Serious Fun in Cardiac Rehab

You might think that going to the hospital before sunrise to work up a sweat on the exercise equipment is about the last thing one would want to do. But then, you probably haven’t visited Cardiac Rehab between 6:30 and 7:30 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday or Friday.

That’s when about 15 men gather to go through their exercise routine. In between, they talk, poke fun at each other, and place bets on just about anything (inches of snowfall, Tigers wins, who lost the most weight, etc.). If someone is unlucky enough to be there on his birthday, the group regales him with Happy Birthday in about five different keys.

“Listening to these people and looking at them, you wouldn’t know they had a serious heart condition, but that’s why they’re here,” said Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehab Coordinator Sheryl Mulder, RN. She and other staff keep a close watch as the men stretch and move from treadmill to stationary bike to elliptical trainer. Before, during and after class, everyone’s vitals are checked and recorded.

But the exercise alone is not what keeps them coming year after year. “A lot of it is the social gathering,” said Jim O’Neill. “I exercise for my heart. But the laughing and the good time is a big part of it.”

The camaraderie is also what motivates Jacob “June” Essenburg. “I’ve got all this equipment at home,” he pointed out. “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for these guys.”

“The social aspect is hugely important,” noted Mulder. "It adds accountability, support, and friendly competition."

A stop at the Cafe is part of the group's routine after Cardiac Rehab.

Mulder estimates that every day, 130-140 patients attend classes at Cardiac Rehab. They are monitored by a staff of RNs, exercise physiologists, and physical and respiratory therapists. For all patients, the program begins with a referral from their doctor. When their referral time ends, many people, including those in the 6:30 group, continue to participate in the health maintenance part of the program for years. A few have been coming for decades.

It’s important to keep up with it, noted Dave Barnett—and not just for the health benefits. “You can’t believe how much flak you get if you miss a day!” he said (referring to his fellow exercisers, not the staff).

At 7:30, many of the men head to the Café for a cup of coffee and to settle the latest bet. Food Service Specialist Cindy Whittecar keeps track of their running tab. “Never a dull moment,” she said. “They sit there and discuss the world’s problems … though I don’t think they ever find a solution. They start your morning out right.”

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Parking is available for patients in the Orange Visitor lot.


Cardiac & Pulmonary Rehabilitation
(616) 394-3397
Spectrum Health Heart & Vascular Center at Holland Hospital
(616) 392-3824