After working for 25 years as an active mail carrier, John Harrison of Chula Vista was promoted to a desk job, but kept his penchant for unhealthy, fast foods. He quickly gained weight, developed diabetes and suffered his first heart attack in 2006. Harrison lost 50 pounds, but heart disease had already set in. He had his second and third heart attacks in 2012.
"I didn’t have any energy after the first heart attack," the 63-year-old said. "I went on an Alaskan cruise with my wife, but I couldn’t get off the boat to walk anywhere with her. I’d immediately get winded. It was pretty sad. It had gotten to the point where I was so weak that I couldn’t even walk from my bed to my bathroom."
Harrison underwent bypass surgery at Sharp Memorial Hospital in November to fix a 90-percent blockage in his heart. As part of his recovery, he was referred to Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center’s medically supervised Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, where an interdisciplinary team made up of a physician, nurses, registered dietitians and exercise physiologists helps patients make heart-healthy lifestyle changes through exercise, education and regular health assessments.
The program, accredited by the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation, just celebrated its 20th year.
"Cardiac rehab is a crucial service that increases quality of life, function, medication compliance and self-confidence," said Dale Insani, RN, EP, clinical lead in cardiac rehabilitation at Sharp Chula Vista. "It enhances, extends and saves lives. We treat these patients like they are the only patients on the planet, and make sure they are well-educated and self-sufficient when they leave."
When Harrison began attending the program three days a week, he lacked confidence and was fearful of having another heart attack.
"I wasn’t the most pleasant patient at first," Harrison admitted. "That didn’t keep the nurses, exercise physiologists and dietitians from constantly counseling me about my blood sugar level and the food I ate. It’s really the people who work in this program that make it successful. They made sure I followed the rules because they really care. It didn’t take too long for me to realize that I didn’t have a choice and I had to wise up and change my behavior. I started feeling better after about a month."
These days, Harrison watches his portions and eats a lot of vegetables, fruit, chicken and fish, and drinks only water and decaffeinated tea. He walks at a brisk pace on the treadmill three times per week, and practices yoga two days per week. He and his wife plan to move to Oregon and volunteer for an animal shelter and the U.S. National Park Service.
"We’re going back to visit Alaska," Harrison said, smiling. "This time, I’m going to get off the boat!"
For More Information
For more information about heart and vascular care at Sharp or to find a Sharp-affiliated doctor, search for a San Diego cardiologist or call 1-800-82-SHARP (1-800-827-4277), Monday through Friday, 8 am to 6 pm.