Jeanne Stough is manager of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation at Aspen Valley Hospital. With over 24 years of experience in the field, Jeanne has enjoyed working with cardiac rehab patients at AVH for more than four years now, and in July 2020 assumed the role of department manager.
Please tell us about your department and your job.
Our department works with patients in need of cardiac, pulmonary and oncology rehabilitation. Cardiac patients typically come in following an event, such as a heart attack, bypass surgery, placement of a stent or angioplasty. Pulmonary patients are typically being treated for a chronic condition such as chronic pulmonary obstructive disease. And of course oncology patients are at various stages of their cancer treatment. In addition to managing three areas of rehabilitation, as an Exercise Physiologist I also work directly with patients.
What are some of the challenges you face with the COVID-19 pandemic?
It’s been a bit difficult conducting classes without necessary adjustments. One way we’ve tried to be creative is by leading virtual exercise classes. Next to safety, providing a way to connect and continue to move is our highest priority during these times.
Can you tell us about the rehabilitation programs AVH offers to individuals who have suffered a heart attack or some other cardiac event?
We always begin an exercise program with a physician referral. It’s important to start patients as soon as possible after their event in order to optimize the healing curve. Research has shown completing 36 sessions of cardiac rehab vastly improves survival rates.
We expect patients to come three times a week to set that consistency. Another very important part of the recovery process is the community they join when they come to Cardiac Rehab. People learn they are not alone. I think that’s why so many stay for the next phase, which offers continued accountability and opportunity for risk factor modification in a clinically supervised setting.
Educating our patients on lifestyle changes is a priority for Cardiac Rehab. Our patients can take advantage of a dietary consult with our fantastic Nutritional Services team. They also have access to our Licensed Clinical Social Worker who can help patients navigate the change in their health. It’s important to assure people it’s normal to go through a tough time after a cardiac event — denial, anger, stress and depression — before they get to a place of optimal healing.
What are some surprising facts about heart disease that not everybody knows?
A cardiologist I worked with said something I’ve never forgotten: “Cardiac disease is a disease of choice.” And if you think about it, that’s true. We have control of about 80 percent of the factors behind heart disease. We live in a mountain bubble which creates a misguided sense of invulnerability. Some of the most fit individuals can suffer cardiac events. Another thing I bet people don’t realize is that women are just as susceptible to heart disease as men.
Can you tell us more about the risk women face with heart disease?
It’s the number-one killer of all Americans — men and women. One in three women will die of heart disease.
Fewer women than men survive their first heart attack. Approximately fifty percent of women who experience a heart attack don’t survive. One of the things I drive home with my female patients is that they’ve beaten the odds if they’re in rehab.
Women suffering a heart attack often present differently than men. Women and men both may exhibit chest pain, but women as well as diabetics may present with fatigue, nausea, a sense of doom, jaw or back pain and or simply shortness of breath. It’s important to note that men can experience those symptoms as well.
So, if we have control over 80 percent of the risk factors, what should we be thinking about and doing to improve our heart health?
Age, sex, family history — these are things we don’t control and can’t change. There are however many things we have control over and can change. I say it over and over, but it’s important: Know the risk factors. Know your numbers.
- Smoking: Stop or get help to stop. One year after you quit smoking, you cut your risk factor by 50 percent.
- Hypertension: Even if you are taking medication for high blood pressure, it’s still a risk factor that needs to be monitored and controlled.
- Cholesterol: This is an important number to know, and if it’s too high it’s important to address.
- Being sedentary: The American Heart Association now recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.
- Diabetes increases risk.
- Stress: The two types of personalities that are most susceptible to stress-related heart disease progression are people who are extremely reactive and those who internalize stress.
There are a multitude of great educational resources out there, such as the American Heart Association website (www.heart.org). But the best thing you can do is visit your primary care doctor or one of our cardiologists. Establish a foundation, a starting point. Know your numbers. Memorize them. You are your own best health advocate!