Halton Healthcare Cardiac Rehab Program Gives Patients New Lease on Life

“There is nothing like having a few near death experiences to remind you just how precious life really is,” notes 63 year old Carl Baldwin who experienced his first heart attack at only 39 years of age and three subsequent heart attacks before his 56th birthday. “My body was warning me. I needed to make some serious lifestyle changes if I wanted to see my grandchildren.”

Diagnosed with Ischemic Heart Disease (or narrowing of the arteries), high cholesterol and hypertension, Mr. Baldwin’s condition was further complicated by the onset of kidney disease and diabetes. His cardiologist, Dr. Donald Peat, referred him to the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program at the Oakville-Trafalgar Memorial Hospital (OTMH) after his double bypass surgery, two years ago. “By the time I graduated from the Cardiac Rehab Program the first time in the Spring of 2001, I was able to walk up to two miles. If that program hadn’t been available back then, I may not be here today to tell you my story.”

From Humble Beginnings…Founded in 1979 under the leadership of Dr. Don Peat, the Cardiac Rehab Program at the OTMH site which started with only eight patients has helped more than 2,800 cardiac patients (with angina, congestive heart failure and those who have had surgery, heart attacks and angioplasty) over the years.

“I consider Dr. Peat to be one of the pioneers of Cardiac Rehab in Oakville because he was promoting the idea of exercising cardiac patients when it was still not widely practiced,” explained Dr. David Posen, one of the many OTMH Family Practitioners who supported Dr. Peat in those early days. “Although he was met with resistance, he persisted until he successfully established the program on a shoestring budget with minimal equipment and staffing.”

“It was a real family affair back then. The program ran two nights a week based on the goodwill and expertise of a volunteer force of doctors, nurses and physiotherapists,” adds Julie Thompson, a former OTMH Cardiac Physiotherapist who Dr. Peat credits with starting up the program.

“All patients with a cardiac event should be involved in a cardiac rehab program. Changing a lifetime of bad habits can be very difficult and somewhat overwhelming. Support and motivation is often the key,” explains Dr. Peat. “Unfortunately, Cardiac Rehab has not always been available to all cardiac patients across the province.”

In February 2000, the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care introduced and funded the Ontario Cardiac Rehabilitation Pilot Program. This project was designed to test the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care’s model for the delivery of a standarized cardiac program in Ontario hospitals. This project provided one-year operational funding for 17 programs across the province, of which eight were new.

Based on its successful history and commitment to cardiac rehabilitation, HHS was designated both a pilot and the Coordinating Site for the Halton-Peel region. “In this leadership role, Halton Healthcare Services works in partnership with the other regional hospitals to coordinated the provision of this vital service. We want to ensure that all cardiac patients in our region can readily access a standardized comprehensive cardiac rehab program close to home,” explained Sue MacDonald, Regional Cardiac Rehabilitation Care Coordinator at HHS.

“As part of this co-ordinating function we established the Halton-Peel Rehab Network (with representation from William Osler Health Centre, Trillium Health Centre, Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital, Credit Valley Hospital and Halton Healthcare Services) to streamline the referral process, share best practices, develop education resources and plan for service growth,” explained Sid Stacey, Vice-president of Programs at Halton Healthcare Services and Chair of the Halton-Peel Cardiac Rehab Network.

One of these initiatives was the recently held Cardiac Rehab Networking and Information Forum, organized by HHS in collaboration with the hospitals in the Network. “The forum was a key milestone for our region. We brought the clinical health-care professionals from all our hospitals together to discuss various aspects of their programs, network, and share best practices. This will ultimately translate into an enhanced co-ordination and provision of care for all cardiac patients in the region,” explained Sue MacDonald.

A More Comprehensive ProgramMr. Baldwin suffered an episode of Congestive Heart Failure on October 26, 2001 and following major abdominal surgery, he was re-admitted to the Cardiac Rehab Program at OTMH, which was now part of the Pilot Project. He noticed a marked difference in the program at his first appointment when he was assigned a case manager who designed an exercise program customized to his needs, assessed all his risk factors and developed strategies to address them. He also noticed that patients had easier access to the dieticians and there was now a psychologist and a social worker for those patients who might need these services. “They took a great program and made it even more comprehensive and accessible,” said Mr. Baldwin.

“We commend the Ministry for making cardiac rehab a priority across the province. Now patients, like Mr. Baldwin, are the beneficiaries of an enhanced cardiac rehabilitation program which includes specialized staff (such as a kinesiologist, psychologist, social worker, nurse, dietician and physiotherapists), more exercise equipment and educational tools,” notes Dr. Peat. “We hope that the success of the pilot project will result in additional permanent provincial funding for cardiac rehabilitation programs across our region.”

“This is an amazing program. The staff were always dedicated and professional. But with the additional staff, classes are limited in size and so we can get more specialized one-on-one attention, ” adds Mr. Baldwin. “I am back on track again walking daily and feeling great. Once again they gave me a new lease on life.”