


The UTMB Cardiac Rehabilitation Program aims to reverse limitations experienced by patients who have suffered cardiac events by encouraging and equipping them with the knowledge and practice of a heart-healthy lifestyle. Cardiac rehab starts when a patient is still in the hospital and continues after discharge with the patient receiving  extensive rehabilitation as an outpatient.

The Cardiac Rehabilitation Center was recently renovated, and is located on the UTMB campus in Galveston, in the John Sealy Hospital Complex.

For patient-related questions or for appointments at any of UTMB's cardiology clinics, please call the main clinic line at 409-933-0017. 


[Visit the Division of Cardiology]



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