Finding The Courage to Work Out After Heart Surgery

heart-2HYANNIS – Every bit helps, when trying to get in shape after a heart attack. Which is why, through a partnership between Cape Cod Healthcare and KoKo FitClub, 70 cardiovascular patients will be outfitted with a FitBit physical activity tracker. The wrist device is designed to help users become more active, eat a more well-rounded diet, sleep better and ultimately, become healthier.

The joint venture, which was spearheaded by cardiologist Elissa Thompson, MD, program director for Cape Cod Healthcare Cardiovascular Center in Hyannis and Tim Calise, owner of four KoKo FitClub Cape locations, was announced Tuesday, Sept. 27 during a ceremony at the center. Four cardiac rehab patients including Jim Cheverie, Chris Childs, Irwin Ehrenreich and Jim Hyde received FitBits.

For Pat Kane, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Communications and Business Development for Cape Cod Healthcare, the giveaway symbolized how much local organizations can impact lives throughout the community.

“This is the type of partnership where local businesses, physicians and a healthcare system are working together for the mutual benefit of the citizens of Cape Cod,” Kane said. “And we couldn’t do this as an independent healthcare system in this day and age without these local partnerships.”

Dr. Thompson reached out to Calise after reading a comprehensive study that showed that FitBits can help cardiac patients with recovery.

“I can’t believe how enthusiastic and receptive they (Calise and KoKo Fit) were to our ideas,” she said. “This is a community-based organization, so it was a natural fit for us to work together.”

A Smooth Transition To Home

For all four cardiac rehab patients that received a FitBit during the celebration and ceremony, their goal is to not only use the device to make a smooth transition from rehab to home training, but to also push through the fear of working out.Cheverie, for example, was hesitant to begin cardiovascular exercise because he wasn’t sure of his body’s limitations after going through triple bypass surgery. But because the FitBit can continuously track his heartbeat, he said he is more comfortable working out away from the nurses at the rehab facility.

“For me, one of the biggest things the FitBit does is give me the confidence to be active again without worrying,” Cheverie said. “After the surgery you aren’t sure about what you can do but the Fitbit will make me more aware of how active I can be.”

Calise and Thompson are eager to see how the FitBits will help cardiac rehab patients during the 12-week, 36-session cardiac rehabilitation program.While many people flourish throughout the program, which is designed to help them regain strength after a heart attack or cardiovascular surgery, once the sessions end, it’s hard for many patients to remain active and make exercise and healthy eating a habit, explained Dr. Thompson.

Because the FitBit logs a range of data about activities, including the number of steps one takes, distance traveled and calories burned, and is sensitive enough to detect just how vigorous motions are, the device can help patients track concrete bio feedback, set goals and stay motivated.

“Once they go home I don’t want them sitting on their couch,” Dr. Thompson said. “I want them to get that body moving again to prevent another event from happening.”

Lasting Effect of Exercise

Calise, who will also be helping Cape cardiac patients with training for the next 36 to 90 days at his KoKo FitClub locations, said the device is especially good at showing the lasting effects of physical activity after suffering from a cardiac incident.

“FitBit’s are great because they are easy to use and give people a goal to target day in and day out,” he said. “Plus the data helps us follow what happens after cardiac rehab – whether it’s gains or.”

Ehrenreich, who has used a FitBit before, was also fearful to exercise independently, but after using the FitBit and its wristband accessory he actually plays along with the device and tries to reach “the magic number” of 10,000 steps a day, which he said will help him recover from his heart attack and resulting triple bypass surgery.

“When you hit your goal the (FitBit) shows all these fireworks and there’s music playing and it really gets you motivated,” Ehrenreich said. “If I look at the FitBit at the end of the day and it says I’m up to 8,000 steps I’ll literally run around my house until I reach 10,000.”

Thompson, whose warmth, and passion for her patients is evident through the many programs she facilitates, including the “Healthy Parks Healthy People” program that’s run in collaboration with the Cape Cod National Seashore, was glowing when she witnessed the FitBit’s being passed out to her patients. With every person that walked out the door, she said she has hope the device will help keep them on the right physical path.

“It’s exciting to watch these patients leave with a tool that can help them heal and give them peace of mind,” Thompson said.

By RACHAEL DEVANEY, OneCape Health News

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