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Focus on: Cardiac Rehabilitation
By: MossRehab Admin
Sep 13 2015

(Living Beyond Disabilities July 2014) - Pete Cosumano makes a living with his fingers.

During the day he cuts hair at his salon. In his off hours he sings and plays the saxophone. Activities that define his life.

So, when he lost the tips of eight of his fingers and part of one thumb (plus seven of his toes) due to complications following cardiac bypass surgery, it was a tough blow. One that might have knocked another man to his knees. Cosumano just kept going. 

“There wasn’t a whole lot of time to lay down and die,” he says. “Yeah, emotionally you get weak now and then, you break down, you shed some tears and then you realize that you let it out and it is time to get moving again.”

When Cosumano walked into MossRehab in Norristown, he had been through triple bypass surgery, nearly four weeks in a coma, three amputation operations, a procedure to close a remaining wound in his chest and weeks of physical and occupational therapy. He was 60 years old, just starting to get back to work and to his music. The next step was cardiac rehabilitation.

Cardiac rehab is a medically supervised exercise and education program for people with heart conditions. 

“Cardiac rehab candidates include individuals who have had a heart attack, angina, angioplasty or stent placement, bypass and valve replacement or repair, coronary artery disease, heart transplant or myopathy,” says Kelly Quinn, a cardiac rehab nurse coordinator at MossRehab’s Norristown location. 

MossRehab's Cardiac Rehab Program, which has been in operation for over 26 years, treats between 70 and 110 patients per week, providing them with a combination of cardiac and muscle building exercises.

“Often, patients come in with a high level of fatigue and decreased strength and balance,” says Quinn. “The cardiac exercise helps with their endurance as well as the muscle building resistance exercises. The resistance exercises help with the strengthening of the muscles and can assist with weight-loss goals.”

Equipment used in cardiac rehab includes treadmills, bikes, rowing equipment, dumbbells and light weights, elastic bands, exercise balls and more. Most patients are monitored for heart rate and rhythm, blood pressure and blood oxygenation.

Three times per week

Typically, patients come three times per week over the course of 12 weeks for a total of 36 sessions, working with nurses and exercise physiologists.

“Studies show that patients who complete all 36 sessions have dramatically decreased incidence of recurrent cardiac issues,” Quinn says. “Sessions are initially at least 30 minutes. We try to progress early in the rehab process to an hour of aerobic and strength exercise.”

In addition to exercise, the program offers education sessions that focus on nutrition, exercise guidelines, risk factor identification, stress reduction, blood pressure and cholesterol control.

Improvement in patients can be dramatic.

“In my 20 years of experience, this has been by far the most rewarding thing I’ve done,” Quinn says. “When patients first come in, they feel fearful and depressed and fatigued. They can’t sleep at night. They are afraid they are not going to wake up the next morning. Within 12 weeks they often are completely changed individuals.”

Cosumano, who completed his first 36 sessions and now returns two or three days a week for the maintenance program, couldn’t agree more.

“I feel every bit as strong as I did when I was in my 30s when I was very strong, going to the gym all the time,” he says. “I’m thankful everyday for the cardiac rehab. It made me feel like my old self again.”

It wasn’t always easy, with days where he wanted to turn the car around rather than face another workout, but he kept pushing.

“I would get there and start talking with a few people and see other people in the same boat and it kind of changed my attitude. It made me say, ‘Hey look, we all got lucky, and we’re [still] here, so let's take advantage of the situation and use it and get stronger again.’”

Prosthetic fingers

Cosumano has been fitted with prosthetic fingers that fit over and lengthen his fingers to assist in hair cutting, which helped put him back into his salon. He is back playing his saxophone as well and is in the process of rebuilding his band. 

Much of his motivation comes in response to the support he received while he was facing his surgeries and rehab. 

“My wife took care of me as if I was her newborn after I came out of all this, and helped me get on my feet,” he says. “You have to take a look at that type of family love unselfishly. You can’t say to yourself, ‘I don’t want to be here. I want to be dead because I can’t be normal like I used to be.’ Here these people sacrificed their time and their love for you to get better, and I knew I owed them that much to work hard enough and give back as much as I can.”

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