Cardiac Rehab Changes Glenn – Heart, Body and Mind

February 13, 2017

August 18th, 2016 started out like any other day for veteran Glenn Balistreire. “I was lying in bed watching the Olympics with my wife,” he recalls, “when I felt a pain in my shoulder.” He got up and went outside and walked around for a bit, then came back inside and collapsed on the bed. Glenn’s wife rushed him to Watertown Regional Medical Center’s Emergency Department, where Dr. Kathleen Hargarten diagnosed him with a heart attack.

At only 45 years old, the heart attack came as a complete shock to Glenn. Looking back, he recognizes that he had a number of risk factors: he was diabetic, he smoked, he was overweight, and he had a family history of heart disease. Disabling arthritis caused by back and neck injuries limited his mobility and made it difficult for him to exercise, further complicating his situation.

After seeing WRMC cardiologist Dr. Salim Shammo, Glenn was sent cardiac rehab, a medically supervised program that provides exercise, education and support to those living with heart disease. In cardiac rehab, patients are supervised by clinical exercise physiologists who use special equipment to monitor their vital signs while they exercise. “It’s great, because it lets you know how far you can push,” he said. He also found the variety of exercise equipment helpful. “It provided me with more options for adaptive exercise,” he says. “If I was having trouble with one type of machine, I could try a different one.”

The nutrition component of cardiac rehab was helpful to both Glenn and his wife. “We had a one-on-one consult with [WRMC dietitian] Jackie [Wilkinson] and learned what to eat and what not to eat,” says Glenn. “My wife helps keep me on track with food. I’ve also gotten mindful about reading labels.” He’s discovered that the advertising on a package doesn’t always match up with the nutrition information on the label. “By reading the labels, I can make the better choice.”

“Everyone in cardiac rehab was awesome,” says Glenn. “They were very knowledgeable. Either they knew the answers to my questions or they were happy to find them out for me. And I had a lot of questions. ‘Why me?’ ‘Why now?’”

Cardiac rehab, says Glenn, “is a lot more than just exercise and learning how to eat. It’s almost like a therapy. A cardiac event can cause post-traumatic stress, and talking about it really helps.

I was the youngest person in my cardiac rehab session,” he continues. “I learned a lot from the older participants. I would ask them what they do now that they didn’t do before. Everyone was willing to share their story. There were also other veterans in the program, and we were able to share our stories with each other. It helps to get it out. You empathize with each other.”

Three months after his heart attack, Glenn graduated from cardiac rehab. He has lost 40 pounds, stopped smoking, exercises regularly in his home gym, and significantly cut his soda and caffeine intake. “I feel a lot better,” he says. “I still eat everything; I just watch how much I eat. It’s a new way of life for me, but it’s still a daily struggle.” The love and support of his family helps him stay motivated. He has two grandchildren, with one more on the way. “I want to be around to see my grandkids get married,” he says.  

When asked how this experience has changed him, Glenn pauses. “I have a better outlook on life, knowing I might not have been here,” he says thoughtfully. “I’m not always looking at the negative. I’m grateful to be here. I cherish the time I have with my kids and grandkids. They make my heart melt, and it makes me glad that I still have that heart.”