Going the Distance for a Healthier Heart

Scott County patient and her husband benefit from three-times-weekly trips to Parkwest cardiac rehab

Not many folks would travel 90 minutes one way to exercise in a gym, but that’s what Pat Pierce, 75, did after extensive open-heart surgery in February 2017.

                From March to June, Pat and her husband, J.J. Pierce, traveled from their home near Oneida, Tennessee, to Parkwest Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Center in Knoxville – about 160 miles round trip – three times each week.

                “We lived in West Knoxville for 40 some-odd years, and Dr. Blacky [cardiologist Albert R. Blacky, MD] at Parkwest Medical Center had been my doctor for a long time,” explained Pat Pierce. “I felt comfortable at Parkwest. “I had been short of breath and tiring real easily, but I thought it was old age and I didn’t give it that much thought,” said Pierce. “I had been going to Dr. Blacky once a year for a valve issue, and he found all kinds of other things going on.”

                Pierce was discovered to have multiple cardiac issues and had several surgical procedures performed by cardiothoracic surgeon Pirajat Didolkar, MD. She spent two and a half weeks at Parkwest Medical Center. But she said it was the cardiac rehabilitation she did afterward that helped her get her strength back. “Dr. Didolkar and Dr. Blacky recommended that I go to cardiac rehab after surgery,” said Pierce.  “They recommended Parkwest cardiac rehab.  I really think that’s what got me back and going as quickly as it did.”

                Parkwest Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Center designs programs to meet each patient’s specific needs. Each patient has a customized exercise program with sessions lasting anywhere from 30-60 minutes, and nurses monitor each patient’s heart rate and vital signs as he or she exercises. The patients are continually reviewed and their exercise programs are adjusted based on response to the exercise.

                “You’ve got others around you going through the same thing,” said Pierce. “The staff was very, very nice, and they keep an eagle eye on you all the time. They keep a heart monitor on you the whole time, and they would stop you before anything happened,” she said.

                Pierce’s husband, J.J. Pierce, also enrolled in the center’s maintenance program at the recommendation of his physician. The maintenance program is available to people who have completed the monitored cardiac rehab program, a support person who has a loved one in the monitored cardiac rehab program, and to those in the community who want to lead a healthy lifestyle. All participants in the cardiac rehab programs need an order from their physician in order to exercise. While participants exercise, medical experts are nearby.

“They had 18 lecture classes on nutrition, medication, and other things, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I am diabetic, and I have been trying to follow the diabetic diet, so I had to learn how that would blend with a cardiac diet. You have to watch the salt more,” she said.

The Pierces’ perseverance was an inspiration to others, said Amy Dale, RN case manager at the center.

                “They were driving such a long way,” she said, adding that Pat’s husband served an important role, not only driving her to rehab, but participating in the program alongside her and offering constant encouragement and support.

“We just don’t talk enough about how valuable that support person is to a cardiac patient,” Dale said. “When Pat came to us, she was so weak and fatigued and debilitated. We just got to see her come to life. And I think J.J. saw tremendous benefit in his own health because he was getting stronger, too,” said Dale.

               After a recent vacation through Kentucky, Virginia and Pennsylvania, the Pierces are back and home and trying to apply the habits and discipline they learned at Parkwest Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Center.

                “I bought a treadmill and a recumbent bike at home,” said Pat Pierce. “And because I’m not as disciplined as I should be, we also joined a health club up here!”

Pat Pierce said she would suggest Parkwest Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Center to anyone recovering from a heart event.

  “I would just recommend it to anybody. I have had friends who had heart surgery and did not go to rehab, and I think I’ve recovered much better,” said Pierce.

 J.J. Pierce seconded her opinion. “The classes we had to go to were very interesting and informative, and the exercises were very helpful,” he said. “I thought Parkwest was just top-notch.”