A small calendar in the cardiopulmonary rehab room at HealthQuest in Smithfield has the Rev. Dannie Hayes’ name on it. And for every day the retired pastor from Pine Level comes to exercise, a gold star goes up.
Hayes, 64, had quadruple-bypass heart surgery in February 2013. Last April, he started the hospital’s rehab program and finished in July. But he so much enjoyed the experience, he says, that he returned to join the wellness and fitness center. He’s now lost 35 pounds and comes three mornings a week to exercise with others in the rehab program.
“I gained strength and confidence, and I found a fantastic support group,” Hayes said. “They weren’t pushy, just reassuring. It’s one of the greatest things that has happened to me.”
Hayes was pastor at Pine Level Baptist Church for 12 years before poor health forced him to retire in January 2012. The work had been his passion and calling, and giving it up was hard, he said.
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Even before his cardiologist discovered the blockages, Hayes had been suffering with back pain caused by osteoarthritis and twisting of his spine. Specialists have said they can do little to correct his condition, he said.
“Some days I wake up, and I’m in so much pain,” Hayes said. “If I didn’t have this outlet, it would be so much easier for me to stay home, nurture the pain and not get any exercise at all. I’m so thankful that I have that connection.”
Melissa Speas, coordinator of Johnston Health’s cardiopulmonary rehab program, says some patients arrive apprehensive about exercise, particularly those who have had bypass surgery. “Many are afraid to walk to the mailbox and back,” she said.
But as they go through rehab, she said, they see that they can do the tasks they once enjoyed, and they regain their independence.
Because it’s a supervised program, a staff member and physician are always close by, Speas says. “They also get nutritional counseling, education and stress management – tools to help them maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle once they graduate,” she said.
Speas says the program graduates about 164 patients every year, and about half to two-thirds of them return either as HealthQuest or SilverSneakers members.
“It turns into a social support group,” Speas said. “They build a relationship with staff and with one another.”
The program is one of 39 in the state certified by the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehab. The staff, which includes a nurse, respiratory therapist, exercise specialist and dietician, receives high patient-satisfaction scores.
“We enjoy making our patients feel special, and there’s a lot of one-on-one attention, even within the group setting,” Speas said. “That’s important to us.”
In class, Hayes says, he likes to encourage the new patients. “They’re struggling, just like I once did,” he said. “And we talk about their journey.”
He says the calendar is one of the many ways the rehab staff has made him feel special. It’s also a way to prove to his wife, Rose, that he’s exercising three days a week. “She’s told them to hold me accountable,” he said. “And they do.”