||The Cardiac Rehab program at the FirstHealth Center for Health & Fitness-Pinehurst moved into newly renovated space earlier this year.
Just a year ago, Tony Robertson, 66, would get
seriously breathless after climbing a simple flight
These days, he enjoys vigorous, hour-long workouts
six mornings every week at FirstHealth’s Center for
Health & Fitness-Pinehurst.
“I didn’t take care of myself after a minor heart attack
in 1995,” Robertson says, “but I’m absolutely dedicated to
Robertson hopes that no one else has to endure his particular
path to better health. His newfound focus came about
dramatically last December, by way of a massive heart attack,
stroke and diabetes diagnosis—all at once.
“When my wife got me to the hospital, I was so short of
breath that they had to ventilate me,” he says. “They called the
family in. They thought they’d lost me that night.”
The “coach” gets a new team
By the next morning, cardiologists at FirstHealth Moore
Regional had inserted a stent (a medical device that opens up a
blocked artery) during an emergency procedure.
As this former football coach recovered in the hospital,
Robertson found himself drafted for a new team, with a new
breed of coaches he never knew existed.
“By January, I was in the Cardiac Rehab program at
FirstHealth,” he says. “I didn’t have that option where I lived
after my first heart attack. I was elated that this was here.”
Robertson is clear that the Cardiac Rehab team at FirstHealth
was key to his remarkable turnaround.
“They are no doubt the most professional, kind, caring
people I have ever, ever met,” he says. “I’ve lost 41 pounds, am
now off of insulin injections, and might soon get off the diabetes
medication. They are just fantastic.”
The change factor
“The staff is the heart and soul of this program,” says Darrell
Simpkins, M.D., medical director of FirstHealth’s Cardiac
The entire team has the reputation of meeting each patient
wherever he or she is, physically or emotionally, he says.
|Aberdeen resident Tony Robertson enrolled in the Cardiac Rehab program in Pinehurst after suffering a massive heart attack and stroke. He has since lost 41 pounds and no longer needs insulin injections for his diabetes.
“Some patients just need education, and others might benefit
from counseling if they feel depressed or scared,” says the
program’s director, Jean Barrett-Taylor. “Every staff member
understands the big picture for every patient. We become a
friend, mentor and coach.”
The Cardiac Rehab team meets with patients three times
weekly for 12 to 18 weeks, providing safe and effective exercise
and discussing nutrition, weight control, stress management,
fitness and medications as well as such medical risk
factors as smoking, diabetes and high cholesterol.
“Patients benefit not only from the educational
part of the program, but also from seeing and
talking to other patients who have been in the same
place they’ve been, who’ve had the same fears and
are now doing well,” says Dr. Simpkins.
“It’s a learning process for patients, and it works,”
says Dr. Simpkins, who is also an emergency
department physician. “If patients don’t go through
the Cardiac Rehab program, I am more likely to
see them in the emergency room later.”
Nationally, patients who participate in a certified cardiac
rehab program are able to prevent future cardiac episodes and
reduce overall cardiovascular mortality by 25 to 30 percent.
They also have fewer hospitalizations and emergency room
According to the national Centers for Disease Control &
Prevention, less than one-third of eligible candidates actually
participate in cardiac rehabilitation programs, however, although
all would likely benefit from it.
Participation strong in the Sandhills
Robertson, who lives in Aberdeen, is grateful that he had
access to Cardiac Rehab this time around. People in other parts of the state are not so lucky. In North
Carolina today, only 26 cardiac rehab programs,
including FirstHealth’s, are certified by the
national oversight organization, the American
Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary
Rehabilitation. Only 76 are certified by the
North Carolina Division of Facility Services.
Presently, more than 150 patients participate
in FirstHealth’s programs in Rockingham and
Pinehurst. Program “graduates” can continue
their fitness programs by joining the Cardiac
Rehab Bridge to Wellness, which can help
them transition to a lifestyle of fitness and
independence, or one of the FirstHealth Centers
for Health & Fitness.
The Cardiac Rehab team is also working to
expand the program, possibly by adding evening
hours for the younger, working cardiac patient.
As for Robertson, he is now a card-carrying member of
the FirstHealth Center for Health & Fitness and champion
for FirstHealth’s Cardiac Rehab team as well as his regular
cardiologist, Allen Strunk, D.O., and Peter Duffy, M.D., the
cardiologist who did his stent procedure. Both Dr. Strunk
and Dr. Duffy are members of the Pinehurst Cardiology
“We are so fortunate to have such a facility and staff,” he says.
“If they need anyone to help raise funds or get the word out or
even stand on their heads, I will do it for them.”
For more information on the FirstHealth Cardiac Rehab program,
call (800) 213-3284 toll-free.