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Voice of Experience

Voice of Experience: January 2024

My 1646 Days of Cardiac Rehab (But Who's Counting?)

Stanley Peter Jaskiewicz


  • The Stages of Change Model describes how people in maintenance can reformulate the rules of their lives and acquire new skills to help deal with life and avoid relapse.
  • A new lifestyle can reduce stress and allow for healthier sleeping and eating schedules.
  • Podcasts are typically the length of a workout and can be a useful motivational tool.
My 1646 Days of Cardiac Rehab (But Who's Counting?)
Frederic Cirou via Getty Images

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French philosopher Rene Descartes coined the famous saying, “Cogito ergo sum” – “I think, therefore I am.”

Since my surprise double bypass in July, 2019, my maxim has been “I live, therefore I must exercise.”

Let me explain how I have flipped Descartes’ script, in my effort to prevent a return of the problem that required open heart surgery.

Immediately after the surgery, I wrote about how that experience provided me a lesson in gratitude to all who helped me survive – literally - the experience.  

Today, I want to share how I have maintained that exercise program I learned in my cardiac rehabilitation, for almost 5 years.

More importantly, that process has reinforced the lessons in gratitude I learned from my surgery and recovery.

For me, skipping my workouts, or backsliding from my diet and lifestyle changes, have never been options.

My therapists might explain that I have been able to stay with the program for so long because I have reached the “maintenance” stage, of the famous “transtheoretical model” for changing behavior. 

I first heard it called more simply, and descriptively: the “Stages of Change” model. 

But I can explain it even more simply: I was scared straight.

(That was the name of a highly promoted juvenile justice program popular in my youth.)

Lying on a gurney waiting for the anesthesia to take effect before the surgery, I resolved to do whatever I had to do to stay alive, for my family, much less for myself.

Fortunately, my family and doctors helped me in that effort, as I explained in my gratitude article linked above. 

Not only did I complete the formal cardiac rehabilitation program, to learn how to take better care of myself,  but I also paid to continue the program, once the insurance coverage for it ended – until the Pandemic closed the rehab center. 

I was committed to avoid a return of the problem.

The Stages of Change Model well describes my life over the past 5 years: “People in maintenance constantly reformulate the rules of their lives and are acquiring new skills to deal with life and avoid relapse.” 

Let me explain how I have “reformulated my life,” long after the initial motivation of fear had worn off. 

First, paradoxically, don’t underestimate the power of fear. 

My family medical history and prior warning signs made me realize how lucky I had been, that my long-time primary care doctor repeated a test that diagnosed my heart problem. 

That “chance” event (and my doctor’s diagnostic skill) led me to continue my workouts at home, without interruption, even after the end of insurance funding, and of the Pandemic.

For example, I had invested in upgraded equipment to make it easier to continue my exercises in my basement, after the rehab center had closed at the start of the Pandemic.

I have also truly enjoyed doing the exercises – and still do.

At first, I listened to radio and sports broadcasts while riding my new exercise bike.  I also walked on a treadmill that a former neighbor had given us when he moved to Florida.

But I soon discovered the world of podcasts, typically the length of a workout. 

(I have listed my personal favorites in the Appendix at the end of this article.  But you have to pick ones you want to hear, to get the motivational boost I received – a “work-out” that you look forward to seems less like “work.”)

I also found that the more I did cardiac rehab, the better I felt, and the better I slept.

In hindsight, I think a lifetime of working corporate law hours, and fitting in meals when I could, had led me to the operating table.

(My genes also had made me more susceptible to the risks of such a life.)

In my recovery, who knew that sleeping and eating on a healthy schedule could feel so good?

My meals certainly now take longer to prepare and eat, but (as an old L’Oreal commercial said) “I’m worth it.”

In addition, a drastic cut in sugar consumption suggested by the wellness coach our health plan provides had led to a significant weight loss just before my diagnosis of massive artery blockages. 

Although not part of my rehab program, I believe that precursor step put me in “fighting shape.”

As I continued my rehab, my personal pride kicked in, as well. 

Not only had I survived a serious health scare, and worked hard to recover from it, I also dramatically reduced my A1C level – a big deal to the son of two diabetic parents.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I had not done all of this on my own (as a VOE colleague reminded me). 

Anyone making a significant lifestyle change can’t – and shouldn’t - “go it alone.”

Consider the long list of those who have helped me since 2019:

  • My brother has refused to let me feel sorry for myself, at any time – that’s just what brothers do.
  • My wife helped me totally revamp my diet.  In addition to keeping me on it, she now makes my more labor-intensive meals for our whole family, even though supermarket trips have become more complicated.
  • The rehab center staff focused at first on what I could do, rather than what I could not.  At home, I have modestly expanded my original exercise program, through heavier weights, and increased exertion levels.
  • Our health insurer’s wellness coaches’ monthly visits have continued to support my recovery, with suggestions for getting more out of my workouts.
  • My family has supported and encouraged me to do my exercises regularly.
  • I continue to dine based on the personalized recommendations we received from the cardiac rehab program’s nutrition consultant.  I also “brown bag” my work lunches, even when my firm has in-house luncheons. 

In this way, I avoid having to search for suitable meals near where I work (especially after many shops had closed during the Pandemic). 

I also avoid the temptation of the convenience foods that had contributed to my heart blockages.

  • Finally, for VOE’s legal audience, my firm has continued to support my recovery, by accommodating a healthier work schedule than what had led to my near emergency bypass (again, in conjunction with my family history and diet). 

Today, I continue the reduced schedule I adopted to permit my cardiac rehab, not only during the Pandemic, but also after my return to the office.

My new lifestyle has reduced my stress level, allowed me to sleep longer and better, and eat dinner earlier than just before bedtime.

Adequate sleep and nutrition – who knew?  

In the long run, these lifestyle changes have, in my opinion, made all the difference.

In hindsight, I am proud of my own resilience, even though I had been devastated by my diagnosis.

I refused to allow myself to be overwhelmed by my medical needs, and consciously chose an upbeat, proactive approach to my own wellness.

As the Beatles famously sang, slightly paraphrased, “I (got) by with a (lot of) help from my friends.”

The Podcasts That Motivated Me