Cindy Palombo, RN works with veteran  TV and radio sportscaster and cardiac rehab “regular” Stan Savran.
The VOICE of UPMC Shadyside Spring/Summer 2012

“Cardiac Rehab Gave Me Back My Life”

How gifts for an exceptional cardiopulmonary rehab facility got sportscaster Stan Savran moving again.

Veteran TV and radio sportscaster Stan Savran still remembers how “petrified” he felt the first day he walked into the Lawrence N. Adler, MD Cardio-pulmonary Rehabilitation and Wellness Center. A diabetic for most of his life, Mr. Savran had always tried to stay fit and active. But in 2009, six weeks after heart surgery that involved eight bypasses, even gentle strolls on his level driveway drained him. His doctor urged him to enroll in cardiac rehab. Face to face with a treadmill, he felt frightened for his life.

“Cardiac rehab gave me back my life... They do amazing work and motivate everyone — workers and whiners.”
- Richard Abraham

“When Cindy Palombo, a terrific nurse, started the treadmill, I thought, ‘How am I going to do this?’ She told me, ‘Don’t worry. You are on a monitor and we’ll watch you like a hawk.’ Well, I was amazed at what I was able to do,” says Mr. Savran. “They were hard on me, but so supportive. When I received my diploma for completing the program, I was as proud of that accomplishment as of anything I’ve ever done in my life.”

Now Mr. Savran maintains his fitness as one of the many “regulars” at the Cardiopulmonary Rehab Center. This personal, welcoming place has strengthened the hearts, lungs, and bodies of thousands of people since its founding in 1974 by cardiologist and medical director Lawrence N. Adler, MD, a pioneer in recognizing the benefits of ongoing exercise to help people prevent and recover from heart problems.

Today the focus is on trying to prevent or postpone another cardiac event through exercise as well as lifestyle and nutrition counseling, according to manager Jon Ledyard, MS, MSOL, FABC. The program’s three phases cover education, evaluation, and counseling; a carefully monitored exercise regimen; and a follow-up, self-monitored exercise program that enables patients to maintain and improve their fitness levels.

A collaborative team of registered nurses, clinical exercise physiologists, and ambulation techs closely monitors and guides patients recovering from heart attacks, angioplasty or stents, bypass surgery, valve replacements, heart transplants, those with lung problems, and others who could benefit from a medically supervised exercise program.

A registered dietitian provides professional guidance and motivation to make the needed nutritional changes to aid weight loss, diabetes management, and heart-healthy eating.

“It’s like having a personal trainer and motivational psychologist who knows your medical history, knows what you have been through, and understands your physical limitations and capabilities,” explains Mr. Ledyard, who has the quietly motivating personality of a teacher and coach. “Many people come in very weak and deconditioned, using a walker or limited to only short, very slow walks, and three months later they are working out 60 to 90 minutes a day, in many cases doing more exercise than they have ever done in their lifetime.”

Richard Abraham of Swissvale agrees completely. “This team has performed miracles for me and thousands of others,” he attests. Rheumatic fever at age 12 left him with a heart murmur. But instead of the “inactive, docile life” his old-fashioned doctor recommended in 1959, he spent the next 50 years lifting weights, boxing, biking, and running, all the while learning his limitations and admittedly pushing them.

Generous gifts ensure that more and more people have the chance to extend their lives and health through this Center’s very special services.

“Gradually, though, I felt myself slowing down,” remembers Mr. Abraham, now 64. “I would cut the hedges, then take a nap.” He needed to have a damaged heart valve replaced. After the 2009 surgery, sore and shaky, he tried to ease back into exercise. But even five-minute walks exhausted him.

Now this grandfather of five feels like he could run a marathon. “Cardiac rehab gave me back my life,” Mr. Abraham says. “They do amazing work and motivate everyone — workers and whiners.”

“We motivate people beyond the fear and cautiousness that otherwise would make them sicker and more debilitated,” explains Mr. Ledyard. “Nearly all our patients will tell us how much better they feel and how much more they can do. But the biggest difference cardiac rehab makes is how long these patients live.”

A 2009 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology reported that researchers, after tracking more than 600,000 Medicare beneficiaries over five years, found that those who used cardiac rehab lived longer than those who did not, regardless of their coronary diagnosis, gender, race, or socioeconomic background. Mortality rates were 21 percent to 34 percent lower for those using cardiac rehab, literally doubling the life-extending benefit they received from medical and surgical interventions such as stent implants or coronary bypass.

“If you’re lucky enough to get a second chance after a cardiac event, you need to make changes like starting a carefully monitored exercise program,” states veteran cardiologist James D. O’Toole, MD. “Many patients are so frightened after a cardiac event that they’re afraid to do anything. Cardiac rehab is critical to getting patients back on their feet and reassuring them that they can make a complete recovery.”

Now under way at the center are renovations, enhanced programs, and a new name: the Lawrence N. Adler, MD Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Wellness Center, in honor of its founder. Generous gifts to the Shadyside Hospital Foundation from Dr. Adler and the Hearst Foundation are helping to make these improvements possible, as are gifts from grateful patients.

One example is the Judge Nathan Schwartz and Louis “Pete” Schwartz Endowment for Cardio-pulmonary Rehabilitation. It was started by the Schwartz family in 2002 to provide financial assistance to patients, and the family continues to support this fund at the Shadyside Hospital Foundation.

As Nathan Schwartz, Jr. comments, “It used to be that when people had a heart problem, they were told to take it easy. But when my father and his brother needed state-of-the-art medical care, including cardiac rehab, they were able to avail themselves of this care at Shadyside. They were convinced that the care they received prolonged their lives. The goal of our program is to provide the same opportunities for those who might otherwise not be able to attend. It comes from our family’s heart.”

Stan Savran credits the Cardiopulmonary Rehab staff alongside his doctors with saving his life. In 2011, when he was “roasted” at the Jim Krenn and Friends Annual WDVE Celebrity Roast, he directed proceeds to the center to provide scholarships for uninsured patients or those who cannot afford to pay for rehab.

Gifts like these will ensure that more and more people have the chance to extend their lives and health through this Center’s very special services.

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