Few heart patients get cardiac rehab

Michael Holahan/Staff
Nilda Alvarez, who had a heart attack, exercises on a stair machine at University Hospital's cardiac rehabilitation facility.

Nilda Alvarez was already at University Hospital in October to visit her ailing mother when her arm, neck and back began to ache.

"I didn't know what was going on, but I walked myself to the Emergency Room and the doctor said, 'Lady, you're having a heart attack,' " she said.

Since then, Ms. Alvarez is taking advantage of cardiac rehabilitation at University to get better. The problem is not enough people are following her.

In honor of February as American Heart Month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released statistics showing that only 34 percent of those who had a heart attack said they had received outpatient cardiac rehabilitation. Georgia was below the national average at 28 percent, while South Carolina was slightly above it at 35 percent. The American Heart Association and others stress the importance of cardiac rehab for most patients.

But there are a variety of reasons why patients don't do it, said Mindy Gentry, the medical director of cardiac rehabilitation at Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics. For some it is an issue with insurance coverage or they simply live too far away, she said.

"A lot of our patients are transferred in from an hour or more away and wouldn't necessarily want to drive an hour and a half one way three days a week to come to rehab," she said.

Getting comfortable again with exercise is probably one of the chief benefits of cardiac rehab, Dr. Gentry said. And it just makes Ms. Alvarez feel better.

"It's a little bit tiring but it's good," she said.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.

GET HELP

Cardiac rehabilitation is often recommended for people who have suffered a heart attack. Those who have had heart bypass or valve surgery, cardiac catheterization or a heart transplant can also qualify. It usually takes a physician referral to get into a program.

For more information, you can contact:

- University Hospital's Heart Line at (706) 828-2828 or toll-free at 866-601-2828

- Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics cardiovascular rehabilitation program at (706) 721-9055

- Aiken Regional Medical Centers cardiac rehabilitation program, provided in partnership with the University of South Carolina-Aiken, at (803) 641-3230