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Healing Hearts through Comprehensive Care at Aspirus St. Luke's

Category: Patient Stories
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Dr. Disha Mookherjee, cardiologist, with her patient, Dianne PedersonPublished in the Woman Today magazine, December/January 2016

Healing Hearts through Comprehensive Care

St. Luke’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Focuses on Mind and Body

“It couldn’t happen to me.” That was Dianne Pederson’s first thought when she found out her heartburn-like pain was actually a heart attack. An active 66 year old who exercises three times a week, doesn’t smoke and eats well, Pederson asked the advice of a friend who is a registered nurse that afternoon this summer when she felt pain spread from her heart to her stomach and neck. Her friend’s response: “Why don’t you go to the ER? What’s the harm?”

It turned out to be the right decision. When Pederson arrived at St. Luke’s Emergency Department and described her pain, she was immediately ushered into a room where the staff began tests. When they determined it was a heart attack, Pederson was shocked. Her lifestyle and symptoms didn’t fit the common description. Although once she thought about it, she realized that several family members on both sides of her family had a history of heart disease. Dr. Disha Mookherjee, a cardiologist at St. Luke’s Regional Heart & Vascular Center, explained that heart attack symptoms can vary greatly from patient to patient, and that family history can play a big role.

“Symptoms might not be as dramatic as you think, which is why it’s so important to listen to your body,” explained Dr. Mookherjee. “If you think it could be a heart attack, the best possible outcome is that you go to the emergency department and they tell you you’re fine. There’s no reason not to go.”

Pederson underwent an angioplasty with St. Luke’s interventional cardiologist Dr. Lee Giorgi, who placed three stents. After a brief stay in the hospital and resting at home, Pederson started cardiac rehabilitation with Dr. Mookherjee. It only took a few sessions for Pederson to start looking forward to the appointments.

“Dr. Mookherjee is so personable with patients, and that’s what people recovering from something like this need,” Pederson said while smiling herself. “The whole staff is so friendly. It felt like a very welcoming support group.”

While support is a huge benefit of St. Luke’s cardiac rehabilitation, the goals are much bigger. Dr. Mookherjee and the rehab team aim to help patients live longer and have fewer heart attacks and fewer hospitalizations after an event. At St. Luke’s, the cardiac rehabilitation program includes three parts:

  • Monitored exercise where staff observe heart rate and blood pressure during activity
  • Educational classes to help patients understand healthy living choices and medication
  • Meetings with a psychologist to align mental and physical healing

According to Dr. Mookherjee, the reason cardiac rehab is so important is because the healing process doesn’t end once a stent is placed or surgery is completed. The true healing comes from understanding and making the right choices every day. Rehab helps educate and familiarize patients with all matters of the heart.

“We could focus just on the physical heart, but everything’s connected,” said Dr. Mookherjee. “In our rehab program, we take care of and treat the entire person, from physical activity to nutrition to mental health.”

Pederson’s rehab program included cardiovascular exercise on a treadmill three days a week. Her goal was to get back to the exercise she was doing before her heart attack, which is a big part of her life.

“I like my fitness, I like my gym. I like volunteering. I knew cardiac rehab could help me do those things again without getting winded,” Pederson said.

Getting back to the life patients led before an event is a focus of cardiac rehab. The staff is trained to support patients in ways that align with their personal goals.

“That is the point of all this: so you can experience joy again. Cardiac rehab is getting back to the things you love,” Dr. Mookherjee said.

Today, Pederson shares her progress with friends and family on Facebook, hoping to pass along this message: Heart attacks can happen to anyone. Don’t wait for the common heart attack symptoms. When you don’t feel like yourself, go in and get checked out.

It’s a good lesson for everyone, including those who eat healthy, exercise regularly and don’t smoke. Know that a team is waiting for you if anything feels out of the ordinary.