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Joe Petreycik, RN, MSN, cardiac rehab program coordinator for Bridgeport Hospital’s Heart and Vascular Center, works with David Jacobson of Easton at the hospital’s Cardiac Rehabilitation and Wellness Program in Fairfield.


 

Rehabbing hearts through perspiration and inspiration

David Jacobson is on a mission: The 83-year-old Easton resident, who was diagnosed with several cardiovascular issues in 2021, is now laser-focused on strengthening his heart with the help of Bridgeport Hospital’s Cardiac Rehabilitation and Wellness Program in Fairfield.

“Let’s see: I’ve got arrhythmia, which is an abnormal heart rhythm; bradycardia, which is having a low pulse – and one other,” said Jacobson, who was in the process of racking up an impressive 50 minutes on the recumbent bike one recent afternoon.

“The qualifying event that got him in the program was a form of heart failure – ejection fraction,” said Joe Petreycik, RN, MSN, cardiac rehabilitation program coordinator for the Bridgeport Hospital Heart and Vascular Center

“The percentage of oxygen-rich blood was a little on the low side, so the pumping mechanism of the heart wasn’t functioning as well as it should,” he explained. “What we do with exercise is condition the muscles to do a better job of utilizing oxygen from the blood, so that the heart doesn’t have to work so hard. That is how exercise in cardiac rehab benefits people with heart failure.”

Benefits of cardiac rehab

Jacobson is one of many patients who have participated in the hospital’s cardiac rehabilitation outpatient program, which offers exercise supervised by registered nurses and exercise physiologists. Patients who benefit from the program include those who have had a heart attack, a heart procedure such as angioplasty, valve repair or replacement, a heart transplantation, or have chronic systolic heart failure

Cardiologist Linda Casale, MD, of Northeast Medical Group, part of Yale New Haven Health, serves as the center’s medical director and has been referring patients to the program for the past 29 years.

“Cardiac rehab enhances patients’ quality of life,” Dr. Casale said. “Cardiac rehab can have many health benefits in both the short- and long-term, including strengthening the heart, relieving symptoms, building healthier habits, such as getting more physical activity, quitting smoking, eating a heart-healthy diet, reducing stress, improving mood and more.

“Studies show that cardiac rehab may decrease the chance that a person will die in the five years following a heart attack or bypass surgery by about 35 percent,” she noted.

Nuts and bolts of a weekly workout

The program runs weekdays and participants, who are typically enrolled in 36 one-hour workout sessions, also benefit from 15-minute educational classes on lifestyle-related topics three days a week.

“We encourage participation three times a week to get the benefits of exercise,” Petreycik said. “For those who attend less than three times a week, there’s an understanding that, in order to continue to achieve benefits, they must exercise on their own – whether they join a gym or have their own equipment.”

The cardiac rehabilitation team considers each patient’s heart condition in creating a customized workout. Staff members monitor participants’ blood pressure before, during and after every exercise session. The program also offers a virtual cardiac support group, which is open to anyone who has a heart issue, or who has a family member or friend with a heart issue.

“We really try to emphasize to the patient that exercise is something they should be doing for the rest of their lives,” Petreycik said. “You have an opportunity to work out in a controlled environment where you have a team of experienced clinicians working with you, teaching you how hard and how frequently you should be exerting yourself, and giving you the confidence that you are doing the right thing for your heart.”

“I really feel like I have renewed my relationship with my body in terms of exercise,” Jacobson said. “And, of course, this guy – Joe – inspires me every step of the way.”

Learn more about Heart and Vascular services at Bridgeport Hospital, including cardiac rehabilitation services at Bridgeport Hospital’s Cardiac Rehabilitation and Wellness Program at 1305 Post Road in Fairfield. To participate in the virtual cardiac support group, call 203-256-5896 to register.