Seven months after his heart attack and the open heart surgery that ensued, Jeffrey Walker is in better shape than ever.

And it’s not just because doctors bypassed two of his arteries.

This whole rehab thing is amazing, so I took advantage of it. It’s either that or die at a younger age than I should, so I am going to go with the first one.

Jeffrey Walker
Heart attack survivor

With substantial help from Spectrum Health Medical Group’s Preventive Cardiology program, led by Thomas Boyden, MD, Walker is doing everything possible to prevent another heart attack.

He’s eating right. He’s exercising regularly. And he’s taking steps to relieve his stress.

“The whole idea of a preventive cardiology program is to take people who are at a high risk for heart disease and help them better understand and focus on what they can do to prevent it,” said Dr. Boyden, a cardiovascular specialist. “It helps us keep an eye on them and prevent their first heart attack or stroke, or even to save their lives.”

For people like Walker, who have already experienced a heart attack, Dr. Boyden said the program helps them focus on improving their cardiovascular health so they can avoid another incident.

The program includes medical care from a cardiologist, as well as coaching from dietitians, exercise specialists, nurses and a clinical psychologist.

Think of it as one-stop shopping for cardiac health.

Said Dr. Boyden: “The impetus for the program came from the idea that, if we are going to be a complete cardiac care center where we are committed to advanced therapy like heart transplant, then we need to put equal effort into preventing cardiovascular disease so people don’t reach that point.”

Lifestyle change

Walker wasn’t considered a high cardiovascular risk before his heart attack. But in the wake of his illness, he has soaked up everything the program has offered.

“I’m not kidding anybody—after open heart surgery you feel like crap,” Walker said. “But I decided to make the most of it. This whole rehab thing is amazing, so I took advantage of it. It’s either that or die at a younger age than I should, so I am going to go with the first one.”

Walker’s heart attack struck on April 1, just before his 60th birthday.

He had just finished a kick class at a local gym when he passed out. Thanks to the quick action of his wife, Mari Beth, and employees at the gym, he was treated with a defibrillator and taken to a Spectrum Health emergency room.

On April 3 he had open heart surgery to bypass two arteries, which were 90 and 95 percent blocked. He started his recovery with two months of cardiac rehabilitation at the preventive cardiology and rehab program.

“After having a heart attack, you don’t want to push the limits without having people around to support you and give feedback,” Walker said. “With the system the way it is, you would have to work pretty hard to mess it up.”

In addition to focusing on diet and exercise, the program also screens patients for depression and other aspects of psychological health that can affect cardiovascular health.

“We know that just treating high blood pressure and cholesterol isn’t as effective as treating the root cause,” Dr. Boyden said. “If we can help treat someone’s psychological problems, then we have a better chance of treating their cardiology problems as well.”

Metabolic wellness

Another preventive cardiology offering is the metabolic wellness program.

It’s a 12-week class that provides exercise opportunities, nutrition information, behavior modification techniques and stress management, said Lisa Sawyer, MS, CEP, manager of preventive cardiology and rehabilitation for Spectrum Health Medical Group.

When Daniel Baldwin signed up for the metabolic wellness program, he had stage three kidney disease and was a borderline diabetic with high cholesterol.

Now, his HDL—the good cholesterol—is at the highest level of his life and his creatinine levels are the best they’ve been since he was diagnosed with kidney disease in 2011. He also lost 40 pounds by cutting his portion size and exercising.

Baldwin said he has more weight to lose, but he has found the motivation to keep going—largely because of initiatives such as the metabolic wellness program.

“The biggest thing I have learned is that I have to continue to work out,” Baldwin said. “If I can just get to the gym for at least three times a week, I’m golden.”

And that’s just the lesson Dr. Boyden wants everyone to learn about good heart health.

It begins with you.

“My approach with most patients is that there’s more you can do for yourself than we can do for you through the medical system,” Dr. Boyden said.

Spectrum Health’s preventive cardiology and rehabilitation program is located at 2902 Bradford St. NE, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Call 616.486.6577 for more information.