Hazleton resident Jack Klapac, 71, has no problem telling you that he has a family history of heart disease. He had his first stents placed in 2000 and began seeing LVPG Cardiology–Vine Street cardiologist Thomas Ciotola, MD, in 2007. “He takes wonderful care of himself, but despite this, he has cardiac problems,” Ciotola says.
Fast forward to December 2015. During a routine cardiology visit, Jack admitted he was having chest discomfort. His wife, Karen, 68, was with him at this appointment. “Mrs. Klapac told me she was worried about him having this discomfort all of a sudden,” Ciotola says. He referred Jack for a cardiac catheterization, which revealed a small blockage in a coronary artery. When Jack experienced chest pain during a follow-up stress test, the doctors decided bypass surgery was the best course of action.
Ironically, at the same time they were scheduling Jack’s bypass surgery, Karen started experiencing heart issues of her own, including shortness of breath and tightness in her chest. She also has a family history of coronary disease. After a nuclear stress test proved inconclusive, she too was referred for cardiac catheterization. It turns out, Karen needed stents.
Karen had her stent surgery on February 1, 2016, and Jack had bypass surgery on May 5, 2016, at Lehigh Valley Hospital–Cedar Crest. Jeffrey Snyder, MD, of LVPG Cardiology–1250 Cedar Crest performed both surgeries.
Rehab for two
Like all cardiology patients, the Klapacs were referred to cardiac rehabilitation to recover – 36 sessions over 12 weeks. Unlike most patients, they embarked on rehab together. They started in July 2016, going Monday, Wednesday and Friday to the Health & Wellness Center at Hazleton, where they worked with exercise physiologist Corinne Stone. Stone explains that, unlike orthopedic rehab that’s focused on rebuilding strength after an injury, cardiac rehab goes much further. “We cover 15 to 16 educational topics before they graduate from cardiac rehab,” Stone says. “We bring in dietitians, we talk about the benefits of exercise for both cholesterol and stress management, we give them tips on dining out, and more.”
“I’m very proud of the staff here,” says Barb Hunsinger, RN, Director, Cardiology Services. “Corinne goes through every single piece of information she can find for patients and helps them develop a long-term plan.”
The Klapacs are model students, Stone says. “Some patients drop out of cardiac rehab after only a week or two. These two don’t smoke, they manage their stress, they are aware of their cholesterol, they eat a heart-healthy diet, they take their medications and they continue to exercise,” she says.
Rehab’s extra benefit
Ciotola says that cardiac rehab can help slow progression of coronary disease for those with a family history. “Some people, no matter what they do, will still develop problems,” he says. “But I always feel that people who work on this do better than the people who don’t do anything.” And people who can work with a partner are likely to do even better, like the Klapacs.
Even though they’ve graduated from cardiac rehab, the couple continues to work out at the Health & Wellness Center fitness center three times a week, where they walk on the treadmill or ride the recumbent bike. On the other days they walk for an hour around their neighborhood or at the local high school track. And though they eat heart healthy, they do allow for the occasional small splurge, Karen says. “After eating out recently, we shared a little cup of ice cream.”