Cardiac Rehab – Making Dorchester’s Hearts Healthier

Fran Johnson, a long-time patient of cardiac rehabilitation at UM Shore Medical Center at Dorchester, has greatly benefitted from the program and the expertise of its team members including Mary Beth Linthicum.

CAMBRIDGE — Heart health is a hot topic in today’s increasingly health conscious society. Heart-healthy diets, exercises, superfoods and lifestyles are just a few of the buzz words we read in magazines, hear on our favorite morning news shows and observe on countless food labels and packages in the aisles of our most frequented grocery stores. Why all the buzz? In the United States, one in four deaths is caused by heart disease, making it the leading cause of death for men and women.
Risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, inactivity, obesity, having diabetes, family history and partaking in an unhealthy diet. The good news? In many cases, heart disease can be prevented by making healthier diet and exercise choices, and through management of chronic medical conditions.
For patients deemed by their medical providers as being at high risk for cardiovascular disease, and for those who’ve already suffered a heart attack or who have undergone an invasive cardiovascular procedure (heart transplantation, bypass surgery, valve replacement, angioplasty or stent implantation), there are programs designed to help get one’s heart health back up to speed while on the path to recovery.
Cardiac rehabilitation services offered through University of Maryland Shore Regional Health can improve – and in some cases, fully restore – a patient’s cardiac function. Centers for Cardio-Pulmonary Fitness and Wellness are available at UM Shore Medical Centers at Chestertown, Dorchester and Easton. All accredited by the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation , the Centers offer a comprehensive, four-phase program.
According to Sally Worm, RN, CCRP, program manager, Cardio-Pulmonary Fitness and Wellness, the first phase of the Fitness and Wellness program typically begins during an in-patient hospital stay following a heart attack, another type of cardiac episode or surgical procedure. The primary goal of phase one is to educate the patient about his or her specific health issues and the benefits of cardiac rehabilitation.
“We do a risk stratification based on the patient’s heart function, age, mobility and the type of procedure that he or she just had,” remarks Ms. Worm. “These are all factors that will determine the course of rehabilitation.”
Phase two is an outpatient program, initiated upon discharge from the hospital, lasting 12-36 visits depending on the patient’s individual needs. In this phase, the patient – and his or her family – receives a personalized plan of education, detailing specific health issues, suggested exercise regimens and other things that can be done to lower risk factors. “This part of the program is designed to help patients meet their specific goals using a wide selection of professional cardiovascular and resistance training equipment,” she says. “Center staff work with patients to develop a personalized exercise regimen, in a safe, supervised setting where heart function is being monitored.”
“Each individual receives a customized plan with a schedule created based on personal preferences,” Ms. Worm continues. “Attendance is critical to the success of the program. We don’t tell them when they should come in for rehab; we work collaboratively with them to develop a compatible program. We want them to be able to make it work with their schedule, making it easier to become a part of their daily lives. This sets them up for success.”
In addition to the physical exercise component, during the second phase of the cardiac rehabilitation program, patients have access to group and individual educational opportunities that discuss heart-healthy nutrition, weight and blood pressure control, and medication and stress management.
“An important component of any course of rehab is education,” Ms. Worm comments. “For example, in the case of someone with hypertension, we would work with the patient on blood pressure under control.”
During the program’s third phase, participants exercise independently at the Center under the supervision of specially-trained registered nurses who work with primary care providers to offer guidance, monitoring, support and a record of the patient’s outcomes.
After their initial course of rehab is complete, there is an option for patients to continue to come to the Center and exercise, which is the final phase of the program. “Many of our patients opt to do this because the adult fitness programs are offered in a supportive atmosphere with other cardiac rehab patients,” says Ms. Worm. “The social support that the other patients provide is truly a critical component – it provides such a personal connection.”
Fran Johnson, a long-time patient of the Center for Cardio-Pulmonary Fitness and Wellness at UM Shore Medical Center at Dorchester, speaks very highly of the cardiac rehabilitation program and the impact it’s made in her health and her life. “This is an amazing program,” she says. “This program has seen me through so many bad times. I never thought I’d get back to where I am now. I come in here and am surrounded by friends. Both the staff and the other people who come for rehab are very encouraging and friendly – you know immediately that you will never be on your own.”
“This is a very personal place for the people who come here,” comments Mary Beth Linthicum, BSN, RRT, a team member of the Dorchester Center. “Because of the nature of the work we do, we get the chance to develop relationships with our patients. Those relationships help us to anticipate our patients’ needs, which machines they prefer and just knowing when they need a little extra attention.”
According to Ms. Linthicum, the biggest motivator for cardiac rehabilitation patients quite often comes from the other patients. “When patients first get here, often after a significant cardiac event, they tend to feel alone. Then, they meet other people who are going through exactly what they are experiencing, which gives them hope that they will get back to where they once were. It’s truly amazing how motivating and uplifting that social connection is. For us – their care team – it is very rewarding to see them improve and find their way back to good health,” she says.
In addition to the comprehensive care provided by the Center for Pulmonary Fitness and Wellness team, throughout the course of the cardiac rehabilitation program, patients have access to a multidisciplinary team of respiratory therapists, dieticians, social workers, clinical pharmacists, diabetes educators, and physical therapists.
“I’m so proud of the team we have,” comments Ms. Worm. “They love their work and it really shows when they are working with their patients – they make it look effortless.”
Cardiac rehabilitation may be beneficial to patients experiencing one or more of the following: heart attack; recipient of open-heart surgery, angioplasty or heart transplant; diagnosed with angina, heart failure or peripheral artery disease (PAD); and/or considered at risk for developing coronary artery or vascular disease. Patients must be referred to the Center for Cardiopulmonary Fitness and Wellness by their physician.
Lester Matthews learned first-hand the value of the cardiac rehabilitation program after having a left ventricular assistive device (LVAD) placed in June, 2016 to assist his weakened heart pump blood more efficiently. While on the organ transplant list, Matthews worked with the Fitness and Wellness team at UM Shore Medical Center at Dorchester to help increase his strength, stamina and overall quality of life while awaiting his new heart.
“The cardiac rehab team was great,” he says. “Because of my LVAD, they had to follow different protocols, which they quickly learned and adapted my rehab regimen accordingly.”
On Christmas Day of 2016, Mr. Matthews received the call that a heart was available and on Dec. 26, he underwent transplant surgery at University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. He experienced great ease and efficiency in receiving pre and post-transplant care locally at UM Shore Regional Health, made possible through its affiliation with University of Maryland Medical System. Once cleared by his medical team, Mr. Matthews returned to Dorchester for post-operative cardiac rehabilitation, where he improved his functionality. “They got me going again,” he says.
“Research shows that patients who participate in cardiac rehab live an average of 8-10 years longer than those who do not,” adds Ms. Worm. “With our help, they learn how to better take care of themselves. To see a patient go from having little to no energy to being able to return to the activities they most enjoy is very rewarding.”
Additional information about the Centers for Fitness and Wellness at UM Shore Regional Health can be obtained by calling 410-228-5511, ext. 8201 (Dorchester); 410-822-1000, ext. 5208 (Easton); or 410-778-3300, ext. 2222 (Chestertown).

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