When television personality Star Jones prepared for heart surgery, she knew she had a lot more life to live. Embarking on post-surgery cardiac rehabilitation proved crucial in her successful recovery.
“There’s no question that preventive open-heart surgery saved my life. But there is also no question that cardiac rehabilitation gave me my life back,” said Jones.
Because her 2010 aortic valve repair surgery wasn’t an emergency operation, she had time to make plans – and do her homework.
Cardiac rehabilitation is a medically supervised program of exercise training, stress-reduction counseling and education about heart-healthy living. The course typically consists of 36 one-hour sessions over 12 weeks, with some patients continuing on for longer.
Those who participate reduce their chances of dying from any cause by more than 40 percent and lower their risk of re-entering the hospital by 25 percent, according to a 2014 study published in The American Journal of Medicine.
“In order to restore the patients to a full life, there needs to be follow-up,” said Jones, an attorney and author who was 48 when she began her post-surgery program.
After six days in the hospital, she had a week of bed rest at her home in New York City. Then she started at-home rehabilitation in which a therapist instructed her how to cough using a pillow to protect her chest and helped her walk around her home and on nearby streets.
“I would walk very gingerly, almost like I was tip-toeing,” Jones said. “I really needed help feeling whole again.”
She started cardiac rehabilitation four weeks after surgery. On the first day, medical personnel assured her they would monitor her at all times, checking her heart activity and blood pressure.
At first, she walked on a treadmill slowly for five minutes. Then, after a break, she did another exercise, such as riding a stationary bike, for five minutes. Her workout continually expanded.
To graduate from the program after three months, she had to complete a “sub-max” workout of nine minutes each on five different machines with one-minute breaks in between, all in less than an hour.
“It was really awesome,” she said. “Awesome, awesome, awesome!”