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Bonus Years

Posted on October 26, 2017 in Cardiology

PR exec believes cardiac rehab extends life

FSRMC CROPAlan Carmichael had been through it all before – the stationary bikes, the ellipticals, the weights, the arm ergometers. The works.

Yet despite all his efforts and a continuing commitment to diet, exercise and medicine, Carmichael found himself back in the Cardiac Rehabilitation Outpatient Program (CROP) at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center. Two years ago, it was a pair of stents that sent him there. This time, it was quadruple heart bypass.

“My body just produces cholesterol like crazy,” said Carmichael, the 70-year-old chief operating officer and president of Knoxville-based public relations firm Moxley Carmichael.

It’s something Carmichael has known since age 14 when his 48-year-old father died of a heart attack. That’s why he embarked on a personal fitness program almost four decades ago, eventually bolstering his exercise regimen with statin drugs to lower his cholesterol.  But after undergoing bypass surgery, his cardiologist ordered a return to the 12-week, 36-session cardiac rehab program.

Cardiac rehabilitation is a program that combines nutrition education, monitored exercise, and counseling, to help heart patients regain their functional capacity. These lifestyle changes can reduce the possibility of future heart problems by as much as 47 percent.  Even with these results, however, family history may be an ongoing risk factor. And cardiac rehabilitation will not overcome unhealthy habits.

“Encouraging healthy lifestyle choices such as smoking cessation, good nutrition, and daily routine exercise are essential parts of cardiac rehabilitation and reduce the risk of future heart attacks,” said Brenda Leuthold, supervisor of cardiopulmonary rehab at Fort Sanders Regional. “Alan’s healthy, active lifestyle – all takeaways from his first round of cardiac rehabilitation – delayed his heart surgery and helped him recover quicker.” Carmichael agrees, stating that he firmly believes his fitness likely added “bonus” years to his life.

“I think I’ve had the benefit from the time I started my exercise program in 1978 until now,” he said. “I’ve stayed in pretty good physical shape, which has helped me through both the stents and bypass surgery.”

So when his cardiologist ordered cardiac rehab a second time, Carmichael didn’t think twice. “I just said, ‘That’s what I need to do,’” he said. He re-entered rehab May 10 and by late July, had almost doubled his workout intensity and time from 30 minutes to 55. His body fat had fallen from 33.9 percent to 29.2. The results were similar in 2015 when he lost 13 pounds and his body fat dropped from 31.6 to 26 percent.

Such measurements not only gauge patient progress, but maintain Fort Sanders Regional’s certification by the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation, an outcomes-based certification that must be renewed every three years.

Leuthold says studies show that only about 30 percent of heart patients attend cardiac rehab. However, 90 percent of people who complete the full 36 sessions of the program and continue exercising avoid future cardiac events.

“I tell them, ‘If you get off your routine, come back and we’ll get you on a program to make you accountable.’ Because when they are on the monitor, I am looking for them at 9 o’clock every day and they have to report in. But when you’re on your own, the gym’s not asking you, ‘Where were you? Why didn’t you show up?’ That’s why we are trying to form good habits. We’ve got to challenge them or else there’s no benefit.”

Carmichael complimented Leuthold’s cardiac rehab team at Fort Sanders Regional for the personal attention they give. “They make it a good experience,” he said. “They care about the people. I’ve seen a lot of positive patient interaction that came from true friendliness, not something you have to do because of your job. A lot of that has to do with the personalities there. Brenda is a genuine person and that shows with everybody else, too.”

A physician referral is required to access cardiac rehab services. For more information about the Fort Sanders Cardiac Rehabilitation Outpatient Program located in the Fort Sanders Professional Building at 501 20th Street, please call (865) 331-1250.