Jim K Second-Chance Specialists Save His Life: Read Jim's Story

"Cardiac rehabilitation gives patients another shot at life after their hearts fall short​"

Feeling dizzy and lightheaded while cutting his lawn, Hamilton Square’s Jim Kenney headed to his porch to rest. On his way, Jim collapsed in his front yard.

“It was like two valves opened at the bottom of my feet and the life drained out of me,” remembers Jim, who was 58 when he suffered his first heart attack in May 2011.

With his wife at work and his cell phone in the backyard, Jim was terrified.

“There was not a soul in sight, and I collapsed behind a bush. I thought to myself, ‘no one will see me.’ So I rolled myself over and toward the street.”

That’s when a car stopped and a good samaritan called 911. Jim was rushed to the emergency department at RWJ Hamilton where, within minutes, he suffered a second heart attack.

“Jim had a critical blockage at the beginning of his left anterior artery; known as the ‘widow maker,’” says Edward Wingfield, MD, a cardiologist with Hamilton Cardiology. “This prevents blood flow to 65 percent of the heart muscle, and in many cases, results in sudden cardiac death unless blood flow is restored by prompt cardiac intervention.”

Road to Recovery

Following an emergent cardiac angioplasty and stent procedure performed by Dr. Wingfield, Jim entered the cardiac rehabilitation program at RWJ Hamilton.

“The goal of cardiac rehab is to help patients recover after a heart attack or heart surgery, address or reduce risk factors for heart problems, and adopt healthy lifestyle changes,” says Dr. Wingfield.

Once the patient has left the hospital, the goal is to get stronger and learn how to avoid future heart-related problems. RWJ Hamilton’s medically supervised outpatient cardiac rehabilitation program includes individualized counseling, education and exercise designed to help each patient recover at his or her own pace.

“After a heart attack or other cardiac event, patients can be unsure of their exercise tolerance,” says Dr. Wingfield. “A monitored program, like cardiac rehab, provides patients with the confidence to begin exercising.”

A recent study by the Mayo Clinic found patients who participate in cardiac rehabilitation after having heart interventions such as angioplasty, stents and clot-busting drugs have a 45 percent lower mortality rate.

“It’s real simple; patients who take responsibility for their own health and make lifestyle improvements can stay alive longer,” Dr. Wingfield adds.

A Believer is Born

Jim describes his first impression of cardiac rehab as ‘a waste of time,’ but it didn’t take long for him to become a believer.

"I probably walked a mile or two a day because of work. I didn’t think I needed rehabilitation,” says Jim. “But the truth is it (cardiac rehab) has significantly reduced my ailments.”

Three times a week, Jim works out in RWJ Hamilton’s cardiac rehab department, following an exercise program developed and supervised by cardiac nurses and an exercise physiologist. After three months of rehabilitation, Jim no longer experiences shortness of breath, leg cramps or low stamina.

“I was only able to walk three minutes on the treadmill when I started. Now I’m up to 15. I feel great.”

In addition to changing his diet, Jim, formerly a two-pack-a-day smoker, reduced his use of tobacco. Extensive clinical studies have shown smoking to be among the most potent risk factors for heart disease, contributing to elevated blood pressure and raising the risk of clots.

“It’s dirty, and it has a tremendous long-term effect on your body. I knew I had to try and quit,” Jim says. “A heart attack — a widow maker no less — really makes you look at yourself; what you’re doing or not doing. It changes your lifestyle.”