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From heart attack to mountain hike: Garcia attributes comeback to CHCS Cardiac Rehab

No matter what kind of person you picture when you think “heart attack,” Bob Garcia probably doesn’t fit the mold.

A retired postmaster and longtime referee for high school football and basketball, Garcia was in the habit of running 25-30 miles a week and lifting weights regularly. He was preparing to run a St. Patrick’s Day 10K when he felt a slight pain in the middle of his chest for about three minutes. He dismissed it as acid reflux and did his regular workout of running outside for four miles and lifting weights for an hour the next day, March 4. On March 5, his trip to the gym was cut short because of a sick grandchild, and in the afternoon, he experienced the pain in his chest again, but more intensely. His wife and son-in-law insisted that he check it out. Although he was embarrassed and thought nothing was wrong, he went to the emergency room at Onaga Community Hospital.

Garcia was shocked when he was told that a test showed he had had a cardiac event and that he needed to travel by ambulance to Stormont Vail Hospital in Topeka for treatment. He recalls feeling fine, even offering his ambulance to another patient who was in severe pain and was also awaiting transport.

“I didn’t realize what I had going on,” Garcia said.

The next day, Garcia watched on a screen as his cardiologist, Dr. Rao, inserted a heart catheter and dye so he could find the problem. He saw an artery that should have been the width of a straw had narrowed to the width of a human hair. After a 15-minute procedure to balloon the artery and place a stent, Garcia was finished. Garcia recalls feeling fine. “I’ve had worse dentist appointments,” he said.

Follow-up tests showed no damage, but Garcia did have a left bundle branch block, a delay or blockage of electrical impulses to the left side of the heart. A recommendation that he enter a Cardiac Rehab program led him back to Onaga.

Garcia went into the program feeling scared, shocked, and uncertain. Although he’s usually a “pretty self-confident person,” he said he had very little confidence. After running and lifting weights five days a week, he suddenly felt tired and unable to exercise.

Personalized progress

Garcia said Cardiac Rehab nurses Meranda Schmitz and Nancy Willert helped him understand what was going on with his heart, refocus on what he could do instead of what he couldn’t do, and learn how to monitor his heart as he worked his way back to full functionality.

“I can’t give Meranda and Nancy enough kudos. They answered my questions, they encouraged me, they monitored my entire progress. They were just great in researching and giving me information and facts and what I needed to do,” Garcia said.

Cardiac Rehab is a 12-week program, and it’s personalized for each patient. Garcia was the first runner to need Cardiac Rehab in Onaga, so Schmitz had to tailor the approach and do extra research to help Garcia learn how to adapt his training and become more heart-conscious as he worked his way back to his normal routine. Schmitz taught him how to monitor his heart rate and stay within his target zone, and how to know when his heart was stressed. She recalls that although he was worried, he was a “star patient” and improved in all areas cardiac rehab measures, including blood pressure, quality of life evaluation, and more. 

“Bob did everything we recommended and did so well. When he first started, he was easily fatigued and anxious about getting back into exercising. By the end, he was confident and knew how to progress and take control of his own health and fitness,” Schmitz said.

Garcia feels thankful to have Cardiac Rehab in Onaga and wants others who have joined what he called “the fraternity” of those who have experienced heart problems to know how helpful it can be. He said he understands the danger of depression and how difficult it is to face uncertainty and form new habits after a heart event. But five months after “graduating” from the program, Garcia is feeling great and wants to encourage others.

“When I was just starting Cardiac Rehab, I was thinking ‘I hope I can do this.’ When I was finishing, another was coming on, and I could encourage him,” he said. “The 12 weeks went fast while you were in it. It was a grind, and I walked out pouring sweat and feeling good about my progress.”

Garcia celebrated his success recently with a trip to Colorado.

“I went to Rocky Mountain National Park last week and hiked ‘Huffers Hill’ on the Alpine Ridge Trail. I had no trouble, and all of that is because of my rehab,” Garcia said.

Do you know someone who would benefit from Cardiac Rehab? Learn more about the program.


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