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Cardiac rehab offers renewed hope to patients everywhere

Latest research shows every session of cardiac rehab lowers patient risk of repeat major adverse cardiac event by two per cent, and the benefits are endless

After serving as a firefighter with Toronto Fire Services for nearly 35 years, in 2010, Paul Moffatt decided to retire early, putting his mental and physical wellbeing ahead of his distinguished career. 

Little did Moffatt know that just two and a half years later, despite being active and physically fit, he would have to go through cardiac surgery.  

Moffatt was diagnosed with Polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR), an inflammatory disorder that causes muscle pain and stiffness – so much so, that he needed help getting dressed.

When cutting the grass one day, Moffatt experienced severe heart burn and visited his doctor, where he was also diagnosed with high blood pressure. After going through multiple diagnostic tests, he discovered he had four blockages in his heart and immediately underwent quadruple coronary bypass surgery. 

Shortly after, he ended up at the cardiac rehab (CR) program at Toronto Rehab, where he says his life changed forever. 

Paul Moffatt in his Toronto Fire Services uniform.

“I realized how many benefits I was getting from the program. It’s not just about walking the track. It’s about all the information clinicians give you about your medications, the importance of staying fit, managing stress, eating a healthy diet, and so much more,” he says. 

This is where KITE Senior Scientist Dr. Sherry Grace’s research comes in. Her latest study, Dose of Cardiac Rehabilitation to Reduce Mortality and Morbidity: A Population-Based Study, found that every single session of rehab lowers a patient’s risk of having another major adverse cardiovascular event, such as a repeat heart attack, stroke and arrhythmia, by two per cent. 

Women-focused cardiac rehab

A big part of Grace’s research also covers women-focused cardiac rehab, a type of CR that is incredibly beneficial to women everywhere.

“Women often have worse outcomes after suffering a major adverse cardiac event, and are more susceptible to death than their male counterparts,” Grace says. If women don’t enroll in CR programs and get the treatment they need, research shows that they end up in hospital for longer periods of time and can face depression and anxiety.

So, what is women-focused cardiac rehab, exactly? In this environment, at least half of the patients in the class are women and there’s at least one staff member who is a woman. Here, female patients feel like they have a safe space to discuss issues that pertain specifically to them, and the types of exercises are tailored for their benefit.

The benefits of both standard CR and women-focused CR are clear. Patients gain a better quality of life and are less likely to fall victim to heart disease.

While it might not sound like much at first, her research reveals that the benefits are linear: 12 weeks of CR can lower revascularization and 36 weeks of it can lower the risk of death.  

“Essentially, the more rehab a patient does, the better,” she says. 

Grace, an advocate for access to quality cardiac rehab, recently conducted an audit of CR programs around the world. Now, she and her colleagues are working to make changes based on the findings of their audit, including launching an international registry.

As part of their advocacy efforts, the team is reaching out to clinicians and educating patients about the benefits of continued CR- including women’s-focused CR -on the individual health and wellbeing of patients. 

 “There’s a general misconception that cardiac rehab is just exercise,” says Grace. “It’s so much more than that. Cardiac rehab programs can be highly tailored and specialized, where staff work with individuals to maximize outcomes and help patients achieve their individual goals.” 

Some patients feel forever indebted to the program and work to pay it forward. Moffatt is one of them. After completing the program, he became a UHN patient partner and is a volunteer with the program, where he helps others who’ve had the same life-altering experience stay motivated and on-course. 

Moffatt pictured here in his hockey jersey.

“As someone who has walked the walk, I want to be there for others and help them succeed.” 

The next step in Grace’s research is determining what the standard dose of cardiac rehab and best practices should be for both traditional and women-focused CR, in order to ensure all programs around the world benefit patients consistently.