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Christy and Greg RichCardiac Rehabilitation is an Important Key to Recovery

For Greg Rich, his marriage, his faith, and cardiac rehabilitation helped him get back his life and return to work.

Greg’s journey began in 1995 when he had a massive heart attack at the age of 37 in Hillsboro, Oregon. Greg’s wife, Christy Rich, recalls riding in the hospital elevator with Greg as they wheeled him away. “I heard them say, ‘Code Blue.’ I was in shock, this can’t be happening to Greg.”

The doctors saved his life with an emergency angioplasty to open blocked arteries in his heart, but he had lost a lot of heart muscle. “They called me the miracle boy,” says Greg. “It just wasn’t my time, and they did a great job.”

Greg and Christy Rich

Greg and Christy Rich

Greg struggled to get his energy back. “I had intense depression. I had been so active and all of a sudden all that stuff was off the table,” he recalls. Greg turned to his faith and remembered a passage in the Bible that reminds us that God numbers our days before we are born. “I realized I had to put it in His hands,” Greg says. “And that gave me great comfort.”

Fast forward to 2002 in Medford, Oregon. Greg’s cardiologist Brian Gross, MD, said Greg was at risk for going into ventricular fibrillation, or V-fib, an abnormal heart rhythm that can be fatal. He prescribed a defibrillator implant for Greg, and encouraged by his wife and daughters, Greg agreed. That turned out to be a good decision: Greg went into V-fib while biking. “We were so thankful he had the defibrillator,” Christy recalls.

Six years later, Greg’s journey took another turn when he experienced what his doctors called an electrical storm, a frequent, sputtering, racing heartbeat caused by misfires in the electrical impulses in his heart. The defibrillator was constantly shocking his heart back to a proper rhythm.

“I was at the movie theater and was shocked while sitting in my seat, shocked on the way up the aisle, and shocked again in the lobby. I went to the ground,” says Greg. Several medications were used to calm the storm and program adjustments were made to the defibrillator.

The storm ended, but the emotional damage had begun for Greg. “Fear had become a huge issue. Every time I went to do something I wondered if my heart would go into an irregular rhythm.”

Dr. Gross started Greg on cardiac rehabilitation at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center for a personalized exercise, diet, and education plan designed to help lower the risk of recurring heart trouble and help Greg return to an active lifestyle.

The rehabilitation nurses and exercise physiologists constantly monitored Greg’s respiration and heartbeat while exercising. “I was able to test my limits in a safe environment,” says Greg. “They were right beside me, saying I can work harder; I’m here; your heart rate looks good; nothing is going to happen.”

“For many, if not most, of our patients, recovery from a recent heart event is as much mental as it is physical,” says Sally Seibert, RN, Asante cardiac rehabilitation. “Rebuilding confidence is key to getting back to a normal life. This was very much the case for Greg.”

 “With Christy’s encouragement, Greg started to realize he was feeling better with each day of pushing himself a bit more,” says Beth Coker, exercise physiologist. “We could encourage him to get outside of the box he had put himself in. Fear is a big factor with our patients and Greg was able to overcome that and take back his life.”

 Greg agrees. “You are a team in rehabilitation. There is camaraderie with the patients and the staff. You might think you are handling it well, but you are not if you don’t open up, talk about it, and face your fears. When it comes to recovering from heart troubles, I encourage families to get counseling, and cardiac rehab is a must.”

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As the largest health care provider in nine counties, Asante provides comprehensive medical care to more than 600,000 people throughout southern Oregon and northern California. Our facilities include Asante Ashland Community Hospital in Ashland, Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center in Medford, Asante Three Rivers Medical Center in Grants Pass, Asante Physician Partners and additional health care partnerships throughout the region.