Cardiac Rehab offers a second chance on life — and love
At 9 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning, a group of 12 shows up to Cardiac Rehab at Gundersen St. Elizabeth’s ready to sweat. And chat. And maybe just fall in love. At least that’s what happened for Connie Reeser and Mike Brown.
They’ve been given a second chance at life – and love. In 2019, Reeser was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma; consistent exercise helps keep her lymph nodes open. Brown started Cardiac Rehab in the Twin Cities after experiencing two heart attacks in his late 40s.
When they met in 2020, Brown had recently lost his wife. Reeser lost her husband in 2018.
“I’ve seen so many relationships originate in this space,” said Carla Theusch, who launched Cardiac Rehab in 2001. She now oversees Wellness Center Rehabilitation Services, including physical and occupational therapy. “Everyone who’s a part of Cardiac Rehab has the same motivation: to live well. It’s an amazing support system.”
Cardiac Rehab combines monitored exercise and healthy lifestyle education to help improve a patient’s health. Blood pressure and heart rate are checked before and after each workout. Patients are monitored throughout their time exercising.
“That consistent monitoring is so reassuring,” Brown said. “A gym membership just doesn’t even compare. You’ve got trained medical staff just steps away who know you, your heart history and your numbers should anything happen.”
Dave Heins agreed. After bypass surgery in 2004, Heins started working with Theusch. He was so grateful for the program that he designed a tattoo that’s now on his arm – a broken heart being mended with needle and thread. Across the heart reads ‘Cardiac Rehab.’
“This program has helped me stay accountable,” Heins said. “It’s been a big part of my life.”
Medicare covers up to 36 sessions for 12 weeks and helps patients with cardiac, pulmonary and vascular diseases. Fresh Start, a self-pay prevention/disease management program, caters to those with risk factors for disease and those living with chronic conditions.
Meanwhile, Maintenance is a platform that empowers patients to continue their wellness journeys. It allows patients like Reeser and Brown to continue consistent, monitored exercise.
Jan and Roger Wise are also part of Maintenance. Every Tuesday and Thursday, the 76- and 79-year-old show up, ready to exercise.
Jan knows the halls of Gundersen St. Elizabeth’s well. She worked as an RN and nursing supervisor for more than four decades before retiring in 2010. But it wasn’t until more recently, after cardiac issues for both, that she and Roger started coming to Cardiac Rehab on a regular basis.
“Cardiac Rehab is like frosting on the cake,” Roger said. “The cake represents getting another chance at life. The frosting is having an extra set of eyes and ears monitoring us in case we need extra help.”
Jan agrees. “We’re celebrating Roger’s 80th birthday and 55 years of marriage this year,” she said. “Cardiac Rehab has helped us stay healthy so we can recognize milestones like this.”
With more than 20 pieces of cardio equipment, nine weight machines, a wall of free weights and a staff of five including nurses and rehab techs, Gundersen St. Elizabeth’s Cardiac Rehab program coordinates more than 1,000 visits a month.
“We have a great team. We put the patients first and care deeply for them,” Theusch said. “It’s the patients who make this job fun.”
Theusch’s ongoing support and dedication and that of her team – along with the vision of former hospital administrator Tom Crowley – have played a key role in the evolution of this program. They worked together – along with funding from the community – to create what’s now Gundersen St. Elizabeth’s Wellness Center.
“Throughout the last 20 years, our program and our team have grown,” Theusch said. “But one thing hasn’t changed – we continue to remain local and support patients close to home.”
The team continues to evaluate new space and opportunities to meet patients now and in the future.
Meanwhile, Reeser, 74, and Brown, 73, plan to marry in March. They’re excited to begin this next chapter together.
“Never say never,” Reeser joked. “You don’t know who you’re going to meet at Cardiac Rehab.”
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