Cardiac rehab key to recovery

Photo courtesy of Cookeville Regional Medical Center.

By Amye Anderson
UCBJ Managing Editor

COOKEVILLE – In any given week, roughly 2,000 to 2,200 heart patients visit the Cookeville Regional Medical Center‘s cardiac rehabilitation facility. There, the whirring recumbent bikes and humming treadmills are operated by young and old alike, each there to get back to doing the things that they love and, more importantly, stay out of the hospital.

Cardiovascular disease claims the lives of more than 830,000 Americans each year, according to the American Heart Association. That’s approximately one out of every three deaths reported in the US.

Roughly 335,000 heart attack patients and 185,000 stroke patients will suffer recurring events. After a cardiac event, rehabilitation is critical to helping patients recover; spurring lifestyle changes that could prevent a recurring event from happening.

Located in the lower level of the Tennessee Heart building in Cookeville, part of the CRMC campus, the center’s cardiac rehabilitation team works with approximately 2,000 heart patients each month to help them recover from heart events.

“Our main goal is to keep them out of the hospital,” said Debbie Baker, Director of the Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation Center. “That is our ultimate, main goal; to get their strength up, to get them back to doing the things that they want to be able to do and their lifestyle, manage their own illness, and stay out of the hospital.”

There, patients and their families are provided valuable information and skills needed to cope with breathing problems. A nurse or exercise physiologist provides monitoring, education and emotional support.

“We take care of cardiac patients who have had heart events recently or within the year,” said Baker. “We do all phases of cardiac and pulmonary rehab.”

The multi-phase rehab program is tailored to each patient’s specific care needs. First, inpatient visits are conducted before the patient leaves the hospital. Then, the patient visits the rehab center at a later date to meet with a nurse who will help create a rehabilitation program plan and establish goals. The patient then begins the next phase which includes education about proper exercise procedures before moving on to independent and group exercise and independent ongoing conditioning.

“The program consists of several things,” Baker said. “It’s the exercise, which is really, really important for them but the psychological benefits, really for a lot of patients, outweigh that. They need that – to be in an environment where there’s people around them that are going through similar things.”

And it’s not just the physical toll a major heart event or ailment can have on a patient. The financial burden of surgery, therapy, medication, and lost wages from missing work present additional challenges for patients.

“We’ve had patients who’ve exhausted their vacation (time), their short-term (and) their long-term disability,” added Baker

The hospital’s charitable foundation is able to help patients who have been overwhelmed by financial burdens associated with care. In addition to receiving financial help, if needed, patients and families also receive expert care guides and a built-in support system from attending educational and therapeutic classes with patients and families who are experiencing the same challenges.

The Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation Center at CRMC is certified by the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation. The center works with patients from other hospitals, Vanderbilt Medical Center, and Duke University Medical Center. Those patients coming from outside hospitals meet with a cardiologist before beginning a rehab program at the center.

“The staff, they are amazing,” Baker said. “That’s probably one of the biggest compliments that I receive from our patients; the level of professionalism and the knowledge that this staff provides for them.”

To learn more about the cardiac rehab center at CRMC, visit

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