Industrial Athlete: Getting Heart Patients Back To Work

More than half a million heart surgeries are performed each year in the U.S. For many, cardiac rehab is helpful. However, it's not enough to get them back to work. Now, there's a different type of therapy. It's rehab for the real world.

It looks like scuba instructor Dennis Maurer is gearing up for a dive, but this is rehab for the 60-year-old who recently had two heart surgeries.

"There was about an 80 percent blockage, in one of the arteries," Maurer told Ivanhoe.

Instead of standard rehab, Maurer chose industrial athlete.  A rigorous program designed to help heart patients get back to their physically-demanding jobs.

"Basically, we're trying to make the exercise prescription as close to real life as possible," Tim Bilbrey, Cardiac Rehab Manager, Baylor Heart and Vascular Hospital in Dallas, Return to Work Lab, told Ivanhoe.

They carry hoses up stairs, swing sledge hammers, shovel rocks, and even practice hitting dummies.

Firefighters, police officers, athletes, farmers, and auto workers regain the strength they need by doing activities they do in their jobs.

"We believe that we need to see them at the level they are going to perform at their job or their sport," Jenny Adams, PhD, Senior Research Associate, Baylor Heart and Vascular Hospital in Dallas, Return to Work Lab, told Ivanhoe.

A recent study found attending rehabilitation is associated with a 46 percent lower risk of death, but a recent study found only 14 percent of heart attack patients use rehab.

Researcher Jenny Adams says one of the problems is traditional rehab isn't personalized.

"We have a 90-year-old woman in here. In the old days, we would give her the same prescription that we would give a 30-year-old firefighter, and we just want to stop that," Dr. Adams said.

Every patient gets a different workout.

"After three months of working out and on rehab and after the surgery, I can walk on the treadmill. I can go up ladders. I can carry weights," Maurer said.

Standard cardiac rehab is very conservative. Patients ride stationary bikes, walk on treadmills, and lift very light weights. Adams believes the program at Baylor Hospital is the only one of its kind in the nation. It recently won the innovation award from the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation.

BACKGROUND: Heart surgery is done to correct problems with the heart.  More than half a million heart surgeries are performed every year in the United States.  Heart surgery is used for both children and adults.  The most common type of heart surgery for adults is coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG).  During CABG, a healthy artery or vein from the body is connected to a blocked coronary artery.  The grafted artery or vein bypasses the blocked portion of the artery.  This creates a new path for oxygen-rich blood to flow to the heart muscle.  It can relieve chest pain and may lower heart attack risk.  Doctors also use heart surgery to replace or repair heart valves, which control blood flow through the heart, replace a damaged heart with a healthy heart from a donor, implant medical devices that help control the heartbeat or support heart function and blood flow, and repair abnormal or damaged structures in the heart. The results of heart surgery in adults are often excellent.  It can reduce symptoms, improve quality of life, and improve the chances of survival.  (Source: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hs/)

CARDIAC REHAB:  Cardiac rehabilitation (cardiac rehab) is a program designed to help people recover from heart attacks, heart surgery, and percutaneous coronary intervention like stenting and angioplasty.  Cardiac rehab programs usually provide education and counseling services to help heart patients increase physical fitness, reduce cardiac symptoms, improve health and reduce the risk of future heart problems, like heart attack.  The physical program is tailored to an individual's needs.  Training often starts in a group setting where the heart rate and blood pressure are monitored during physical activity.  Patients may work with a physical therapist, exercise physiologist or other healthcare professional.  Then, patients may work up to more intense aerobic activity on a treadmill or exercise bike.  (Source: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/CardiacRehab/What-is-Cardiac-Rehabilitation_UCM_307049_Article.jsp 

INDUSTRIAL ATHLETES:  A recent study found that rehabilitation is associated with a 46 percent lower risk of death. However, another study found that only 14 percent of heart attack patients used rehab.  Some researchers believe that one of the problems is that traditional rehab is not personalized.   Industrial Athletes is part of the cardiac rehab program at Baylor Hamilton Heart and Vascular Hospital. Industrial athletes are firefighters, police officers, fed-ex drivers, and warehouse workers—people who depend on physical fitness and strength to do their job.  When these people have heart attacks, they need more intense therapy to get back to work.  Usually cardiac rehab is very conservative.  Patients ride a stationary bike for 20 minutes, walk on a treadmill for 20 or 30 minutes, and lift hand weights.  A young firefighter is given the same therapy regime as a 90-year-old woman.  The Industrial Athlete program has a variety of equipment that allows the cardiac rehabilitation team to tailor a program to meet individual patient goals.  The equipment includes training dummies, boxing gloves, fire hoses, and more.  Also, during workouts, clinicians monitor heart rate, blood pressure, sweating and shortness of breath. (Source: https://www.baylorhearthospital.com/Cardiac-Rehabilitation.html)

* For More Information, Contact:

Jenny Adams, PhD

Senior Research Associate

Baylor Heart and Vascular Hospital in Dallas

Return to Work Lab

(214) 820-1395