Ray Mink suffered his first heart attack in 1983. He was 60, and like many people knew little about heart disease.
The heart attack came as a surprise to Mink. He had felt fine up to that point and believed his health to be good.
In 1985, doctors referred Mink to the Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation Center, then located on Olive Avenue and M Street. It was there that Mink learned the importance of physical activity, nutrition and stress management in reducing risk factors for heart and blood vessel disease.
About 30 years later, Mink, a 90-year-old former accountant, has endured two heart attacks and two strokes. He’s also had two heart bypass surgeries and uses a pacemaker.
Mink knows his health is fragile, but he credits cardiac rehabilitation for being able to get back up after a procedure.
The cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation program has seen some changes in the past three decades. The program is now part of Mercy Medical Center’s Outpatient Center, which provides therapy services. In 2005, the center moved a few blocks south to its current location at 2740 M St.
According to Henry Moreno, cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation supervisor, the program offers blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes monitoring, as well as psychological counseling and education on healthy lifestyle changes. With the help of two nurses, Moreno guides patients through measured exercise routines. The physical activity is designed to improve strength, stamina and overall well-being, Moreno said.
“Unfortunately, we have many people in the community that aren’t aware of the benefits of cardiac rehabilitation,” Moreno said. “Once you have a procedure or a heart attack, it really gets you down. (Cardiac rehabilitation) also works as a support group because patients can share with other people who are going through similar circumstances.”
Anyone who has been diagnosed with angina, coronary artery angioplasty, or suffered open heart surgery, heart failure or heart transplantation, is eligible to participate in cardiac rehabilitation, as long as the individual receives a doctor’s consent.
Similarly, pulmonary rehabilitation, which is designed for those who have experienced lung problems such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis, pulmonary hypertension and lung cancer, is also available at the center.
Both services are a 12-week program in which patients attend classes three days a week. Each class lasts about an hour.
The cardiac program sees about 65 patients per week.
Moreno, who has been working in the program for about 12 years, said he has witnessed patients like Mink recuperate and return to their regular activities.
“Once they start the program, they start to feel better,” he said. “They improve their exercising habits and they are able to maintain their quality of life.”
Patients are closely supervised, according to Moreno, and there have been incidents where patients have needed to be taken to a hospital.
“On occasion, we can catch things here,” he said. “There have been moments where we’ve had to call an ambulance because a patient was not doing so well. We’ve had to follow up with their physicians regarding their blood pressure, sugars, weight gain or weight loss. We feel good about the fact that we take care of our patients the way we do.”
Mink said his likes the attention he receives by the cardiac rehabilitation staff and the friends he’s made along the way.
“I started coming here because I had to, but I never quit because I liked it,” Mink said. “I call (the staff) my angels because they are always watching over me to make sure I’m OK.”
“I really consider them my friends, as well as the other patients that come here,” he said. “The day I don’t come out to my classes, I feel like I’m missing out. ... It really does become a social event.”
According to the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation, people who complete a cardiac rehabilitation program can increase their life expectancy by up to five years.
Mink believes that cardiac rehabilitation is keeping him strong, but it’s the technology that keeps him going.
“I’m alive because of the current mechanical stuff they have to keep me going, but if my battery runs out, I’m dead,” said Mink, who uses a pacemaker to maintain a regular heart rate.
Mink has undergone heart surgery in both San Francisco and Modesto. Currently, Mercy Medical Center provides only noninvasive testing. Patients that need surgery are taken to surrounding cities that offer such services.
Although it would be convenient for him to stay in Merced for invasive treatments when needed, Mink said, he’s glad that at least his cardiac rehabilitation classes are close to home.
Those interested in learning more about class schedules and fees can call Mercy Therapy Services at (209) 564-4260.