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Cardiac Rehab Program is Helping Heart Attack Survivors Avoid Recurrence

Donnie Sanchez of Fresno is a heart attack and heart surgery survivor who is leading a healthier life, thanks to the Kaiser Permanente Cardiac Rehab Program.

Sanchez is one of more than 1,500 Kaiser Permanente patients enrolled in the program–aimed at preventing recurrence of heart attacks and strokes by helping patients make healthier lifestyle choices.

“This program demonstrates Kaiser Permanente’s integrated approach to healthcare by having cardiologists collaborate with cardiac care nurses to help patients get healthy,” said Eleanor Levin, MD, a cardiologist at Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara and regional leader of the Cardiac Rehab Program.


This week, Levin will be presenting research about Kaiser Permanente’s Cardiac Rehab Program at the American College of Cardiology in Washington, D.C.( #ACC17)

The research shows the program is helping patients, like Sanchez, lead healthier lives after their first heart attack by modifying some of their lifestyle choices.

“More than 90 percent of patients in the Cardiac Rehab Program stopped smoking and took their heart medication regularly,” Levin said. “More than 80 percent were able to control their blood pressure and control their blood cholesterol.”

Statistics show that nationally, only about 40 percent of patients make the necessary lifestyle changes following a heart attack. But Levin said Kaiser Permanente’s Cardiac Rehab Program is giving patients the tools they need to reduce their chances of having another cardiac event.

The home-based program, which includes monitoring by Kaiser Permanente cardiac rehab nurses, is offered at all 21 Kaiser Permanente Northern California medical centers.

Following a heart attack or bypass surgery, patients are referred to the Cardiac Rehab Program. They are assessed to determine behaviors they need to change and set goals. Patients attend a two-hour class taught by nurses focused on ways to eat healthier, exercise more and manage stress.

“We are trying to prevent or decrease the risk of heart attacks happening again by making important lifestyle changes,” said Virginia Bailey, RN, who oversees the Cardiac Rehab Program at Kaiser Permanente’s Fresno Medical Center.

After attending the class, each patient is given a personalized home-care plan that is developed by their Kaiser Permanente cardiologist. Exercise is a large component of the program because it is critical to staying healthy following a heart attack, Bailey said.

“So is a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet, and controlling one’s blood pressure,” she added.

Patients log their own exercise, diet, and daily blood pressure readings. Nurses check in on their progress periodically with phone calls or through secure email messaging.

“I tell them I’m their biggest cheerleader,” Bailey said.

Sanchez said Bailey’s support through the Cardiac Rehab Program has helped him through his recovery.

After 49 years of smoking, he quit cold turkey. He cut out processed food, opting for fruit and veggies. He consumes little red meat, and walks every day.

“Life is too short,” he said. “Be strong, be hungry to live.”



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