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Cardiac rehab delivers revived life to retired postal worker

Retired postal worker Michael Swiatkwich, 68, of Bazetta, works out on a recumbent exercise bike at the Trumbull Regional Medical Center's Cardiac Rehabilitation Program in Warren. Swiatkwich, a former weight lifter who quit working out, suffered a heart attack Aug. 2. Now he's back to regular exercise. (Submitted photo)

BAZETTA — The heart attack six months ago turned out to be an odd blessing for Michael Swiatkwich.

The 68-year-old diabetic from Bazetta had retired early from the U.S. Postal Service because of injuries. One knee was replaced totally; the other is bone on bone. He developed arthritis. Years ago, he’d been patient about lifting weights. But with all that bad stuff going on, well — he sat down and quit.

“I was using that as an excuse,” he said. “But with the heart attack and the attitude to change that comes with it … “

Workouts at the Trumbull Regional Medical Center’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Program relit the fire.

“Now I find my joints hurt more when I don’t exercise,” Swiatkwich said.

HEART ATTACK

As a retired postal worker, Swiatkwich knows about speedy delivery. He said that’s what saved his life and minimized damage when the heart attack hit six months ago.

“It was Aug. 2. I was on my way to the store to pick up a few things for dinner,” Swiatkwich said. “I was feeling sweaty and clammy. I rolled down the window and thought no more of it.

“At home, I had a burning sensation across my chest. I went to my easy chair and it got worse. I was having trouble breathing. My wife asked if I wanted to go to urgent care. When I didn’t answer, she called 911. Twenty minutes later, I was in the hospital,” he said.

The ambulance is plugged into the hospital so it was already feeding monitor readouts to the emergency room before he arrived, he said.

“Once I got to the hospital, I was immediately put into a room and they started running tests. The doctor overseeing the ER let me know that I was having a heart attack,” he said. “Within an hour of getting to the hospital, I was in the cath lab (cardiac catheterization in the Trumbull Regional Chest Pain Center).”

“I had a 90 percent blockage on one artery, and they put a stent in,” Swiatkwich said. “There was a little blockage in another artery. It was not stented.”

The following day, his cardiologist told him there appeared to be no damage, thanks to the quick response time, he said.

CARDIAC REHAB

Trumbull Regional Medical Center advertises it has the Mahoning Valley’s only accredited chest pain center. As part of the care, it also boasts about its Cardiac Rehabilitation Program and encourages all of its heart patients to take advantage.

It is staffed by clinical exercise physiologists certified by the American College of Sports Medicine. Treatment plans are designed around individual risk factors with the goal of reducing the chance of further heart events and improving physical fitness, according to the hospital.

None of that completely assured Swiatkwich when he showed up for rehab. He wasn’t eager to stress his heart and risk another attack.

“At the back of your mind, you feel crippled and you baby yourself,” he said.

“With cardiac rehab, you’re wired (to monitors). Use that opportunity to explore boundaries.” It’s a chance to find out safely what one’s body is capable of accomplishing, he said.

“Cardiac rehab helped me deal with side effects,” he said. “I have better mobility and a better attitude.”

He had played high school football and loved lifting weights. “I was not a gym rat, but I was the closest thing to it.” Now, with the education from the exercise physiologists at the cardiac rehab program, he’s lifting on a regular basis again, well after his rehabilitation sessions ended.

“The real change happens in 30 days. The body has a chance to adjust and respond,” he said. “It’s equally important with quick response (to get to the hospital when having an episode) is the rehab afterward.”

DON’T DELAY

Swiatkwich advised anyone who is experiencing symptoms of a cardiac event to take action.

A person can’t just dismiss the warning signs because he or she doesn’t fit the demographics of weight or age or being a smoker or other commonalities. The longer a person waits to get help, the more permanent the damage that can be done, he said.

Alexa Polinsky, hospital marketing director, noted that a common misconception is that women don’t have heart attacks.

“Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women. Although the most common heart attack symptom for both men and women is chest pain or discomfort, women are more likely than men to experience atypical symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea and back or jaw pain,” according to Polinsky.

Heart attack symptoms for men and women include chest discomfort, which can feel like uncomfortable pressure or squeezing; discomfort or pain in the arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach; shortness of breath; cold sweat; nausea or vomiting; and lightheadedness.

Swiatkwich said, “If there’s a problem, if you’re in pain, I wouldn’t hesitate to call and have it checked out.”

For him, it was his wife, a nurse, who made the call — which is why he’s still able to enjoy the extended family that he married into of three stepchildren, 10 stepgrandchildren and six siblings-in-law. That makes plenty of reasons to smile, he said.

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