Whether you participate in a formal cardiac rehab program or you're on your own once you leave the hospital, you will rely on a team of people to help you get back to good health after a heart event.
What your team looks like will vary depending on your circumstances and where you live, but here's an overview.
Your family doctor - will continue to monitor your overall health care. It's important that your doctor is aware of your situation, treatment, and medications. Make sure your family doctor is being copied on all medical records.
Your cardiologist - will monitor your heart health. He or she is trained and certified to diagnose and treat disorders of the circulatory system and the cardiovascular system — the heart, arteries, and veins - including heart failure, heart attack, cardiomyopathy (disease or disorder of the heart muscle), and high blood pressure.
Your situation will determine how often you see your cardiologist. Once you are doing well, you may only see him or her once a year.
Your surgeon (if you had surgery) - performed your heart surgery and may follow up with specialized care after surgery.
Your cardiac rehab nurse - will coordinate and oversee your cardiac rehab program. She or he will promote cardiac wellness by helping you alter your lifestyle (such as helping you with decreasing stress, eating more healthily, controlling cholesterol and blood pressure, exercising safely including monitoring you during physical workouts to prevent overexertion and/or injury, and stopping smoking) - all with a goal of lessening the risk of cardiovascular disease and its complications and to minimize the lasting effects of cardiac events.
Your nutritionist/dietician - will advise you on your dietary needs. If you participate in a formal cardiac rehab program you will likely have the opportunity to meet with a dietician plus attend some classes on heart healthy eating. If you don't have access to a cardiac rehab program, check out our smart heart eating section. Check with your local health clinic or ask your family doctor about local resources and counseling.
A psycholgist or psychiatrist - (if required) will help you make a mental adjustment to your new state. Many people experience feelings of depression, loss of confidence, and fear after a heart event. You may feel that your body has betrayed you. You may feel scared about the future. If you feel that you just can't cope, you may benefit from some assistance from a psychologist or psychiatrist.
Your exercise physiologist or coach - will help you resume (or start) regular exercise. During your rehab you will exercise under supervision and following a set program that progresses as you recover.
Your exercise specialist can help you plan a long term exercise program that you can continue on your own. For additional information on heart friendly exercise ideas, check out our Smart Heart Exercise section.
Your pharmacist - will monitor your medications. Get to know your pharmacist. Ideally, you should get all your meds at the same pharmacy so your pharmacist will be familiar with your history and what medications you take. This is important to ensure that you are not taking medications that will contraindicate each other.
A social worker - may or may not be part of your cardiac rehab program team depending on your situation. You may require the help of a social worker as you work through emotional, work, or financial issues related to your heart disease. A social worker can help by referring you to various community agencies for assistance.
Benefits case manager - If you are receiving disability benefits/income replacement while you recover or beyond, you will most likely have a benefits case manager assigned to you. This person will monitor your recovery and, if applicable, make recommendations regarding your eventual return to work. My case manager is the person who suggested I get a dog - to ensure I got out walking everyday and so that I wouldn't fall back into my workaholic ways once I returned to work!
Your pastor/chaplain/minister - Your faith can be an important source of spiritual support during your recovery, especially if you already have an established relationship with your church.
Your friends and family - Although friends and family appear at the bottom of this list, they top the list in terms of importance. These are the people who can provide you with much needed encouragement, support, and motivation on a day-to-day basis.
When I came home from the hospital after my first heart event, it was the day before Christmas. My family and friends rallied round and we had the most wonderful holiday season, with me holding court from the couch in the family room. Over the next months as I had a rocky recovery, it was my family and dear friends that kept me going.