After undergoing heart surgery, travelling to the Lower Mainland for rehabilitation is exhausting, and until recently, it was the only option. Now, thanks to a special project spearheaded by St. Paul’s Hospital, Coasters can get the care they need closer to home through the Happy Hearts Plus program.
In rehab, patients must exercise to get their heart rate up and sustain it for at least 30 minutes so the heart can heal and get stronger. That exercise needs to happen with careful monitoring from health professionals to ensure no damage is done.
Most cardiac patients must attend rehabilitation classes twice a week, and for those on the Coast, that rehabilitation often took place at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver. St. Mary’s Hospital didn’t have the space to offer such a program on site, said Annelies Ravensbergen, chronic disease prevention coordinator for Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH).
“But St. Paul’s then undertook a project to start putting cardiac rehab in community centres because with our population aging and growing, the need keeps increasing,” she said. “They were kind of at a limit too, so one of the staff members undertook a project to put it into community centres in Vancouver to see if it would work and if it was safe. Out of that came that it was safe, especially for people who weren’t super high risk, and they had been very successful.”
She explained that when a letter from Deanne Mineau came in to Coast Reporter in January asking why a program wasn’t offered locally, Ravensbergen started looking into the possibility.
She also had a similar request emailed to her by Coaster Cathy Bullen.
“So I started to look into it a little bit more and saw what St. Paul’s was doing. Then I became aware they had just successfully finished those projects in Vancouver, so I contacted them and asked if they were ready to do a remote project,” Ravensbergen said.
It turned out that was always the plan and soon a local partnership was formed to offer the rehabilitation locally through community centres.
The partnership includes the Sunshine Coast Regional District parks and recreation department, VCH, St. Paul’s and a local doctor.
“We needed a physician champion, so we approached Dr. Wadge because she does the stress testing at St. Mary’s Hospital where we have the stress test lab set up and she was more than happy to take on that role,” Ravensbergen said.
Doctors refer patients who could benefit from the rehabilitation to Wadge, who then performs some tests before referring patients to Ravensbergen, who will do the intake for the local Happy Hearts Plus program.
Patients must purchase a membership to their local community centre to take advantage of the program, which is available in Gibsons and Sechelt and will soon start up in Pender Harbour.
Locals who are now enrolled in the first Happy Hearts Plus program on the Coast are singing its praises.
“To travel into Van-couver, to take the ferry back and forth, and travel by car or bus into and out of the city, plus do a rehab class is exhausting for someone who has just gone through open-heart surgery, or some other cardiac intervention,” Mineau said. “To have access within five minutes from home, to have Annelies Ravensbergen monitor blood pressure, heart rates, for our group of survivors, and to have Phil Sera coach us, is amazing.”
And the program is improving lives on the Coast.
“I am amazed how strong the program has made my body and heart. I am the man I was six or seven years ago and I didn’t know that could be possible,” said Brian Portman. “Meeting other people with the same or similar issues has been rewarding and educational. We learn from each other.”
His partner Cathy Bullen is also singing the praises of the program.
“Recovery from a cardiac event or surgery requires a team effort, and support from family and the community is incredibly important,” Bullen said. “For many of us, it’s new and very frightening ground. The knowledge we have gained about fitness and diet through this program will be part of our lives forever.”
Ravensbergen plans to start up a maintenance program after her first program participants graduate at the end of the year.
The maintenance program would be open to anyone who has attended a cardiac rehabilitation program in the past.
To find out more about the maintenance program, set to start in January, contact Deb Shorthouse at the Sechelt Aquatic Centre at 604-885-6836.