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Heart Disease Series: Life After a Heart Attack

Life after a heart attack can be difficult to adjust to. In this segment of KSMU's series on heart disease, Michele Skalicky talks with a woman who changed her lifestyle following a heart attack and with health experts about adjusting to life with heart disease.

Sound of exercise equipment

Karen Prock started exercising regularly almost a year ago. She's thin, so it wasn't about losing weight. She wanted to make sure she doesn't have another heart attack.

Prock was 36-years-old when she woke up in the night with tremendous pressure on her chest and arms that felt like lead weights. She'd had back pain leading up to that point but it didn't occur to her that it could be her heart. She was in denial for several hours and finally woke up her husband who immediately took her to the hospital. After having stents put in and spending five days in intensive care, she decided to make some lifestyle changes.

For one thing, she quit smoking. She says it wasn't easy to adjust to life after a heart attack.

After recently having had 4 new stents put in the same artery, Prock decided she needed to do more. So, a few months ago, she started working out 3 times each week at St. John's Hammons Heart Institute.

She admits she still misses certain food that she used to enjoy, but she's adjusting to her new diet, which includes no red meat and lots of skinless chicken.

Dr. Lakshmi Parvathaneni, a cardiologist at St. John's Health System, says life after a heart attack can be difficult to adjust to since many times major lifestyle changes are needed.

St. John's offers a variety of services at its Hammons Heart Institute to help people adjust to life after a heart attack. Nutritionists are on staff as well as a psychologist. Dr. Parvathaneni says depression can affect heart attack patients as they head down the road to recovery.

Exercise plays a big role in getting a person on their way to a healthier lifestyle. At Hammons Heart Institute, there's a workout area in cardio-pulminary rehab complete with a walking track, a complete set of weight equipment and other exercise equipment such as stationary bicycles and treadmills. A nurse, exercise physiologist and a physical therapist are available to work with patients.

Debbie Dorshorst, program director for St. John's cardio-pulminary rehab, says exercise can greatly reduce a person's quality of life and reduce their risk for a repeat heart attack.

Patients who have had a heart attack and who enter rehab first receive a referral from their physician. The next step is to go thru a 2-hour orientation. They'll undergo a complete physical and are asked how they've been feeling since they've left the hospital. Patients then take a 6-minute walk around the track to determine a workout plan.

Karen Prock says it isn't easy to resume a normal life after a heart attack, but it is possible.

All the stories in our series on heart disease are available on the web at ksmu.org.

For KSMU News, I'm Michele Skalicky.