It’s hard to believe it was just one year ago that 76-year-old Richard Biddle, a retired pastor, was experiencing a health scare involving his heart that left him relying on his faith as he prayed, wondering if his journey back to recovery would ever be successful.
Biddle’s health problems began when he found himself literally unable to sleep, along with experiencing breathing problems and frightening heart palpitations. Each time he lay in bed, his heart rate would either slow down to 30 beats per minute, or race to 150 per minute. It was a terrifying feeling, Biddle recalled, which left him afraid and confused.
Biddle sought the medical expertise of Raymond Chen, MD, a cardiovascular surgeon at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center, and was told he needed to have surgery the next day to treat extreme atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib.
“Atrial fibrillation is an irregular and often rapid heart rate that can increase your risk of stroke, heart failure, and other heart-related complications,” said Dr. Chen. “Atrial fibrillation symptoms often include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and weakness. This was the case with Mr. Biddle, and he needed surgery to rectify this serious health concern.”
That was only the beginning!
Richard suffered 2 heart attacks and had 3 different heart surgeries performed by Dr. Chen in a 2-week period, including coronary artery bypass grafting. Lastly, a permanent pacemaker was implanted.
Upon returning home, anxiety filled Richard’s mind, as he found himself unable to perform routine physical activities. “For years, I have prayed for others and now I was relying upon my faith, as I followed the doctor’s orders and hoped for a successful recovery,” he said. “I couldn’t walk by myself; I could hardly do anything. I wanted to get back to normal, but didn’t know if I ever would.”
Heart of innovation: cardiac care at home
Upon discharge from the hospital, Richard was enrolled in Kaiser Permanente’s Home-Based Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, a virtual program.
“Through this program, patients are at home under the supervision of medical staff as they follow outpatient rehabilitation instructions that include regular exercise,” said Azure K. Looney, RN, who heads the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program in the Antelope Valley and Panorama City. “Their daily activity is monitored by medical staff and has check-in points along the way to ensure progression.”
The goal is for the patient to engage in exercises based on his or her ability, 5 days a week for 30 minutes per day, Looney continued. Examples of exercise include walking, stationary biking, chair exercises, and swimming.
Richard was provided with a smartwatch that tracked his exercises, duration of exercise, heart rate, as well as any problems he experienced while exercising such as chest pain, dizziness, nausea, and unusual breathing. His results were uploaded daily from his smartphone to a clinical dashboard at Kaiser Permanente Antelope Valley Medical Offices, and monitored daily by a registered nurse.
“If there’s a concern, we contact the patient to discuss how we can resolve the issue,” Looney said. “Our patients’ safety is the first priority. A registered nurse will also call patients once a week to discuss their cardiac rehabilitation progress, and answer any questions they may have.”
Unlike traditional cardiac rehabilitation programs where patients only interact with their provider for 30 minutes a week, this program provided 24/7 care and support from the health care team.
Redemption: one heartbeat and one ‘step’ at a time
Richard, his cardiologist, and medical team are highly pleased with his personal success in the program, which lasted 8 weeks. To his delight, Richard has become 63 percent more physically active, and is able to help his wife, Joan, with household chores and grocery shopping, something he was unable to do previously when his activity level was so low when he started the program. His daily steps have also increased from as little as 150 steps per day to more than 3,000 steps today.
“When I first enrolled in this program, I started walking around the house and on the porch, 150-200 steps per day,” Richard recalled. “Then, I began going outside and walking around the block. I went from 1 block to 2, from 2 blocks to 3, and finally I got up to walking a mile-and-a-half.
“The program worked, and exercising in my home environment made all the difference,” Richard continued. “I’m certain that without it, I wouldn’t be walking, I wouldn’t be driving my car anymore, and most likely, I would be in a wheelchair.”
Richard expressed the best part is that he is no longer unsure of engaging in physical activity following his heart surgeries nor does he fear the future.
The Home-Based Cardiac Rehabilitation Program has now been rolled out across Kaiser Permanente in Southern California with more than 1,400 enrollees and 1,000 graduates. In 2019, it anticipates about 5,000 enrollees in Southern California, with plans to expand to other regions.
Learn more about how to keep a healthy heart.