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Cardiac Patient Is On the Mend

February 23, 2024

Elba Cruz has health problems, but at the age of 62 she knows how to manage them. With diet, exercise and medication, she was able to live an active life despite her atrial fibrillation, diabetes, sleep apnea, hypertension and hyperlipidemia. She had regular visits with her doctor, Jeffrey Kegel, MD and physician assistant Patrick McAree at their Hartford HealthCare Heart & Vascular Institute offices in her hometown of Willimantic.

Cruz learned to listen to her body, and last summer, when she was feeling overwhelmingly tired and short of breath, she went in for a check up.

Dr. Kegel ordered a battery of tests, including a cardiac stress test, a CT scan and blood work. They put her on a heart monitor for two weeks. Everything came back normal.

“But, I knew I wasn’t right,” Cruz says. “I was so tired. And I would get out of breath so easily. I was going to the gym three times a week. This wasn’t me. My mother died of a heart attack and I didn’t want that to be me.”

Dr. Kegel sent her to Hartford Hospital’s cardiac catheterization laboratory at the Henry Low Heart Center. Cardiac catheterization is a diagnostic procedure used to determine the extent of disease present in the vascular system. The lab performs more than 1,500 procedures each year, making it one of the busiest cardiac catheterization labs in Connecticut.

Cruz can point to the tiny scar on her forearm where a catheter was inserted to place a stent, which was used to open a blocked artery. She was sent home and referred to the cardiac rehabilitation program at Windham Hospital.

Patients participate in the program under the guidance of cardiac nurses and exercise physiologists, who are in touch with the referring cardiologists.

She began the outpatient program, which includes cardio exercise, light weight resistance exercises and lifestyle education, in September, and completed 36 visits over 12 weeks.

“Despite some unrelated orthopedic pain, Elba was diligent and dedicated to completing her cardiac rehab sessions,” says cardiac rehab nurse Jacy Worth. “She completed all of the required heart healthy living education and had a positive attitude with regard to heart healthy eating and continuing her exercise regime.”

Cruz says she appreciated being able to exercise after her procedure, and especially appreciated that she was monitored by the rehab program nurses throughout each session. That gave her the confidence she needed to work to get back to her normal routine.

Cruz is currently dealing with a pinched nerve in her neck, so she’s not quite back to normal, but she no longer feels the exhaustion she was battling and she’s eager to get back to the gym. She’s grateful her doctor listened to her after the initial tests didn’t show a problem, for the resources of Hartford HealthCare.

“I’m blessed,” she says.

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