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Prince Edward County has heart – lots and lots of heart

Prince Edward Cattlemen's Association members barbecue hamburgers at a lunch Tuesday to launch a multi-event fundraising campaign for Prince Edward Family Health Team patients in the new cardiac health program.

When Duff Sprague was working on plans for a new cardiac rehabilitation program, the Prince Edward Family Health Team executive director never imagined he would be among its first patients.
Sprague underwent open heart surgery in January to treat an aortic aneurism. He’s now among the first 10 patients to participate in PEACH – the Prince Edward Ambulatory Cardiac Health program.

“Our doctors had identified a need for a cardiac rehab program a couple of years ago and we were working on the plan,” said Sprague. “When we were applying for the money from the ministry I had no idea I was going to be in the first cardiac group, so you can imagine how much I really appreciate the program and all the efforts to keep me healthy and keep me going.”

Prior to its launch, the cardiac rehab program at Hotel Dieu in Kingston was the closest option.

Roughly 1,600 Prince Edward County residents have some kind of coronary diagnosis in a year – and Dr. Steve Blanchard – one of the designers of the County’s new cardiac program – says that’s worse than average. There’s a few areas where the County numbers are worse than average he says. Among them are coronary disease, obesity and screen time (televisions, computers, phones) for both children and adults.

But, patients of the Prince Edward Family Health Team’s physicians and nurse practitioners can now benefit from local cardiac rehabilitation and, thanks to community partnerships with the South East Community Care Access Centre (SE CCAC) and the Prince Edward County Cattlemen’s Association, the program is poised to service even more patients.
The first phase of this program launched in mid-April and was made possible through Ministry of Health funding to the PEFHT for a part-time cardiac care RN and a part-time community health planner.

Family Health Team clinical leaders Dr. Phil Wattam, head of the Team’s Congestive Heart Failure Clinic, Clinical Nurse Coordinator Mary Stever and family physician Dr. Steve Blanchard designed the program.

The PEFHT established a relationship with Prince Edward Fitness and Aquatic Centre (PEFAC) for use of its facility at a reduced fee and the program received its first patients in mid-April.

“The establishment of a life-long habit of exercise is a tremendously potent and cost effective method of reducing the risk of further cardiac events,” says Blanchard. “PEFAC stepped forward at the outset to provide facilities for our program. They have been enthusiastic partners and we are very grateful for their ongoing help and support. If participants have the option to continue with their new fitness habit in a local facility that they have become familiar with during their formal rehab program, then they are more likely to stick with the exercise lifestyle change so essential to a successful cardiac rehab intervention.”

The cardiac rehab program at Hotel Dieu in Kingston was previously the closest option, but Blanchard said “few County residents were able to travel to Kingston multiple times each week to take advantage of the critically important health benefits reaped from participation.

“The program is modeled after those in larger centres.  We have been very fortunate to have both Ottawa Heart Institute Cardiac Rehab and Hotel Dieu Cardiac Rehab as mentors for our program.” says Mary Stever. “Our team has visited both programs and they have been generous with time and materials. We will work in close collaboration with Hotel Dieu cardiac rehab through monthly video conferences for ongoing training and problem solving.”

John, who is in his 60s, began the program in April. When he started, he was not able to be on the treadmill for very long due to leg pain. He is now able to complete 30 minutes on the treadmill without taking a break.  He has found the program to be life changing and is now looking forward to taking out his boat.
“I haven’t had it out in two years” says John, “and to be perfectly honest, I thought that was something I may never do again.”
John would not have been able to participate in rehabilitation if Kingston was his closest option. “It would have been too much effort for me to go to Kingston,” he says “I just didn’t feel well enough.”

Diane, who is in her 50s, was also referred in April and looks forward to her sessions.
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I am so happy the program is offered in Picton. I went back to work and there would be no way of doing the Kingston cardiac rehab.  Since beginning the program my quality of life both mentally and physically has improved.  Anyone facing cardiac recovery who has the opportunity to do this should, I highly recommend it.”

PEFHT Cardiac Rehabilitation RN Cathy Brose is thrilled with the early results.
“I see the smiles on patient faces when they arrive and even during exercise.  In only eight weeks we already have seen improvement in strength, balance and energy with every participant”.

Dr. Wattam explains the importance of access to this program. “Comprehensive cardiac rehabilitation provides many benefits to our patients. Not only does it provide much needed education and resources , but participating in a structured exercise program while concurrently modifying all cardiac risk has been shown to reduce the chances of dying following cardiac events. Moreover, cardiac rehab improves the quality of life of participants and increases the likelihood of patients returning to work and valued leisure activities.”

The local program already had a waiting list and the Family Health Team intends to expand the program to serve more patients and to get them in even sooner following their cardiac event. But there were two impediments: The program needed physiotherapy, for which Family Health Teams are not funded, and a second location outfitted to accommodate those patients unable to climb the stairs at the Fitness Centre.

The call for help was soon answered by the South East CCAC to provide much-needed physiotherapy services and by the Prince Edward Cattlemen Association which has offered to raise funds for the expensive exercise equipment at a new site – yet to be announced.

This year as the 10th anniversary, the Steer Show Committee of the Cattlemen’s Association wanted to find a special community project to support.
“As the Prince Edward Family Health Team is recognized in the medical community as a model for establishing team-based primary care, the Cattlemen have chosen to set our largest fundraising goal ever, $50,000, to purchase the equipment for an exercise site dedicated to high risk patients on an outpatient basis,” said Dr. John Hancock, local veterinarian and Steer Show co-chair. “The steer show and fund raising committee are well under way in planning a number of fund raising events for the summer. Our desire is to promote the Cattlemen’s and, more generally, the whole agricultural community as active partners in ensuring strong and vibrant health care services are available in our community.”
Planned events include a beef dinner and dance at the Prince Edward Arena Hall in July, and a gala four course dinner with wine pairings and a charity auction in August. The campaign will conclude with auction proceeds from a committee purchased steer and a significant portion of the price of all steer show entries auctioned immediately after the show at the Picton Fair.

“With a new location, and new equipment, the program will be available to the most vulnerable and recent cardiac patients, while ongoing rehab and hopefully lifelong fitness will continue for program graduates,” said Blanchard.

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