Phyllis Rothkopf’s Heart – And Social Life – Remain Strong Years After Cardiac Surgery

“Exercise makes me feel better, but socializing is also important. Sometimes we even get together outside class. I’d be lost without this group.”

In 2010, Phyllis Rothkopf of Allentown underwent lifesaving cardiac surgery at Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) to treat atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat). But that was only the beginning of her care.

Since then, Rothkopf, now 93, has remained healthy and active, thanks to Lehigh Valley Heart Institute’s cardiac rehabilitation program and continuing biweekly fitness workouts.

“Between the caring staff and my social group there, it really adds something to my life,” she says.

Heart of the class

Rothkopf was 85 when cardiologist Bruce Silverberg, MD, with LVPG Cardiology, recommended surgery. During a single procedure, cardiothoracic surgeon Raymond Singer, MD, with LVPG Cardiac and Thoracic Surgery, replaced her aortic valve, performed two bypasses and implanted a pacemaker to regulate her heartbeat.

But treatment didn’t end there. Silverberg attributes Rothkopf’s continued good health to her steadfast participation in LVHN’s cardiac rehab and fitness programs, which offer patients ongoing support after treatment.

After surgery, Rothkopf began seeing Bari DiUbaldo, an exercise physiologist with the cardiac rehab program at Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)–Cedar Crest. 

During the first 12 weeks, DiUbaldo monitored Rothkopf’s heart continuously during cardiovascular and strength-training workouts on the fitness equipment. Rothkopf also attended nutrition and health classes.

Next she entered a “maintenance” phase, continuing her workouts with DiUbaldo but without the heart monitor.

“Rehab increases patients’ energy, endurance and heart strength, and helps them make lifestyle changes to prevent another heart event,” DiUbaldo says.

Fitness friends

In 2015, Rothkopf entered a post-rehab fitness program at LVHN Fitness– Cedar Crest. Since then she’s arrived every Tuesday and Thursday for a blood pressure and heart-rate check with exercise physiologist Jennifer Cole, followed by a customized fitness regimen.

“It’s important that patients continue exercising after rehab,” Cole says. “Our fitness program has staff to help, but it’s more independent than rehab.”

Just as important is the camaraderie that develops among participants.

“Spending time with people my age who’ve also had heart problems is a big part of my life,” says Rothkopf. “Exercise makes me feel better, but socializing is also important. Sometimes we even get together outside class. I’d be lost without this group.”

– Sidney Stevens

Related Conditions: Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)
Related Services: Aortic Valve Surgery, Defibrillator/Pacemaker