If I Knew then What I Know Now: The Importance of Cardiac Rehab

Heart Patient

By Sheldon Brafford, former open-heart surgery patient.

I recently completed the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program at Henry Ford Allegiance Health, following my open-heart surgery. The quadruple bypass was a success, and I am almost fully recovered now. But I believe I could have avoided surgery all together, if I’d had the advantage of Cardiac Rehabilitation when I had my first heart attack 10 years ago.

Having a heart attack and realizing your vulnerability is life-changing. But I guess I never really changed my lifestyle after my first heart attack. I have always been active, playing hockey and hunting. My cholesterol was pretty low, and I ate a balanced diet—or at least I thought I did. With a family history of heart disease—my dad, uncle and four cousins all had it—I understand now that I needed to pay more attention to my diet.

When I started the Cardiac Rehabilitation program at Henry Ford Allegiance Health, I was really surprised about how much I didn’t know about the effects of food and medications on my heart. The program helped me realize how much salt I had been consuming from processed foods and what that was doing to my blood pressure. I also learned that a balanced diet includes a lot more vegetables and fruit than I had been eating. As I make these changes now, I’m noticing how much better I feel.

Cardiac rehab also includes supervised and monitored exercise. After a heart attack or open-heart surgery, it’s comforting to know that a professional is keeping tabs on you, so you don’t overdo your activity. That way, you can build your strength and endurance safely. Just as important, the program teaches you about managing stress, quitting smoking if you need to, and other ways to keep your heart healthy.

My advice to anyone who’s had a heart attack or heart surgery is this: Don’t go back to the same way you were doing things and expect better results. Ask your doctor about a cardiac rehabilitation program. At Henry Ford Allegiance Health, the program starts when you are still in the hospital. How far you will go with it is up to you. I recommend taking full advantage of whatever your program offers. What you do now might make a big difference in 10 years. I wish I’d known that before.

Learn about the heart care services available at Henry Ford Allegiance Health, including open-heart surgery and the Cardiac Rehabilitation program.


How have you rebuilt your strength after a heart attack or other heart procedure? Did you complete a cardiac rehabilitation program? Please share your experience below.

The best chance of surviving a heart attack is to act quickly. Do not wait for symptoms to go away. Call 9-1-1 immediately, and chew an aspirin while waiting for the ambulance to arrive.