GRAND RAPIDS, MI — When Rick Parent was going in for a knee surgery last year, he had no idea that instead, he would find out he had a blocked artery, extra heartbeats and a weakening heart.
“I’ve never had a medical problem other than something you take a couple pills for,” Parent said. “Lots of injuries, but never a medical issue.”
It turns out that Parent’s poor dietary and exercise habits are what led to his heart condition, and instead of doing a bypass surgery, his doctor recommended the cardiovascular rehab program at Metro Health.
The program, which began in 2016, is like others of its kind at hospitals around the country, but it differs in the way that it focuses heavily on healthy eating and diet.
“It’s an exercise and education program aimed to get patients healthy after they’ve been diagnosed with a heart condition,” said Program Director Melissa Cook.
This could be due to a heart attack, a stent in the heart, heart bypass surgery, valve repair or replacement, heart failure, heart transplant or coronary artery disease with stable chest pain.
“Our main goal here is to get them back on their feet, healthy and have a better quality of life,” Cook said.
The patients in the program come to the center, located next to the hospital in the Metro Health Village in Wyoming, three times a week for 90 minute sessions. When patients walk in the door, they hook up to a heart monitor before they begin a 60 minute exercise routine.
The program sees anywhere from 60 to 80 patients a day – ranging in age from 21 to 96 – with each patient in a program that lasts roughly three months.
“This gives patients a peace of mind knowing that we’re looking at their heart rate and rhythm every time they’re walking through our doors,” Cook said. “We check their vitals, their blood pressure, their weight, every time they come in here.”
Cook said Metro is one of a few hospitals in Michigan to offer the Pritikin program, which is the educational component patients receive after exercise.
“We can go and exercise but if we don’t control what we’re putting in our bodies, nothing’s going to help,” Cook said. “Our goal here, while they’re in our program, is to give them the tools they need in order to live a healthy lifestyle outside the hospital.”
Patients watch videos and participate in workshops with a dietician about healthy meals and snacks, and with a nurse who talks about mental health and mindfulness. There are also cooking classes once a week where patients learn how to cook foods with lower sodium. Spouses are welcome to attend the classes and exercises as well.
Cook said most Medicare and Insurance programs cover about 80 percent of the cost of the program, and if patients do have a co-pay, it’s about $20 a visit.
When patients first enter the program, they sit down with the cardiology staff and go over medical history, medications and risk factors to get a full assessment of the patient. They are then put through a “stress test,” which pushes patients to their max while hooked up to a heart monitor.
“We can assess patients’ functional capacity and see where their baseline is at,” Cook said. The test is also done on the patient’s last day of the program to compare and track progress.
Parent, 63, started the rehab program in May. He said he’s enjoyed the coaching and support from the program’s staff, which is made up of six exercise physiologists, a nurse, dietician and 10 cardiologists.
“They’re paying attention to everyone very closely and encouraging a lot of us,” he said.
After seeing how he could do the exercises and learning healthy food alternatives, Parent is now on a health kick and is excited to continue applying all that he’s learned to his life.
“I’ve changed so much of my focus,” said Parent, who is now cleared to have his knee surgery. “I’ve gone from it being drudgery, to now it’s kind of a creative challenge.”
Parent encourages others to pay attention to their health before it gets to a life-threatening point.
“The message I want to send is don’t let people get to my stage,” Parent said. “It does no good to learn all of this stuff when you have a problem, learn it before you have the problem.”
Parent graduated the program at the end of August.
The rehab program runs 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday in the Professional Building, 2122 Health Drive, in the Wyoming Metro Village complex.