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Rehabilitation from a distance

Sue Allan was able to recover from a heart attack more than 1,800 km from her health care provider thanks to St. Joseph’s expert cardiac rehabilitation team and innovative research.

three people smiling in front of window

Sue Allan stands between Dr. Peter Prior (left), Associate Researcher cardiac rehabilitation, and Dr. Neville Suskin (right), Cardiologist and Medical Director, Cardiac Rehabilitation and Secondary Prevention Program.

Combating a history of heart condition on the female side of her family, Sue Allan, an active 72- year-old hoped her sensible lifestyle would keep her genetic predisposition to heart disease at bay.

Sue was walking to a function in the complex where she lives when she began to experience shortness of breath. The following day the same thing happened, but at that point there was tightness in her chest, so she immediately called her doctor. Even then, it never occurred to her that it could be a heart attack.

On the advice of her doctor, Sue went to St. Joseph’s Urgent Care Centre. When the test results came back it was discovered that she in fact had experienced a heart attack and was rushed to London Health Sciences Centre’s University Hospital by ambulance.

After further tests, Sue had bypass surgery and began her journey back to recovery. 

She was then referred to an information session hosted by St. Joseph’s Cardiac Rehabilitation and Secondary Prevention (CRSP) Program, which covered information about the program such as diet, exercise and smoking cessation (support for people who want to quit smoking). 

For Sue, rehabilitating and preventing another heart attack was a priority for her health. But her 38th annual pilgrimage to her cottage on the northern shore of Prince Edward Island was coming up, and she knew going there was important to her well-being both physically and emotionally. 

“Sometimes you wonder if [medical research] makes a difference. But when you look back and see how health care once was you realize that science is making great strides in providing the best care possible for people like me.”

Thanks to a pilot research study in CRSP, Sue was able to do both. Sue was outfitted with a wearable activity tracker set up by a kinesiologist in the cardiac rehabilitation program, who was able to review Sue’s data from thousands of miles away – including her step count and achieving her exercise target. 

Every three to four weeks, Sue, who spends four months of the year at her retreat, checked in with her kinesiologist by phone or email to chat about her progress and identify any issues to ensure she was on track. 

“I never felt isolated from my care team,” says Sue, who is still active in managing her health and signed herself up for other research studies through Lawson Health Research Institute’s Clinical Research and Chronic Disease Centre (CRCDC) at St. Joseph’s Hospital. 

The newly built centre brings together researchers focused on chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and breast cancer to develop earlier diagnosis, new treatments, and interventions to help people manage their life-long disease.

Sue is a strong believer in the potential of medical research and spoke at the grand opening of the CRCDC on March 1 of her care experience. 

“Sometimes you wonder if [medical research] makes a difference,” says Sue. “But when you look back and see how health care once was you realize that science is making great strides in providing the best care possible for people like me.”

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