The clues were minor and mysterious yet annoyingly uncomfortable. Some fatigue, occasional shortness of breath, a “poking” in the center of his chest that disappeared after he finished his hourlong power walk.
Cooley Dickinson’s 12-week
cardiac rehab program helped
Dennis Vandal, seated, recover
from heart surgery. Patrick
Schilling, cardiac exercise
physiologist, said Vandal has
made “significant strides” in
Dennis Vandal decided to pay attention to what his body was telling him.
At an appointment to discuss another health concern, Vandal, a 58-year old Amherst resident, told his primary care physician about these symptoms. Vandal was born with an aortic heart valve that has just two flaps; most people have three flaps to maintain one-way blood flow through the heart. Physicians could hear a heart murmur and it raised some concerns. But he had been asymptomatic. Until then.
His doctor ordered diagnostic cardiac tests at Cooley Dickinson Hospital. Later, Vandal’s cardiologist confirmed Vandal’s suspicion: his aortic valve had deteriorated. It needed to be replaced.
“When Dr. [Steven] DiPillo gave me the ‘long-face chat’ about my situation, I asked him point blank what would happen to me if I decided to do nothing. He explained that my heart could slowly weaken, that the risk of stroke and heart attack would increase very significantly, and that I would be at risk for sudden death. And if I didn’t die suddenly, the deterioration would make it much harder for my heart to be repaired later.”
A former colleague and a 36-year old nephew “are now dead because of heart disease.” Vandal immediately scheduled surgery at Baystate Medical Center, where cardiac surgeon Dr. John Rousou replaced Vandal’s damaged valve.
Nearly seven months following the diagnosis, Vandal said he is stronger and in better shape than before, thanks to the surgery and a referral to cardiac rehab.
Vandal said, “the operation wasn’t a limitation, but rather a cure.”
To help him regain his strength and condition his new heart valve, Vandal enrolled in Cooley Dickinson’s cardiac rehab program three weeks after his surgery. “It was a simple program,” said Vandal, of his 35 hourlong sessions over 12 weeks. “I deliberately used the cardiac rehab program as an opportunity to get in better shape.”
These days, Vandal keeps in shape at Planet Fitness in Hadley, where he is a regular. Vandal follows the workout that Patrick Schilling, Cooley Dickinson Hospital cardiac exercise physiologist and clinical exercise specialist, taught him. It’s written on an index card, and Vandal adds to it regularly.
Vandal reflected fondly on his time in the Cooley Dickinson cardiac rehab program. There, he met other people, like him, who were learning how to manage the after-effects of heart disease. In addition to the exercise program, Vandal took advantage of seminars about healthy eating and portion control. “My fridge today has more fruits, plain, lowfat yogurt and no-fat feta than ever before,” chuckled Vandal.
Vandal has resumed his power walking regimen without that heavy poking sensation in the middle of his chest. He can often be seen walking briskly around the campus of University of Massachusetts, where he teaches photojournalism.
“My wife says I am the poster child for aortic valve replacement,” Vandal said. Thanks to his surgeon, his cardiologist and cardiac rehab at CDH, he agrees.
to assess your risk for a cardiac event.
What is Cardiac Rehab?
Cardiac rehabilitation (rehab) is a medically supervised program that helps improve the health and well-being of people who have heart problems.
Rehab programs include exercise training, education on heart-healthy living, and counseling to reduce stress and help you return to an active life.
Cardiac rehab helps people who have heart problems:
- Recover after a heart attack or heart surgery.
- Prevent future hospital stays, heart problems, and death related to heart problems.
- Address risk factors that lead to coronary heart disease (also called coronary artery disease) and other heart problems. These risk factors include high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, being overweight or obese, diabetes, smoking, lack of physical activity, and depression and other emotional health concerns.
- Adopt healthy lifestyle changes. These changes may include a hearthealthy diet, increased physical activity, and learning how to manage stress.
- Improve their health and quality of life.
Each patient will have a program designed to meet his or her needs.
MRI at CDH Earns Gold Standard
MRI departments in Amherst and Northampton have each earned three-year accreditations in breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) following recent, independent reviews by the American College of Radiology (ACR).
William McBride, MRI supervisor, second from right, said the accreditation, “is an independent validation of our expertise in performing advanced diagnostic imaging studies.” Also pictured: Rosemary Fisher, registered radiologic technologist, left, Dr. Brooke Breen, radiologist, and Dr. James Donnelly, radiologist.