Tom Holtham, Cardiac Rehab Patient

Tom Holtham - Sanford, MI

"They’ll make a new person out of you. They made me what I was before."

Cardiac Rehab Got Him Back to Playing Volleyball and His Active Life 

Tom Holtham was leading a busy, active life. Whether boating on Sanford Lake, playing volleyball at the Midland Community Center or catching up on chores around the house, he wasn’t the type to sit.

Last summer, Holtham found he often had to sit down. “There are 42 steps from the water to our house and I would have to stop and catch my breath while walking up,” he said. The unexplained shortness of breath got progressively worse. “I had to sleep sitting up and had a hard time walking from the front room to the back. It was the first time I’d felt that way.”

His primary care physician ordered a stress test. While being prepped for that, an ultra sound exam showed some serious issues. “They skipped the stress test and took me to the ER,” Holtham said.

He underwent surgery for aortic value replacement and two bypasses on August 18, 2014. After surgery, complications due to fluid retention slowed his recovery. However, once that issue was resolved, he was scheduled to start cardiac rehabilitation at the fitness center on the campus of MidMichigan Medical Center - Midland.

“My first day at rehab I was very apprehensive,” he said. “I wanted to get better but I did not want to be in rehab.”  Holtham was also exhausted. “I could barely make it from the parking lot to the building. I had to stop and rest three times. My wife, Beverly, drove the next time and dropped me at the door. That eliminated one rest stop.”

Just three short months after his initial session, Holtham was a different man. Today, he happily works out three times a week at the fitness center and plays volleyball three other times each week.

“I can’t say enough good things about the people at the fitness center,” he said. “The first thing they did was hook me up to a monitor. They always had eyes on me. They are like mother hens watching their chicks.”

On his first day of rehab, Holtham used four different machines, at very low tension, for 4 minutes each. By the time he was done with rehab, he was doing 10 minutes on each machine at much higher resistance. “In the beginning I had to stop and catch my breath,” he said. “Now I work out for an hour and easily go from the treadmill to the recumbent bike, to the regular bike and to the hand crank machine.”

Holtham said rehab was challenging but not too demanding. “The progress is slow and methodical and I was never sore,” he said. “They have a plan, and they help you execute the plan. I’m living proof that working the plan works. My blood pressure is good, my heart rate is good and I feel great. For me, rehab was fantastic. There was not one hiccup through the whole process.”

In fact, Holtham has nothing but praise for the care he received throughout the Medical Center. “I must have run across 100 different people,” he said. “I did not come across one individual who wasn’t on top of their game.”

While Holtham made amazing progress, he admits getting started was difficult. “I wanted to do rehab because I wanted to get better but frankly, I was scared,” he said. “Because there was always someone there watching and monitoring, I felt comfortable and safe.”

Holtham says once people get over the initial apprehension and get started on rehab, they’ll be glad they did. “Go for it,” he said. “Have faith that they will help. Like a lot of things, getting started is the hardest part. Once you go, you’ll love it. They’ll make a new person out of you. They made me what I was before.”


MidMichigan Health offers a full array of heart and vascular services, including open heart surgery, vascular surgery, electrophysiology for heart rhythm problems and advanced interventional procedures. Those who would like additional information on the MidMichigan’s comprehensive cardiovascular team may visit www.midmichigan.org/heart