LANCASTER – It’s hard to believe it was just one year ago that 76-year-old Palmdale resident Richard Biddle, a retired pastor, was experiencing a health scare involving his heart.
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.”
Biddle 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 Biddle’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.”
Cardiac care at home
Upon discharge from the hospital, Biddle 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, five days a week for 30 minutes per day, Looney continued. Examples of exercise include walking, stationary biking, chair exercises, and swimming.
Biddle 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
Biddle, his cardiologist, and medical team are pleased with his success in the program, which lasted 8 weeks. Biddle has become 63 percent more physically active, and is able to help his wife, Joan, with household chores and grocery shopping. His daily steps have increased from 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,” Biddle 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,” Biddle 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.”
Biddle is one of 1,000 graduates who completed the Home-Based Cardiac Rehabilitation Program since it was rolled out across Kaiser Permanente in Southern California. The program anticipates about 5,000 enrollees in Southern California for 2019, with plans to expand to other regions.