Daniel Willis: Rehabs with a lot of heart

Jay FitzOur Town Health

Daniel Willis is a licensed emergency medical professional and volunteer firefighter who has seen all types of emergency situations. However, he suddenly was on the receiving end of emergency medical care when aching jaw pain turned out to be a heart attack. Thanks to quick action and excellent care, Willis is recovering from his heart attack through cardiac rehabilitation at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center.

A Pain in the Jaw

Last October, Willis had a nagging jaw ache that he attributed to dental problems. Nothing else in his body was bothering him, but the jaw pain persisted on both sides. To ease his worried wife, he asked a colleague to perform an EKG test, or a simple procedure measuring the electrical activity of his heart.

As it turns out, despite not experiencing typical symptoms, the first responder was having a heart attack.  Looking back, Willis says, “If I’d had traditional signs like chest pain, profuse sweating, skin discoloration, or shortness of breath, I wouldn’t have waited two days to get checked out.”

Excellent Heart Care and Beyond

Willis was rushed by ambulance to Parkwest Medical Center in Knoxville, a sister facility to Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center. He was stabilized and received a stent, a device inserted into a vessel or artery to prevent blockages and keep the passageway open for blood flow.

He was hospitalized for three days. He recovered, but was shaken from the experience. Willis’ doctor prescribed him three months of cardiac rehabilitation. Cardiac rehab is a program for people who have had a heart attack or heart failure, have undergone heart surgery, or had a heart transplant, stent or balloon angioplasty.

The program includes monitored exercise and other guidance from healthcare professionals in order to help patients decrease the risk of future heart problems, build strength and stamina, and develop a regimen of exercise to control stress.

“I was exhausted during the first few weeks of rehab,” Willis recalls. “And nothing I did was super strenuous. But compared to what I can do now, it’s amazing how much of a difference it’s made.”

Building a Routine

Since November, Willis has arrived at 7 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for supervised exercise sessions at Fort Sanders Regional’s cardiac rehab gym. He began exercising at a slow pace and over time has increased the speed and difficulty of his training. He has also increased the amount of free weights that he lifts and the overall time spent exercising per session.

Willis speaks highly of the staff in the cardiac rehab program, who continue to monitor him, encourage him and cheer for him.

He says, “I feel 100 times better than I did before. As times goes on and I have built stamina back, I am so grateful for all of it. The staff and people who have helped me, the technology and medical care, all of it. I hope not to be on the other side of this ever again.”

Support and Goals

Willis, 54, says he has a lot of life left to live. The first responder has a loving wife, two grown children and seven grandchildren. He has been humbled by the entire experience, including adopting new habits and striving toward personal goals.

“I can tell you that this program does help. It seems so simple and basic, but as you continue to do it, you do feel a difference. If you apply yourself and embrace it, it does make for a better situation.”

A Healthier You

The goal of the program is to get patients back to regular daily life as soon as possible.

While you exercise, a health professional tracks your heart rate and rhythm, blood pressure, and symptoms. You will most likely exercise (walking, stationary bike riding, arm exercises) three to five times a week for 15 to 60 minutes each time, depending on your condition.

The program includes supportive goal setting with dietitians and counselors to help heal your body, manage a lifestyle that sets you up for success, and to ultimately be a healthier you.

More info here.

Information provided by marketing department of Covenant Health.

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