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A Smile to Lend While On the Mend

Posted on February 11, 2021 in Cardiology

Knoxville Man Spreads Joy during Cardiac Rehab at Fort Sanders Regional

Kurt Alexander and Emily HunleyKurt Alexander is big in stature, big in personality and big in heart. Earlier this year, the U.S. Navy veteran suddenly felt shortness of breath, and after seeking medical care, found out he had experienced a heart attack. After an initial stent, a small device placed inside an artery used to restore blood flow due to a blockage, and several additional stents, he still needed further intervention.

Alexander learned he had a faulty aortic valve and an aortic aneurysm, which was blocking blood flow to the heart and leaving him in danger of splitting the artery wall. In July, Alexander underwent surgery to replace his aortic valve and a section of the artery.

Following heart surgery, Alexander recovered at his Knoxville home. He began walking, at first to the mailbox and then longer distances within his neighborhood. Soon, he was ready for outpatient cardiac rehabilitation at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, his hometown hospital of choice.

Cardiac Rehab

Cardiac rehab is a medically supervised exercise program for people who have had a heart attack, heart failure, heart surgery or other coronary intervention. In addition to a regular physical exercise routine, patients receive camaraderie, encouragement and education about lifestyle factors that reduce risk of heart issues.

One of the professionals overseeing his care was Emily Hunley, ACSM, exercise physiologist at Fort Sanders Regional Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Center. Hunley enjoyed Alexander’s spirited demeanor and dedication to learning and healing.

“He was very interested in everything, like using the cable weights and different machines,” Hunley says. “Once patients can comfortably use their arms, and there are no lifting restrictions, we add a little bit of resistance training in addition to the treadmill and recumbent bicycle.”

Alexander says, “The folks here are wonderful. They are very good at explaining what I was doing and why. They help you with form and take good care of you.” Gentle and consistent exercises build stamina and muscle mass, allowing the heart to become stronger and better able to pump blood to the extremities for everyday movement.

Kurt Alexander and his mismatched socks“He has just been the best patient,” Hunley says. “He is always making people laugh and doing funny stuff like wearing mismatched socks. Most of all, he wanted to feel better and just have a better quality of life. Patients who complete all 36 recommended sessions typically have better long-term outcomes – and Kurt is on his way.” 

The lively 64-year-old is back to feeling like himself and is able to walk several miles at a time. Alexander has entered Phase 3, or maintenance phase, where he continues supervised exercise sessions at the facility three times per week in addition to exercising on his own.

God is Not Done With Me Yet

Alexander says God is not done with him yet. He says, “I have a strong connection to God and I have a great love for my family. That is what got me through.”

Alexander and his wife have three grown children, two sons-in-law and a new granddaughter. The devoted husband and father says while recovering, he asked God why he was spared. “I got an answer,” he says. “I was told that I’m supposed to share light and laughter with others. If I can go make someone laugh it makes their heart lighter, and they go pass it on to others, whether knowingly or unknowingly. That’s why I love wearing my crazy socks!

“If I can make someone smile for just a moment, I know I am living my purpose.”

Benefits of Cardiac Rehab

Cardiac rehab provides patients with exercise training, emotional support and education about lifestyle changes to reduce risk of heart disease such as eating a heart-healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight and quitting smoking. The goal of the program is to get patients back to regular daily life as soon as possible.