Published: May 18, 2006
Updated: Mar. 25, 2010
Don’t be offended if Karen Craig tells you to take a walk. She’s an exercise physiologist coordinating the Cardiac Rehabilitation program at Duke Health & Fitness Center.
If you’ve had a recent heart attack, heart surgery, or stent placement, she’ll be monitoring you closely before, during, and after that walk. Craig and her colleagues will also be helping you make positive, permanent changes to improve quality of life and prevent future cardiac events.
The Cardiac Rehabilitation program is comprehensive, offering training in exercise, diet, and stress management. Nutrition classes, lectures on a variety of heart health topics, and meditation sessions are available weekly.
The program’s staff is comprehensive, too, including physicians, nurses, exercise physiologists, physician assistants, nutritionists, and psychologists.
The program typically lasts eight to 12 weeks and starts as soon as two weeks after a patient’s hospital discharge.
First Step: Identify Goals
The first session is all about individual assessment, explains Craig. “We help people identify their goals. Maybe the priority is weight loss, or to increase or restore physical function.”
Waist size and Body Mass Index (BMI) are measured to establish a baseline, and participants take a knowledge quiz to determine where they need the most education. Vital signs are carefully monitored for a defined period of exercise, usually a walk, to assess fitness.
All scheduled exercise periods are medically supervised, with a nurse on site and physicians and physician assistants available in the adjacent Andrew G. Wallace Clinic.
Participants are carefully screened prior to each session; heart rate and blood pressure readings are taken, and, when appropriate, blood sugar is tested. An exercise physiologist is on hand throughout to track any symptoms, answer questions, and discuss concerns.
“A lot of education happens ‘on the floor,’” says Sherri Westbrook, another exercise physiologist with the program. “Because we monitor their activity and give them guidance here, they attain the confidence they’ll need to continue on their own.”
At the program’s conclusion, risk factors and personal goals are reexamined and new measurements are taken to compare with the baseline established at the start. Participants come away with a strong sense of their progress to date and, perhaps more importantly, what they need to do to keep moving forward.
“When they’re working with us, it’s the very beginning,” Craig emphasizes. “The things they learn here, they can do for the rest of their lives.”
Fred Cobb Healing Hearts Program
Duke’s program is state certified and follows the North Carolina Cardiac Rehabilitation guidelines, so heart patients may qualify for Medicare and major medical insurance coverage for the Cardiac Rehabilitation program.
For those who want the medically supervised instruction but aren’t eligible for coverage, a self-pay option has recently been made available: the Fred Cobb Healing Hearts program.
Participants may also attend the classes offered through the Cardiac Rehabilitation program, including stress management, nutrition, and meditation. The cost is $200 for 12 sessions.
Duke Health & Fitness Center is located in the Pepsico Building on the Center for Living Campus off Erwin Road.