FSRMC cardiac rehab prepares hiker for happy trails after heart attack
Three days after a strenuous nine-mile hike, 76-year-old Roe Southerland found himself in Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center’s cardiac care unit wondering if he’d ever hike again.
That was before he met fellow hiker Jennifer Reagan, an exercise physiologist at Fort Sanders Regional’s cardiac rehabilitation program. It was there that Reagan and other therapists developed an exercise regimen aimed at returning him to the trails.
“One of his main goals was to get back to hiking because that’s a big part of his life,” said Reagan, who chatted often with him about their shared interest. “He’s encouraged me to hike Virgin Falls, I haven’t yet but I plan to hike it.”
Virgin Falls is a scenic 8.3-mile trail with three waterfalls near Sparta, Tennessee, and was the last trail Southerland hiked before a 99-percent blockage in his left anterior descending artery resulted in his “widowmaker” heart attack three days later. The otherwise healthy Southerland was weak, but had three stents in his chest and was eager to enroll in the 12-week, 36-session cardiac rehab program.
Less than a month later, he attended his first rehab session at Fort Sanders Regional.
“I started coming up here three days a week, and I really enjoy it,” said Southerland. “I didn’t want to push the envelope too much and do something that would damage what the doctor did. They monitor me and they know what’s happening. It’s a great hospital and a great rehab program.”
Although Southerland had been hiking for a dozen years and was in good health until his heart attack, Reagan and her colleagues started his exercise routine at a conservative level. “On the first day of rehab, we aim to start all patients who are physically able to walk on a treadmill at a comfortable walking pace and 1% incline, said Reagan. “It is important to observe how the heart responses to exercise after getting a stent and beginning new cardiac medications such as beta blockers which lower heart rate and blood pressure.”
“He would do five minutes on the treadmill at a certain speed and incline, and then we’d increase the incline from there so that he wasn’t just staying level,” said Reagan. “It kind of simulated climbing a mountain and then coming back down.
“We’re getting him as ready as he can be,” said Reagan. ”And by the time he graduates rehab, he’ll be fully ready to get back to hiking. He still needs to monitor his heart rate while hiking and be aware of the signs and symptoms of a heart attack. He has a predisposition to heart disease because he’s had a previous heart attack. In terms of his ability to hike without putting too much stress on his body, he’s ready. By the time he finishes 36 rehab sessions, he will be ready to hike Mount LeConte again.”
For more information about the Fort Sanders Cardiac Rehabilitation Outpatient Program, please call (865) 331-1250.