Fit Hearts Program Trains Cardiac Patients for Progressive Marathon

fit hearts

This quote is appropriately displayed on our participants’ bib holders, which they will be able to frame after they finish the progressive Flying Pig Marathon:

“The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”
John Bingham, No Need for Speed: A Beginner’s Guide to the Joy of Running

It is a motivational quote that represents the driving force behind our Fit Hearts progressive marathon training program, which is a 7-week training program that brings together our heart patients over the age of 5 to run or walk a progressive 26.2 miles in total. The last mile is completed at the finish line of the Flying Pig marathon.

I started this group three years ago because I noticed a gap. As an exercise physiologist, I work with kids to rehabilitate their hearts after certain cardiac events, such as sudden cardiac arrest and transplant.

After they complete their rehabilitation, I started to wonder if there was more we could do to teach them how to be physically active on their own. This is a change in mindset, as it wasn’t until the last decade or so that children with congenital heart disease or other cardiac conditions were encouraged to engage in physical activities.

In fact, children born with congenital heart disease who are now in their adulthood were told to avoid it altogether. So many of them never participated in school PE class, let alone sports or other recreational activities. We now know that those recommendations were wrong, and that it’s important for them to keep their hearts strong and in shape just like everyone else.

This training program started out as a way for patients to learn how to be fit and active on their own, but it turned into so much more than that. When you walk or run 26.2 miles together over the course of seven weeks, you learn a lot about each other. But when everyone is participating because they have something in common, they learn from each other.

As I and four other staff members walk or run with the participants each week, we hear the conversation steer from school and sports to asking advice like “How do you grow up with congenital heart disease?” and “What do you tell your friends about your pacemaker?”

And as this year’s father-daughter duo can attest, it’s an experience that they’ll share and remember for a long time.

Anna, who is 11 years old, collapsed from sudden cardiac arrest last year. She was kept alive by a karate instructor and North Avondale Rec Center employee until the paramedics arrived. She learned later through treatment and genetic testing at the Cardiomyopathy Program at Cincinnati Children’s that she has left ventricular dysfunction and two different heart arrhythmias, and her dad, Steve, has atrial fibrillation.

So that’s how their Fit Hearts participation came to be. Steve and Anna wanted to join to become more physically active and meet other patients. Steve said, “We realized through this program that there’s a lot more heart patients like us than we realized. It’s been a bonding experience for all of us.”

Yvette Gerdes

About the Author: Yvette Gerdes

Yvette Gerdes is a senior exercise physiologist at Cincinnati Children’s Heart Institute. She has worked for the Heart institute for 14 years and developed the cardiac rehabilitation program. In 2010 she started running, has completed three half marathons and will complete her first Marathon at the Flying Pig on Sunday May 1, using her CHD patients as her inspiration to not give up and cross the finish line.

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