By Denise Williams | News & Views
Michael Carroll admits to being one of those patients, the kind who hop online for fast answers when they have questions about their health. To his credit, Googling symptoms he was suddenly experiencing last June – breathlessness, racing heart rate, water retention – told Mike enough to know that he needed to report to the emergency department…immediately.
His suspected case of heart failure confirmed, the 59-year-old Florida resident once again sought more information on the Internet, where he stumbled on the tragic account of a man who died within 6 months of his prognosis. Right then and there, Mike promised his wife – and himself – that he was done consulting Google, at least for the situation at hand. He pledged to listen to his medical team, including the cardiac rehabilitation staff, and follow their instructions to the letter. “If I’m going to have a bad outcome,” he decided, “it’s not going to be because of me.” That dedication and determination would pay off over the next 7 months and eventually earn Mike the title of “Champion” at the Broward Health Medical Center’s cardiac rehab program in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
He was no slouch in the activity department even before his event, routinely walking 5 miles a day, but Mike was living at an unhealthy weight. Even so, he wasn’t prone to shortness of breath – although he had occasionally experienced racing heart rate. Doctors never detected anything wrong when he reported what he thought were probably anxiety attacks, and unremarkable results from a full cardiac workup at age 50 were also reassuring. His confidence was shattered almost a decade later when, on the cusp of turning 60 years old, he started to feel not so much like himself. The burning sensation in his chest and a bout of severe nausea suggested he might have a stomach bug or acid reflux; and although he felt better after a day or two, deep and persistent fatigue gave him pause. One day, Mike got unusually winded walking to the mailbox and soon after noticed that he was retaining water as well as having trouble breathing. Again, he headed to the ED, where staff recorded his heart rate at an alarming 190 beats per minute. Mike was transferred from Cold Springs Clinic in Coral Springs to Broward Health, where he underwent ablation and, after some complications, was released with an external defibrillator after an 11-day hospitalization.
Hard Work Builds Champions
One month after discharge, Mike reported for cardiac rehab. From that very first day in mid-July, he was all in. He took on the physical work from the mentality of a challenge – something he learned from his long-deceased dad. That meant accepting every suggestion by the staff to increase his speed on the treadmill, graduate to weight training and give just a little bit more each session. Today, he doesn’t even need that nudge; he pushes himself on his own.
Mike also took advantage of the center’s lectures and cooking demonstrations, admitting that the lifestyle modification part of his recovery was a little bit tougher. “I restricted my sodium, I was on a diet – no restaurants, no alcohol, no nothin’!” he explains. “Losing all of that all at once was really hard. But, it’s not so bad anymore.”
On top of the exercise component and the lifestyle coaching, Mike recognized mental health for its importance to overall well-being. Despite the love and unwavering support of his wife, whom he says played in integral role in his recovery, he needed more. “I was really depressed. I wasn’t sleeping. I was just at a loss,” he recounts. “My wife was there, but at the same time there were things I needed to work through, and rehab provided a whole other level of support.” Weekly appointments with the program’s therapist – his first exposure to therapy – have helped him tremendously. “I needed it,” he states. The benefits of psychological treatment added to what Mike describes as an “incredible” amount of empathy from the staff on the gym floor. “I wasn’t a number; I wasn’t just some other guy,” he elaborates. “I always felt like they were looking out for me [on a personal level]. And I always felt supported.”
The payoff from his hard work and the staff’s hard work was undeniable: Mike reports that, from his heaviest weight until now, he’s shed more than 90 pounds. His ejection fraction, at 10% when he started attending rehab, is up to 30%. He’s diabetic, but his A1c level has normalized. In fact, he says, his most recent labs came back normal for every measurement assessed – an achievement that has eluded him for many years. With slight amazement, Mike dares to say he’s never felt better than he does right now. “I don’t know where I would be without the rehab, but I certainly wouldn’t be where I am. I wouldn’t be as functional,” he declares. “I’m back to working full time. I’m eating healthy. I’m exercising daily. I’m not out of breath. I’ve maintained my weight loss – and have a whole new wardrobe to show for it!”
Mike is approaching the end of his second round of rehab – his prescription was renewed after doctors implanted a defibrillator and pacemaker around the middle of October. Once that order runs out, he plans to continue his workouts at a gym within walking distance from his home. Mike will exit the Broward Health cardiac rehab as one of the program’s quarterly “Champions,” thanks to his optimal results. For new participants to cardiac rehab, he recommends tenacity. “You’re not going to get there overnight,” he emphasizes. “I didn’t lose 95 pounds in a week; I lost 95 pounds over 7 months. It just takes time, but you will get better.”