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Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - Methodist's Cardiac Rehab Gets 80-Year-Old Golfer Back into the Swing of Things
Billy Byrd of Oak Ridge was NOT interested in going to cardiac rehab after suffering a heart attack and undergoing triple heart bypass surgery last spring.

            “He sat down for his initial assessment and told me, ‘I don’t need this. I’m just here because my doctor told me to come. The only thing I want to do is get back to playing golf,’” said Cora Deavours, a registered nurse with Methodist Medical Center’s cardiopulmonary rehab program.

            “I was apprehensive. I knew nothing about this,” admitted Byrd, who retired from Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) in 1994. “I worked for 38 years in nuclear medicine and cancer research – the physiology of cancer, detection of cancer, irradiation of cancer, all of those things.

“A lot of stuff in your life doesn’t turn out the way you want, but this (cardiac rehab) turned out better than I expected. It’s made a difference in my life despite the ‘mean girls’ who make you work,’” he joked. Actually, it might have been because of the so-called mean girls on the rehab staff.


Goals of Cardiac Rehab

The goals of cardiac rehab are to help patients change lifestyle behaviors while reducing risk factors for disease progression and lessening the impact of the disease on their quality of life. The main components of the program are a medical assessment, an individualized exercise routine, cardiac risk factor modification, education and psychosocial support. In the initial phase, the staff closely monitors patients.

People who have had coronary artery bypass or valve surgery, a heart attack, angioplasty, stent placement, angina, congestive heart failure or cardiomyopathy will benefit from attending cardiac rehab. Byrd had no personal history of heart problems, but his mother and two brothers died of sudden heart attacks.


Individualized Care

            Byrd stayed with the program, despite his initial reluctance, and started to enjoy going to rehab three times a week. After completing 36 visits of the monitored rehab program he joined the maintenance phase of cardiac rehab. His current exercise routine, which the staff developed specifically for him, consists of walking for several minutes to warm up, riding an exercise bike, lifting weights, climbing steps, using the upper body arm ergometer, walking on a treadmill, and using the abdominal/ back extensions machine.

He has made at least one other important lifestyle change. “I grew up on a tobacco farm and smoked, chewed and whatever all my life. When I had the heart attack, I was only smoking mild cigars,” he said. Now, even the cigars are gone.

“I feel 1000 times better,” he said. “My heart rate is good for an 80-year-old guy. I just wish my golf score was as good.”


Life-saving Surgery

            Golf is an important part of Byrd’s life. He was enjoying a long weekend of golf, with his wife, when he had a heart attack in April 2010. “I was 273 miles from here when I started feeling that something wasn’t right. I thought I would recognize a heart attack – the shooting pains and the feeling that someone is sitting on your chest – but I didn’t have the symptoms you always hear about. I just didn’t feel right.”

Even so, he played 18 holes of golf the following day and returned to his home in Oak Ridge two days later. He did not call his family doctor until four days after he began to feel ill. The doctor saw him the same day.

“When they hooked up the electrodes and started whispering, I knew something bad was wrong,” Byrd recalled. His family doctor sent him to the emergency room at Methodist Medical Center, and Byrd was referred to Dr. William Hall, a cardiovascular surgeon on Methodist’s medical staff. Dr. Hall performed triple bypass surgery.


Life-enhancing Rehab

Not surprisingly, he was delighted with the results of surgery. “The hospital is great, and Bill Hall is such a marvelous surgeon. He does a great job…and the food is fantastic, although it’s a little bland if you’re a heart patient,” Byrd said. “You really don’t know what we’ve got here in Oak Ridge until you’re in a crisis. I was in a crisis, although I didn’t know it at the time.”

Having survived his immediate medical problem, Byrd wanted to return to his normal activities. “Besides golf, I shoot pool several times a week. I mow my own grass – and don’t use a riding lawn mower -- and I love to grow wild flowers and give them away. I thought all of that would be enough exercise,” he said. Dr. Hall knew that there was no substitute for cardiac rehab and referred Byrd to the Methodist cardiac rehab program.

“The staff is great. They got me going again pretty fast,” Byrd said. Still, he frequently asked his doctors, “’When can I mow my grass? When can I hit a golf ball?’” They said they didn’t know, but that I would know when I was ready,” he added. “Getting into the rehab, I can see why the cardiologists can’t tell you. There is so much difference in the patients.”


Physical and Emotional Support

People experience the physical and emotional distress related to heart attacks in different ways, Deavours said. They often experience anxiety and depression, and the cardiac rehab program helps them find ways to cope and rebuild their lives. It also gives them opportunities to meet and share their concerns and triumphs with people in similar circumstances.

Byrd enjoys the camaraderie at the cardiac rehab center. “While a lot of the patients went through much worse than I did, we still share some of the same problems.”

One year after beginning cardiac rehab, the formerly reluctant patient said that he plans to continue the maintenance program at Methodist cardiac rehab for as long as possible. “For an 80-year-old man, I feel like I’m back.”


For More Information

Methodist’s Cardiopulmonary Rehab Program sees patients referred by their physician. To learn more about services, call (865) 835-5238or go online to