Luci Smith and Sigi Spittka - Midland, MI
"I don’t think we can find enough adjectives to tell how special the team is."
They Built Stronger Hearts and a Lasting Friendship
After having heart attacks within a few weeks of each other, Luci Smith and Sigrid (Sigi) Spittka of Midland met during cardiac rehabilitation at MidMichigan Medical Center - Midland. Over the 12-week program, the two became friends as they strengthened their hearts and learned more about keeping themselves healthy for life.
Smith’s interventional cardiologist is Andrzej Boguszewski, M.D., and Spittka’s is Maged Rizk, M.D. For both women, the doctors performed cardiac catheterizations to clear blocked arteries, and then inserted stents to maintain blood supply to the heart.
Their cardiologists strongly recommended cardiac rehabilitation, but like about half of all heart attack survivors, Smith and Spittka hesitated. Each felt that she was in good enough condition, but didn’t yet know the program’s full scope and value. After thinking about it, they relented.
“I told myself that if I didn’t do what my doctor requested, the consequences would be on me,” Smith said. “So I decided to go ahead.” Spittka said her thought process was, “Rehab is fine for someone who had open heart surgery, but good grief, I’m feeling great! Maybe I’ll just begin it and then stop when I’ve had enough.”
But working with the MidMichigan cardiac rehab team was different, and much better, than they imagined. “When I got there, every single person was completely wonderful. They were just great, great people,” Smith said.
Spittka concurred. “I don’t think Luci and I can find enough adjectives to tell how special the team is,” she said. “They immediately put me at ease with the entire routine and process.”
Their team included Cardiac Rehabilitation Supervisor Jackie Evans, R.R.T.; Exercise Physiologists Amy Alter, E.P., and Chris Harrington, E.P.; and Exercise Physiology Interns José Alasaro, Nicole Schafer and Ashley Volk from Central Michigan University
“On the first day,” Smith said, “Chris and one of the interns talked with me about my goals, experiences, lifestyle and habits. They used my feedback to develop a program that suited my needs exactly.” In the same way, a customized program was developed for Spittka.
For 12 weeks, supervised by the cardiac rehabilitation team, the women walked laps on an indoor path and exercised on a treadmill, NuStep® machine, arm bike and elliptical machine, wearing a heart monitor continuously reporting their heart rate and rhythm. The team could see how their endurance improved and adjust the machines’ resistance as needed.
“When it was time to go up a level, they had a wonderful way of moving you along that made you feel like, “Oh, sure! I can do that,” Spittka said. “They made all of us laugh, encouraged us, and raised the bar on each machine as the weeks flew by.”
In the year before her heart attack, Smith worked out regularly, which built a good foundation for rehab. “I had been exercising at Women’s Fitness in Midland, which is owned by Jeanie Hepinstall, a retired R.N. from MidMichigan. Rehab was still an effort, but being fit helped me do better,” she said. “All the while, I got to know some nice, nice people, including Sigi. She is a great person and very comfortable to talk to. We just clicked, and started coming to work out on the same schedule. I felt like I hit the jackpot.”
When Smith and Spittka worked out on the machines, an exercise physiology intern would come and share information about such topics as diet and exercise, limiting salt, watching cholesterol, and understanding blood pressure and the arteries. “These mini-lessons added to the impact of the exercise and helped us make good choices beyond rehab,” Spittka said.
When the 12 weeks were up, the women continued exercising together at another local fitness facility, but they kept in touch with their cardiac rehab team. They even went back to visit, bringing a heart-healthy lunch, to say farewell to the interns before they graduated.
As the friends continue to exercise and live heart-healthy, both report enjoying life after rehab. “My heart attack was just a little bump in the road, and now life’s great again. Finding Sigi, a wonderful friend, was a special part of the experience.”
“The big surprise for me was how much I enjoyed rehab and the awesome team,” said Spittka, “and how much I would appreciate my new rehab friend, Luci, who was walking the same path with her heart that I was walking with mine.”
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.