Significantly reducing future risk through cardiovascular rehabilitation

Larry Audlehelm of North Liberty was a teenager when doctors first discovered he had a heart murmur. The condition never gave him any problems or caused any pain, he says, but he always knew it was there and was sure to keep a watchful eye on his health.

So when he started to run out of breath simply walking across the room, he knew something was wrong.

“I’ve been aware of the condition, but the immediate problem with the breathing made me understand I needed to go to the doctor,” Larry, 68, says.

In March 2017, Larry had open-heart surgery at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics to repair a weak mitral valve that was limiting the blood flow from one chamber of his heart to another. Though the surgery repaired the valve, Larry needed to undergo rehabilitation to help strengthen his heart.

He turned to UI Health Care cardiac rehabilitation services located at Iowa River Landing to help get him on his feet.

Outpatient rehabilitation is a 12-week program with up to 36 sessions. The program is tailored to each patient according to individual goals, physical abilities, health condition, and physician recommendations, and each exercise session includes continuous electrocardiogram (ECG) monitoring. The goal is for patients to have 30-45 minutes of aerobic activity, with the workload and duration increasing throughout the program as tolerated.

Larry kept up with the 12-week program on equipment like ellipticals and treadmills, and then decided to continue using the center as his main gym.

“By participating in our rehabilitation program, Larry improved his quality of life and was able to return to his normal activities while significantly reducing his risk for future cardiovascular events,” says Anthony Parks, cardiac rehabilitation specialist for UI Health Care. “He seized every opportunity to minimize this risk by supplementing his exercise sessions with attendance at all available education sessions, and then utilized this information to better manage modifiable cardiovascular risk factors such as physical inactivity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and weight control.”

Larry credits the rehabilitation center for helping him regain his strength, and for making life a little easier.

“I do feel stronger, I continue to increase the workouts I do,” he says. “I try to get stronger all the time.”

He’s also been making changes at home.

“My wife and I are eating better, we’re making healthier choices,” he says. “We’re more aware of our general state of health, our weight, our level of activity."

“I’m biased, I’m an Iowa grad, but I think we have the best medical team around right here,” Larry says. “I really feel like I have been given a new lease on life.”