Rebuilding heart muscle after cardiac event

The days and months following a heart attack or other major heart event can be scary and confusing for a patient once back at home. 7News goes inside a local cardiac rehab program to see how exercise and education can reduce the risk for a future heart problem by 50 percent.

Lila Hicks has been working hard over the past six months, determined to never go back to where she was health-wise when she had a heart attack.  "I never had a pain, I never had a numb arm or anything," she said, "I just felt very, very crummy."

Hicks went to the emergency room and was quickly moved to the cath lab to have two stents put into her heart, something she never thought would happen to her.  "I just had my head in the sand," she said, "I ignored it. A lot of us women are pretty hard-headed."

Waking up in ICU was Hicks' wake-up call to change.

Ten days after her heart attack, Hicks started outpatient cardiac rehab at CHRISTUS St. Patrick Hospital with registered nurse, Kelly Cornwell.  "We're building their independence, helping to build their confidence," she said, "a lot of information about risk factor modification because it's always about secondary prevention."

Each patient is given an individualized workout plan from a physician. Once in cardiac rehab, a nurse will monitor that progress and educate the patient about how to reduce the risk for future heart-related events.  "My confidence level was zero, it was just knocked out," said Hicks, "I didn't know what I could do, when I could do it or how I could do it. I just had to gradually take little baby steps."

From the treadmill to the bike and other machines, Hicks has moved up from ten minute workouts to 45 minutes and has kicked her old unhealthy habits.  "I was smoking," she said, "I did not exercise and I wasn't that careful on what I ate."

Now, it is about a second chance at a healthier life.  "We see them bloom and grow and that's the ah ha moment for us," said Cornwell.

Hicks says she has a fresh perspective on the important things in her life.  "Family and friends. I get it all over again and my eyes look at things a whole lot differently. It's just great to be alive," she said.

Most insurance plans cover cardiac rehab. Treatment can range from a few weeks to three months.

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