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Caring for your heart

The Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at CHI St. Alexius Health in Dickinson is designed for people who have had heart related problem or those who have a certain level of lung problems. (Submitted photo)

Kate Kessel never imagined she would have a heart attack. She has never smoked and ate healthily, so when she had a heart attack last fall, she and everyone around her were shocked.

According to the Centers for Disease and Control, heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States.

The disease runs in her family, Kessel said. Her mother, grandparents and several other family members have had heart disease. Kessel and her husband were at the Peace Gardens, near the Canadian border, when she had a heart attack last August.

“God and my guardian angel had everybody lined up to take care of me that day,” she said.

After being stabilized in Bottineau, Kessel was airlifted to Minot and immediately brought into surgery, where three stents were put in her front artery.

“I was very lucky, there was very little damage to the heart,” she said.

When she arrived in Dickinson a few days later, Kessel began rehabilitation in her home, which involved walking around her house. After that she joined the Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at CHI St. Alexius Health in Dickinson.

The program is designed for people who have recently had a heart attack, open heart surgery,  other heart-related problems or those who have a certain level of lung problems. Once they are discharged from the hospital, the team teaches them how to exercise safely for their heart. They do not want patients to overwork themselves but simply to improve day by day.

Dana Glasser, the head of the CPRP, said the program has multiple types of exercise equipment from treadmills to a NuStep, which is like a sitting elliptical. She said sometimes people are nervous to join the program, thinking they are trainers who want to push them to complete a big task. However, Glasser said they are mostly focusing on someone’s overall health.

“We’re not trying to train you for a marathon. We’re trying to train you for life,” Glasser said. “We’re trying to show you that you can be active, so that you can do daily activities without discomfort, without chest pain. So you can breathe well, so that walking down the hallway isn’t something that’s difficult for you.”

When someone first comes to the CPRP, staff members take their height, weight, blood pressure and BMI and then develop a health plan. They encourage people to have a heart-healthy diet and just ensure people are making good lifestyle changes in general. People can be in the program anywhere between four to 12 weeks. On the pulmonary side of things they focus on breathing techniques.

The hospital also has an “Optimal FIT Gym” that is open to the public with medical staff available if someone needs help, but it does not include developed programs.

Glasser said one of the best feelings is after someone who may have been reluctant to start the program finishes it and then expresses how much they enjoyed it.

Kessel said each week they increased the amount of activity she did. When she first started, the rehabilitation team would have her do about five minutes on each machine, but eventually they worked up to at least 15 minutes on the various workout equipment.

“They slowly work you up,” she said. “They’re not going to push you over your limit, and you have to know what your limit is too. There was a couple times I was on a machine and just got the rhythm going and was told ‘Hey, slow it up, slow it up!’ I was feeling good going but my heart rate was up too high, so they had to shut me down.”

Kessel said she felt the program was beneficial for her and it pushed her to constantly get better.

“That’s where I got my strength back,” she said. “I lost all my strength when I had my heart attack. I could barely walk. … But what rehab did is it built my strength back up, and I could tell from the time I first started to when I finished that there was a big, big difference.”

Learning about heart disease

Next week, Dr. Stephen Boateng, a cardiologist at Sanford Health, will be giving a free Doc Talk presentation about women and heart disease.  The presentation will take place at 6 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 20, with free blood pressure screenings beginning at 5 p.m. The presentation and screenings will be held in the community room at the Sanford Health West Dickinson Clinic. Registration is required and can be completed at

During the presentation, Boateng will talk about the causes and warning signs of cardiovascular disease and what people can do to lower their risk, as well as addressing some of the myths that surround heart disease.

He said one of the biggest myths is that it only affects men, and women should be more concerned with problems like breast cancer.

“It kills more women each year than every single cancer combined,” he said.

Boateng said heart disease includes three main categories: heart attacks, strokes and congestive heart failure. Women older than 55 are at a greater risk, however, women that are pre-menapausal are still at risk to get heart disease.

“(I think) we need to educate women of all ages that heart disease is a problem in women as well,” he said.

Boateng has a “simple seven” for people to follow that can help reduce their chances at getting heart disease:

  1. Exercise for about 30 minutes a day.
  2. Don’t smoke.
  3. Maintain a healthy weight.
  4. Have a BMI, body mass index, of less than 25.
  5. Know your blood sugar and make sure it’s well-controlled.
  6. Know your blood pressure.
  7. Know your cholesterol.

Boateng added there are things that are out of some people’s control, such as age and family history, but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost.

“The good thing about heart disease is it’s so preventable,” he said. “The more we know about how to prevent it then we’ll be able to live healthier lifestyles.”

A ‘wake up call’

Kessel said she wishes she had asked more questions when she went to the doctor, specifically after she was asked if she smoked, which she said she hadn’t. She wished she had asked why they asked her about habits like that. She said it’s important for young women to ask questions during doctor visits and be willing to bring up their family’s health history when they feel it’s pertinent.

“If there’s a history and the doctor isn’t really talking about the history of heart disease, but he’s asking more about other things, then start pushing him,” Kessel said. “... Looking back now I should have been asking ‘Well is there something there? Should we do something?’”

Kessel’s husband has heart disease which led them to make diet changes after he was diagnosed. One thing she was not doing was walking on a regular basis. She now encourages people to be active.

“At least a couple times a week just get out there and walk and just enjoy the fresh air,” she said. “... They can walk in their house. I learned to do that after I had to come home, as boring as it was. … Put some good, fast music on or something. I like western music, I’d put on Willie Nelson or Charlie Daniels or something like that and walk and that five or 10 minutes would go by real fast. They have to get creative if they’re cooped up.”

Kessel said her heart attack was a wake up call for everyone around her.

“I was probably the last one anyone expected to have a heart attack,” she said. “It can happen to anyone.”

Sydney Mook

Sydney Mook started working as the multimedia editor for The Press in January 2016.  She graduated from the University of South Dakota with a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science in three and half years in December 2015. While at the USD, she worked for the campus newspaper, The Volante, as well as the television news show, Coyote News. She also interned at South Dakota Public Broadcasting and spent the summer before her senior year interning in Fort Knox for the ROTC Cadet Summer Training program. In her spare time, Sydney enjoys cheering on the New York Yankees and the Kentucky Wildcats, as well as playing golf. If you've got an idea for a video be sure to give her a call!

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