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Cardiac Rehab Reduces the Potentially Devastating Effects of Heart Disease


Cardiac Rehabilitation Week, February 9-15, draws attention to the role of cardiac rehabilitation in reducing the potentially devastating effects of heart disease. The week also celebrates the many who have been saved by this program and the wonderful team of doctors, nurses, and therapists who have helped them.

George Semo, a retired Noble High School English teacher of 35 years, is one of the many success stories at Southern Maine Health Care (SMHC). George was generally healthy, he watched what he ate and he walked at least once a day with his wife for exercise. Then in March of 2013 he had a heart attack. On a Wednesday afternoon 10 months ago George was on his second walk of the day with his wife when he started lagging behind her as he became overwhelmingly exhausted. He disregarded it until that night when he was brushing his teeth before bed and had sudden discomfort in his chest. George thought through the symptoms he associated with a heart attack—pain or numbness in the arm and jaw and severe chest pain. He decided his symptoms didn’t seem to be that of a heart attack but agreed to his wife’s request to call his doctor first thing the next morning. 

The next morning George’s doctor sent him to the hospital where tests showed that George’s heart attack was still happening—and getting worse. George was given medication to dissolve the blood clot and underwent a cardiac catheterization. His doctor was able to determine the blockage had cleared and he would not have to undergo the planned angioplasty. The doctor informed George that his heart attack was caused by a piece of plaque breaking off which in turn created a blood clot and that blockage caused the heart attack.

In recovery George was instructed by his doctors that he could not do any physical activity—including his walks with his wife, lifting above 10 pounds, and driving—for several months. It was extremely hard for George to be inactive and rest, watching while his wife cleaned, cooked, did all the driving, mowed the lawn, and tended to all of the housework. The only thing worse than feeling helpless was his crippling fear induced by the thought of activity and the consequential stress on his heart causing another heart event that might not have as fortunate an ending.

Finally in June George’s doctors agreed that he was ready to start rehab and he found the team at the SMHC Cardiac Rehab Gym in Biddeford. His biggest fear after almost six months of recuperating was, “How are they going to know what I can handle?” George quickly learned in his first session and throughout his 24 sessions at the SMHC Cardiac Rehab Gym that safety is the team’s top priority. With blood pressure, blood sugar, and heart rate monitored before, after and during exercise, strict supervision, and structured programs for each participant catered to their health needs, safety is established on day one and maintained throughout. The ultimate goal of the program is to get people back to their lives safely.

“I highly recommend the program because once you undergo a heart event you need to get back to living your life but you are consumed by fear that it will happen again,” said Semo. “On your own you don’t know what you can and cannot do, but in the cardiac rehab program there are professionals to show you as well as teach you through educational classes that both I and my wife could attend.”

“The Cardiac Rehabilitation Gym and its team of professionals gives you your confidence back. Since graduating from the program I’ve been continuing to work out, feeling better than ever, and have lost 17 pounds. If I didn’t go through this program I would probably be a couch potato out of fear of another heart attack by doing the wrong thing or doing too much.”

The cardiac rehabilitation program is held at SMHC’s Medical Center in Sanford and at the Cardiopulmonary Wellness Center at SMHC’s Medical Center in Biddeford. It consists of a medically supervised program of exercise and education. You may qualify for the program if you have had a heart attack, open heart surgery, heart valve repair, diagnosis of angina, an angioplasty, or a heart transplant. Most insurances cover the cost of the program and there is financial assistance for those who qualify.

George’s story has a happy ending but many do not. About 600,000 people die of heart disease in the U.S. every year. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. Every year approximately 715,000 Americans have a heart attack. Taking action promptly when some is having a heart attack is essential in preventing heart damage, or even death. Many people don’t know the signs or ignore them if they aren’t as severe as they imagined they would be. The most common complaint of someone who has had a heart attack is thinking they have heartburn or indigestion. If you think you might be having a heart attack it is very important call 9-1-1 immediately. Do NOT drive yourself or have someone else drive you. Signs and symptoms of a heart attack include: chest pain or discomfort, upper body pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw or upper stomach, shortness of breath, nausea, lightheadedness, or cold sweats. Key factors that increase your risk for heart disease include: family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, being overweight/obese, poor diet, physical inactivity, excessive use of alcohol.

About Southern Maine Health Care
Southern Maine Health Care (SMHC) is a national award-winning healthcare system, including two acute care medical centers; one in Biddeford, Maine licensed for 150 beds and one in Sanford, Maine, licensed for 58 beds. SMHC offers excellent clinical care and a multi-specialty physician services group with medical offices providing outpatient care located in Biddeford, Kennebunk, Old Orchard Beach, Saco, Sanford and Waterboro. Eldercare services are provided through four sites located in Sanford. Non-emergency care is available at Walk-In Care centers in Saco and Waterboro. SMHC is Joint Commission accredited, Pathway to Excellence designated, state-licensed, and is a member of the MaineHealth system. To learn more visit or @smhcHealth on Twitter.

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