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February Heart Throbs Aren't All Valentines

Along with President's Day, Valentine's Day and Black History Month, February has another designation. And this one is very personal. Without it, none of the rest can be observed.

Tucked between the over consumption of the holidays and a repeat for Mardi Gras, wrapped in the chocolate of Valentines and smothered by the high fat food samples authenticating the colonial times of our first President, is February's other, less festive, observance —Heart Health Month.

Both Inova Alexandria Hospital and Inova Mount Vernon Hospital offer cutting edge programs to keep the ticker ticking. At IAH it is known as "Heart Health Assessment." IMVH's program addresses the situation after a heart attack or detection of heart disease through its "Cardiovascular Health and Rehabilitation Program."

IAH's program is designed to assess an individual's heart health or lack thereof, to evaluate the lifestyle impacting that pro or con diagnosis, and provide a program to keep the heart healthy by correcting damaging behavior. It is done in a single visit at a cost of $45.

"We spend about an hour with each individual talking about lifestyle and how to lower risk factors," said Cherry McDermott, RN and massage therapist at IAH. "The program evolves on its own."

Originally advertised on radio, the program started in 1994, according to McDermott. She entered the picture in 1996. "Emotional stress has real causal affects as well as physical characteristics. It is not just tied to diet," she pointed out.

THE ACTUAL TEST consists of blood work analysis with specific emphasis on a blood sugar test and a cholesterol analysis, a physical stress test that involves fasting 12 to 15 hours prior, blood pressure and body fat analysis, development of a personal history profile, and development of a personal exercise program geared to each patient's daily schedule.

"After the information is gathered and evaluated a profile is mailed to the patient in about three weeks. They can then take that to their physician with any concerns they might have. Their individual physician takes over from there," McDermott said.

"My population comes through the Inova Health Service. We see about four people a week throughout the year," she said.

IMVH's Cardiovascular Health and Rehabilitation Program concentrates on helping those who have suffered heart attacks or are suffering from heart disease. A part of that program is EECP [Enhanced External Counterpulsation] Therapy for cardiovascular disease. "This treatment is the only one of its kind in Northern Virginia," said Beth Visioli, media relations specialist, IHS.

"It's meant to treat patients with angina, and reduce their use of medicine to improve blood flow to the heart. The process involves using a series of long, inflatable cuffs. The cuffs send the blood ...toward the heart, increasing blood flow to the coronary arteries," Visioli explained.

A NONINVASIVE procedure, EECP is designed to "improve heart function for individuals who are not candidates for surgery or other invasive procedures," according to IMVH. As explained in their literature, pressure cuffs are applied around the hips, thighs and calves which are inflated during the rest cycle of the heartbeat.

The treatment is administered in 35 one hour sessions over a seven week, five days per week, period. A physician referral is required.

Lynn Weir, a physical therapist and clinical coordinator, has been with the hospital system since 1976. She came to Mount Vernon Hospital in 1979.

"EECP is good for patients who have a blockage in a coronary artery. This treatment provides extra circulation to the blockage area," she said.

"It relieves the pain often suffered by patients with blockage. We had one patient who complained of suffering pain one to four times a day. Half the time he had to take nitro and the other half of the time it went away with rest," Weir explained. "After the treatment the pain was gone."

"EECP treatment is like a last ditch effort for people who can not do surgery or any more surgery. It is approved by the FDA but is not covered by medicare insurance at this time," she noted.

Cardiac Rehabilitation is a 20-year old program that started in Inova Fairfax Hospital, expanded to IAH, then to IMVH, according to Weir, who coordinates the program at IMVH. An anniversary party was held in December.

"We have 190 people enrolled in the program at the present time. We still have our first enrolle who is 80 plus years of age," Weir said. "Our oldest is now 90. If you turn 90 in cardiac rehabilitation we have a party for you. So far we've had three."

The program's youngest participant is 34. "Individuals come to us after a heart attack or heart surgery. We get them going on a more healthy lifestyle," Weir said.

TWO OF THOSE presently enrolled are the husband and wife team of Bill and Lois Gay. Waynewood area residents, they have been participating for the past three years.

"To get into the program you have to have coronary problems from whatever causes," Lois explained. "The object is to strengthen the heart muscle and body. Just to be able to do routine things with no problems."

As a nurse, Lois learned about the program while working for a physician. She had her first heart stint implanted in 1996 after a four way bypass, she revealed.

Bill spent 28 years in the U.S. Air Force. When he was having a stint inserted for heart disease he suffered a heart attack due to the side affects on another heart vessel, he recalled.

"When you start in the program you go through a complete heart history," they confirmed. "You have to wait four to five weeks after surgery before entering the program."

The initial program is designed to last approximately three months. It requires attendance three times a week at a cost of $105 a month, according to Weir.

"At one time we had five couples enrolled. Medicare will pay for three months of rehabilitation. But many prefer to stay with us and pay for the program themselves," she noted.

"At the present time our patients are 60 percent men and 40 percent women. Women tend to develop heart disease at a later age than men. It's also harder to treat their arteries because they are smaller," Weir explained.

CARDIAC REHABILITATION is also used to strengthen a person for heart surgery, according the Lois Gay. "I was going to rehab for about a year prior to my surgery because of my heart disease. When I went through open heart surgery I was a lot stronger thanks to the program," she said.

"It's basically an exercise program. You use a stairmaster, rower, bikes, weights, and other equipment in 10 minute increments. You can pick your choice of equipment," Lois said.

"The nurses monitor you constantly while you exercise. If you're diabetic they check your blood sugar regularly. Reports are also sent to your primary physician," Bill confirmed.

Both Bill and Lois lead active lives. He is an investigator and she is working parttime as a nurse for a local physician.

"You can also do the same program on your own, either at home or in a gym. But our plan is to keep going to the program at the hospital," Bill said.

Weir acknowledged, "We are in the process of working on an agreement with the Fairfax County Park Authority to possibly offer some of these exercise programs in the parks. They have more weight equipment."

The hospital program consists of weekly education programs led by staff and guest speakers, one hour exercise sessions, nutrition counseling by a registered dietitian, and a support group composed of staff that encourages family members to participate. Staff includes registered nurses, exercise physiologists, dietitians, pharmacists, social workers, and physical therapists. A cardiologist serves as the medical director.

Additional information on both EECP and the rehabilitation program can be obtained by calling 703-664-8034.