Cheryl St. John, 61, of Billings, has always been active and lived a healthy lifestyle, but during a visit with her primary care provider, Dr. Sarah Stewart, it was recommended that she be evaluated by the St. Vincent Cardiac Prevention Clinic, as St. John’s family history indicated that she may be at risk for heart health issues. Just a short while later, Cheryl was in St. Vincent Healthcare’s operating room for a triple bypass surgery on her heart.
Prior to her surgery, St. John’s CT coronary artery calcium score indicated that she had several areas of calcified plaque buildup in her heart. With early detection through a referral to the prevention clinic, Cheryl was referred to Dr. Justin Kim and scheduled for cardiac surgery prior to suffering any permanent damage to her heart. She was able to make a successful post-surgery recovery within just six weeks -- but her journey did not stop there.
Her recovery process would prove to be challenging, but she was determined to give it her all with St. Vincent’s cardiac rehabilitation program, where she would meet her soon-to-be friend, Ruth Grossi.
A former teacher of 27 years, Ruth has lived a similar lifestyle as Cheryl, healthy, active and energetic. But at the age of 81, she began experiencing a severe pain in her side while trying to sleep. After a trip to a local walk-in, she was found to have a thready heart rate, meaning that it was rapid, yet weak because of a decrease in circulation. This would require immediate attention.
She was transported via ambulance to the St. Vincent emergency department and found to have a condition called atrial fibrillation (AFib), which can be caused by underlying heart valve issues. After a week in the hospital, Grossi made the choice to have open-heart surgery to repair two of her heart valves. Just two months later, she started her cardiac rehab journey.
Both Cheryl and Ruth started cardiac rehabilitation to improve their health, restore strength and energy and reduce their risk of future heart issues. Patients often do the same after a heart attack, stent, open-heart surgery (bypass or valve replacement), and more recently, after receiving a MitraClip or having the transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) procedure done.
The program encompasses a three-step process to get patients like Cheryl and Ruth back on their feet and doing the things they love. Over the course of more than 36 weeks, patients are involved in education on risk factors and how the patient can change them, creating a success plan for exercise and lifestyle, and how to transition back into a gym and every-day tasks. For St. John and Grossi, this program has also helped them grow a greater sense of humor and competition, as they encourage each other to be the best they can be.
“Ruth is 20 years older than me and she works out way harder than I do!” chuckled St. John. “She is amazing and we have such a great friendship because of this program.”
St. Vincent’s cardiac rehab program is open to patients of all ages.