Monday Medical: Taking health to heart |

Monday Medical: Taking health to heart

Christine McKelvie

If you go

Yampa Valley Medical Center's month-long focus on cardiac health includes two free programs. Dr. William Baker will explain cardiac risk factors and assessment at 7 p.m. Feb. 19.

Steamboat Springs yoga instructor Victoria Strohmeyer will introduce "Cardiac Yoga" at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 27 for individuals who would like to reduce the risks of heart disease or who have had a cardiac event.

Both programs will be held at YVMC. Details can be found on the event calendar at

On her recent trip to the tropics, Pat Walsh had more on her mind than sun, fun and an escape from snow-covered Steamboat Springs.

“Even in Hawaii, I was going to the gym every other day,” she said. “This is what I have to do for my health.”

A survivor of an October 2007 heart attack, Walsh is a passionate proponent of cardiovascular health. The 59-year-old artist is an outpatient in Yampa Valley Medical Center’s Cardiac Rehab program.

“I came to Cardiac Rehab as soon as they said I could, two weeks after my heart attack,” Walsh said. “I had been told by several doctors that one of the biggest side effects of cardiac problems is depression. This program has kept me so positive.”

“Many patients come to us with the feeling that their bodies have let them down,” Cardiac Rehab coordinator Susan Cowan, MN, RN, said. “We aim to restore and build self-confidence while we improve cardiovascular function and increase each person’s ability to participate in activities.”

The program is medically supervised by Steamboat Springs cardiologist William Baker, MD. It offers exercise training, education and nutritional advice from YVMC health care professionals and support from fellow participants who have suffered similar cardiac events.

Social networking in the Cardiac Rehab gym at YVMC provides a positive atmosphere for people to share their experiences, thoughts and feelings.

“Many patients leave with new friendships and life-long exercise partners,” Cowan said.

Nutrition is an important element of returning to optimal cardiac health. YVMC Registered Dietitian Pam Wooster counsels Cardiac Rehab patients on the basic guidelines for cardiac-healthy eating.

“We like to focus on individualized need as much as possible, so first we discuss eating habits and food choices to assess the area where help is most needed,” Wooster said.

Some participants have weight-management concerns. Wooster discusses portion control and other essentials such as increasing fiber intake, eating colorful fruits and vegetables and understanding oils and fats.

“When we first begin talking to patients, many of them haven’t quite accepted the fact that they have heart disease,” Wooster said. “We emphasize that good lifestyle habits can slow down heart disease. Slow, steady changes are the best way to get started building a healthy new life.”

Even though Walsh already paid attention to her diet and was not overweight, she wanted to learn as much as she could about nutrition. She also readily accepted Cowan’s advice to increase her physical conditioning.

“Exercise is the number one element of Cardiac Rehab,” Cowan said. “Getting people moving can have a positive impact on every cardiac risk factor.”

Cowan supervises exercise training and conditioning. Patients are closely monitored as they workout.

“Our patients learn how much, how long and how hard they need to exercise on each piece of equipment,” Cowan said. “Strength training is an adjunct, not a substitute for aerobic exercise. People need to get their heart rate up.”

In addition to attending Cardiac Rehab sessions three times a week, Walsh enthusiastically embraced a new sport, skate-skiing. When she skidded on her skis and sprained her ankle in late January, days before her scheduled vacation, she got a little blue.

It wasn’t the thought of hobbling around Hawaii on crutches that was bothering her. She was concerned that her injury might cause her to fall behind in her cardiovascular conditioning.

“Susan has ingrained in me the importance of exercising, and I look forward to it,” Walsh said. “I didn’t want to come back to altitude having to regain what I’d lost.”

Happily, Walsh’s ankle held up and she plans to be back in Cardiac Rehab this week, ready to resume her monitored workouts.

“When I look at the big picture, I feel so fortunate,” she said. “My heart attack occurred as a warning, and Steamboat Springs is such a good community in which to deal with it. I’m supported by friends, and thanks to Cardiac Rehab, I haven’t had a moment to think about feeling sorry for myself.”

Christine McKelvie is public relations director of Yampa Valley Medical Center.

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