Cardiac rehab a surprise Rx for former teacher

Calcium score solves mystery chest pain in otherwise fit 79-year-old

Cardiac rehab a surprise Rx for former teacher

Barb Satran was feeling light chest pains last winter and that didn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

This 79-year-old retired teacher, who lives with her husband Winston in Bismarck, North Dakota, has been active throughout her life. There was running and tennis for many years, then bicycling, pickleball, exercise machines and walking – lots and lots of walking.

She began taking tests to try to figure this out. It started with an EKG, which she passed. Then came a stress test, a chest X-ray and an endoscopy. She passed them all.

She doesn’t smoke and she doesn’t drink. She does not have diabetes and wasn’t overweight.

These initial efforts to find the cause of her issues did a great job of finding out what was not wrong with her. A flattering process in a sense, but the light chest pains persisted.

Then came a computed tomography (CT) scan last December. She later consulted her My Sanford Chart to see the results. It wasn’t what she was expecting.

“It said I had three vessel coronary disease,” Satran said. “I looked at my computer and I said ‘You have the wrong person. That is not me.’”

But it was her. Her father died of heart disease and some males in her family, including a brother, had stents as a result of similar factors. Complicating the diagnosis process was that women’s symptoms for heart disease can be different than they are for men. Her symptoms were mild, but the blockage was there.

With arteries reopened, time for rehab

At the end of January she had two stents inserted, then quickly turned her attention to her rehabilitation.

“One of the interesting things about this has been that every time I go to a doctor or a dentist now when they give you that form to fill out, I always have to make a check on that box that says ‘coronary disease,’” Satran said. “It always shakes me up a little.”

Her rehab headquarters became the cardiac rehabilitation program at Sanford Heart Bismarck. She got to know all the people guiding her rehab effort and they got to know her.

For four months – 34 visits in all – Satran attended rehab sessions within the program. She was part of an intake evaluation that recorded her life history, her diet and her exercise routines and an outtake evaluation at the end.

“When you arrive and you walk in the door, they call you by name,” Satran said. “It’s so personal. The first thing I thought when I walked in here was that this was going to be a wonderful rehab.”

She set goals for herself in consultation with Andi Jackson, a registered nurse at the Sanford Medical Center – Bismarck and in collaboration with the rehab program staff, began to monitor her progress.

She would exercise for 10 minutes on a treadmill, an elliptical machine or stationary bike and then answer questions about her level of exertion. She would repeat the cycle three times in one session.

“I developed a real camaraderie with the staff,” Satran said. “It made me a lot more comfortable being there and working with them to achieve my goals.”

Diet now includes more protein, more hydration

Fine-tuning her diet was educational, involved a lot of label-reading and revealed that there was room for improvement. She discovered she wasn’t eating enough protein, for instance. Never a big meat eater, during a conversation with lead exercise specialist Dustin Eggers, she decided to try adding powdered protein.

“I’m still using it,” she said. “It was really good advice.”

She drinks more water now, has cut down on diet soda intake and uses an air fryer when there is an urge to fry something. Cutting down on sugar intake remains a challenge but she is careful about that, too.

“I don’t just like chocolate. I think I might be addicted to chocolate,” Satran laughed. “Sometimes by noon I’ve had all the sugar I’m supposed to have. My daughters will tell me, ‘Mom, you’re 79. You need to have a little fun.’ So I don’t eat too much fat or too much cholesterol but I will eat a little extra sugar occasionally.”

Satran was a longtime volunteer at the Sanford Medical Center gift store in Bismarck. She is now employed there one day a week and also volunteers on Tuesdays to rock babies in the NICU.

She still sees the folks she got to know during her rehab sessions. They still call her by name.

“They’ll ask, ‘Barb, how are you feeling? How are you doing? How is life?’” Satran said. “I really like that. We did have a lot of laughs together. I always thank them for preserving my health.”

Learn more

Posted In Bismarck, Heart, Rehabilitation & Therapy