Written By Melissa Bean Sterzick
Sometimes you can make new friends in the most unlikely places. For example
Torrance Memorial’s highly-touted Cardiac Rehab program is a support
group like no other. It has brought South Bay heart health survivors together
through shared experiences and created lifelong friendships.
The long-running program gives heart patients a safe place to regain stamina
and confidence in their abilities as they recover from heart procedures.
It’s also a place where heart patients connect with each other.
Don Van Buren didn’t have a heart attack, but he got close. Feeling
shortness of breath while hiking led him to see his primary care physician,
who referred him to a Torrance Memorial cardiologist. Tests revealed four
affected blood vessels and Van Buren underwent bypass surgery immediately.
“First of all, having a procedure like this really caught me by surprise,”
he says. “When I was 8 years old, I had my tonsils out, but I’d
never been a patient since that time. It really hit me like a ton of bricks.”
Van Buren experienced feelings of helplessness and loss of control that
were first overwhelming, but soon inspired him to find things to help
him take control of his recovery. The Cardiac Rehab program was one of
those tools. Patients participate in the rehab program for 6 to 8 weeks.
Their return to regular physical activity is guided by Intensive Care
nurses. Participants are connected to heart and oxygen monitors while
they exercise. On the treadmills, they get to talking.
“Going to cardiac rehab is a great way to reintroduce exercise and
get educated about healthy heart living. One of the most valuable aspects
to me was the connection and relationships I formed with people who have
gone through the same thing,” Van Buren says. “We all like
to ask each other ‘what are you in for?’”
Sharon Blischke was in the program after a second round of stents. She
was nervous about exercising again.
“They were very reassuring that I’d be under good care. That
really eased my mind,” she says. “I thought it was very well-constructed
in the sense they took into account the whole person.” After 45
minutes of exercise, participants have a 15-minute presentation on various
aspects of heart health such as diet and relaxation. Some receive individual
counseling as well. And all have the option to join the hospital’s
gym after they complete the program.
Blischke says the exercise, the education and the comradery all supported
her recovery. She also learned some important things about herself.
“I was in a safe environment and it gave me confidence I could go
beyond what I thought I could and I would be ok. I learned I had more
determination than I thought I had,” she says. “My biggest
accomplishment was challenging myself.”
Heart conditions create stress and even depression. Finding a way forward
is about physical and emotional recovery. Todd Wendorff joined the Cardiac
Rehab Program after a heart attack left him wondering if he’d ever
feel secure again.
He says he began having difficulty sleeping wondering if anyone understood
his experience, why he’d been lucky enough to survive when others
don’t and if he might have another heart attack.
“You wonder if your life will just crack with another step. I needed
to get over the hump. Cardiac Rehab gave me two things: confidence and
friendship,” he says. “I left feeling confident that I am
healthy, and I don’t have to be defined by the incident.”
Van Buren retired from his full-time position as Director of the Media
Services Department at Torrance Memorial in early 2020. He says he is
grateful his cardiac emergency had a good outcome and wants to give others
the same encouragement he had. He recently created a video the hospital
can show heart patients letting them know they are not alone and can go
on with their lives with happiness and courage.
Returning to normal activities after cardiac issues can feel daunting no
matter how important it is for better health in the future. Attitude,
good medical care and healthy choices are all part of recovering. Finding
strength in others is equally important.
“We all have to deal with some adversity in life,” Van Buren
says. “In the program, we form a connection with each other. We
are just travelers on the same journey and that’s a nice thing to
have. It really makes a difference”
Note: The Cardiac Rehab program is on hold due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Once it is safe, the program will resume.