Getting the Most Out of Cardiac Rehabilitation

February 12, 2014 11:13 a.m.

Jim Taylor has been participating in cardiac rehabilitation classes for 24 years and he swears it has saved his life.

Undergoing several health set backs in recent years, Taylor doesn’t let much slow him down. “I was once the fastest walker on the track,” the 78-year-old Oakland man said as he completes another lap on the indoor track at Eastern Illinois University’s Student Recreation Center. “I’m not the fastest anymore, but I still get my heart rate up and get a good work out.” Taylor rarely misses a chance to exercise, attending sessions offered at EIU three mornings a week offered through Monitored Exercise Testing Services (METS) of Sarah Bush Lincoln.

The retired farmer first joined METS in 1990 after undergoing emergency triple bypass surgery. Born with WPW (Wolf Parkinson White Syndrome), a condition that causes an abnormally fast heart rate, Taylor had learned how to control it through the years with help from his doctor.

Though when he started feeling strange and he could no longer maintain his active lifestyle, he finally went to the Emergency Room. He had open-heart surgery that same day after a cardiac catheterization revealed major blockages in three arteries.

After graduating from Phase II METS at Sarah Bush Lincoln in 1990, which is designed for people who have had a heart attack or heart surgery, balloon angioplasty or other heart-related problems, Taylor has continued to participate in the program ever since to maintain a regular exercise schedule. He is currently the longest active METS patient, starting at EIU under the guidance of former Exercise Science professor Tom Woodall, who was instrumental in starting the program 30 years ago with Dr. Stan Huffman.

Fighting a family history of heart disease, he credits METS with saving his life on several occasions. He has already lived longer than his mother and father, who died of heart disease at 59 and 63 respectively. His grandfather died of a heart attack at 55 and his two brothers and sister also suffer from heart disease. In addition to staying in shape, Taylor has become very knowledgeable about heart disease and his humor has created great camaraderie with METS staff members, EIU interns and other class participants.

Keeping fit and active has also helped Taylor cope with additional health setbacks. Unfortunately, he has endured two rounds of cancer in recent years including prostate and pancreatic cancer. “Each time I was diagnosed, the doctors were surprised by how well I looked. Everyone of those doctors said the only reason I’ve gotten along so well is because I’ve stayed active,” he said.

Returning to METS as soon as possible after each recovery, “It’s kind of like therapy for me. It’s my security blanket. They’ve sent me home a time or two because my blood pressure was too high. They really look out for you,” he said. Thankfully, METS instructor, Paula Enstrom, RN, alerted him to an impending heart problem two years ago. As Taylor’s endurance started diminishing during classes, Enstrom told him his symptoms were high risk for having a heart attack.

That comment prompted him to make another visit to his cardiologist, who told him the same thing. Following another cardiac catheterization, he underwent a second open-heart surgery in 2012. “After 22 years, my graphs just wore out and there were blockages again,” he said. Returning to Phase II METS at Sarah Bush Lincoln before returning to the track at EIU for Phase III METS, Taylor has been a little bit slower to recover this time. However, he is thankful to be regaining his endurance and walking two miles on the track again. “I plan to keep coming to METS as long as I can,” he said, adding that he’s encouraging his oldest son to participate.

The goal of cardiac rehabilitation is to improve the patient’s quality of life through exercise, education and lifestyle modification and to prevent or slow the progression of cardiovascular disease.

For more information about Sarah Bush Lincoln METS, call (217) 258-2177.

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