By Marjorie Woodfin

Pilot staff writer

Those who have been involved in cardiac rehabilitation, say that it is a life-changing experience. Of course the heart attack that probably drew them into rehab is in itself a heart changing experience.

During a recent visit to the cardiac rehab center at Curry General Hospital, Brookings resident Mike Crow, said, andquot;Cardiac rehab is wonderful!andquot;

Amy Keusink, director of the cardiac rehab center said, andquot;When Mike first came in he could hardly walk through the door without stopping to catch his breath. Now he can exercise for an hour at a time without stopping.andquot;

Crow, a heart attack victim, said about his condition when he first came to rehab, andquot;I thought I was a goner.andquot;

Keusink responded, andquot;Mike, you're an icon, an inspiration.andquot;

She explained that during his 36 weeks of cardiac rehab regimen, in addition to his increase in strength and activity, Crow lost 30 pounds and two inches around his belly. andquot;I had to go out and buy new pants, and they're too loose now,andquot; he said as he demonstrated by pulling at the waistband of his jeans.

Keusink emphasized, andquot;That's belly, not waist.andquot; She went on to explain that avoiding andquot;potbellyandquot; as it is colloquially called is directly related to heart health. She added, andquot;All of his health numbers improved. I give him and his lovely wife credit for coming in more than three days every week. He's done an extraordinary job of getting up off the ground.andquot;

Heart health and good health numbers are what Keusink and her associates, Shelley Carpenter and Donna Kearn, concentrate on improving in all of their clients.

andquot;To watch the difference it makes in people in 30 to 36 visits is exciting,andquot; Keusink said. andquot;It's our job to give people the tools they need to change their lives, to continue with a positive life.andquot;

David Twining, a client on his second visit working out in the rehab clinic, had open-heart surgery only five weeks earlier. He said, andquot;I am truly motivated because my son passed away just three months after heart surgery.andquot; He went on to relate his family history of a number of deaths resulting from heart attacks, and said about his heart surgery, andquot;I got a wake up call.andquot;

andquot;You can't change your genetics, height, or eye color, but you can change your lifestyle,andquot; Keusink said.

Twining said his cardiologist recommended the rehab and his local physician gave him a referral, which makes it possible to bill his insurance company for the treatment.

Crow said, andquot;Medicare covers up to 36 visits.andquot;

All patients are carefully monitored during the exercise time, with three wires attached to areas of their body reporting to a computer screen where Keusink and her cohorts can watch the EKG of five clients at one time.

Each patient has an individual regimen prescribed specifically for him or her.

andquot;Some people misunderstand and think that everyone gets the same thing, but here we have an opportunity to get to know each patient individually.andquot;

About the Gold Beach cardiac rehab clinic, Keusink said, andquot;It's probably the smallest cardiac unit in the country - or the world. And there's something special about being small.andquot;

In contrast, Keusink said, andquot;At Duke we had up to 200 patients in rehab.andquot; Keusink's early training and work was at Duke University where she earned her Advanced Cardiac Life Support certificate.

Carpenter, who grew up in Gold Beach, obtained her education at Lynn-Benton Community College in Albany. andquot;I was always interested in health and wellness, and I was always a PE type,andquot; she said. andquot;From classes in health and wellness, I progressed to the next step in February 2006, working in the health and wellness program, and from there, the following September I came to the cardiac rehab clinic.andquot;

Kearn, retired from nursing for 30 years, is a volunteer. andquot;She is wonderful,andquot; Crow said, enthusiastically.

Keusink emphasized that, not only are all three women highly trained in the use of the monitoring devices, but also the clinic is only seconds away from the hospital emergency room.

Crow explained that, in addition to the realization that the program could actually improve his health exponentially, the camaraderie with the technicians and the other clients was extremely enjoyable and beneficial. He said it helped to share life with those who had experienced a similar life-changing experience and to encourage each other.

The program monitors all aspects of a client's health. andquot;I'm a patient advocate,andquot; Keusink said. andquot;I'm constantly making progress reports to doctors regarding meds. Some patients are over-medicated. Daily reports are generated for each one.andquot;

Life can continue to be active and exciting even after heart attacks and heart surgery for those willing to make the effort to change patterns of exercise and diet. The charts of clients who have participated in cardiac rehab prove it.

andquot;This is the only cardiac rehab and pulmonary rehab from Eureka to Coos Bay,andquot; Keusink said.

For information about the program, phone Keusink at Curry General Hospital, (800) 445-8085, or visit the clinic any Monday, Tuesday, or Thursday morning and get acquainted with Keusink, Carpenter, and Kearn.

Mike Crow insists, andquot;You'll be glad that you did.andquot;