Northwestern Medicine

How Cardiac Rehabilitation Changed One Man's Life

March 26, 2013

Northwestern Medicine Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute Cardiac Rehabilitation Program paved the way    

CHICAGO, IL – Amar Vakil seemed to have it all, a rapidly growing management consulting business and a loving and supportive family. Vakil, 49, is a first-generation immigrant from India and was determined to take full advantage of the American Dream. He became so motivated and obsessed with taking his business to the next level that it began to take a toll on his health. He was traveling five days a week, sleep was a low priority, and as a young businessman, he thought he was invincible. In March of 2010, Vakil and his family decided to take a trip down to Charleston, S.C. Vakil was already suffering from exhaustion, but he desperately wanted to take this trip to spend some quality time together as a family. On the drive down to Charleston, his exhaustion quickly turned to severe chest pain and discomfort in his neck and entire body. At the time he didn’t know it, but Vakil suffered his first heart attack. Only weeks later, everything came crashing down when he suffered another heart attack.  

“This was the ultimate wake-up call,” said Vakil. “I was lucky to be alive and had an opportunity to make things right. Others don’t always get that opportunity.”  

After several weeks of recovery, Vakil was referred to the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, a supervised program of exercise and education for cardiovascular patients. Exercise is done under the direct guidance of a doctor, specialized nurses and exercise physiologists.  

“Amar was committed to doing the work and putting the time in to make sure he decreased his risk factors for any future cardiac events,” said Rita Szymanski, BSN, RN, clinical coordinator at the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute Cardiac Rehabilitation Program. “He was on a mission.”  

Cardiac rehab is an intervention for individuals who have experienced a heart attack, with research indicating the mortality rate is 34 percent lower for people who go through the program. Participation in the cardiac rehab program gives patients the confidence they need to recover and move forward with their lives.  

Vakil was involved with the early outpatient cardiac rehab program, which takes place three days a week for three months. This requires continuous electrocardiogram (EKG) monitoring while exercising with a physician or supervisor present. The outpatient sessions include tailored exercise programs, stress reduction classes and diet assessment.  

“Taking a pill may fix things in the short term, but it’s important to look at your overall lifestyle and make significant changes there,” said Vakil. “The Cardiac Rehabilitation Program taught me to think in a different way. I want to be here for my family and see my two wonderful children grow up. The incredible Northwestern Medicine team has me on the right path.”  

Even though Vakil graduated from the early outpatient cardiac rehab program, he has continued with the maintenance program, exercising three days a week for the past three years. Vakil is working on maintaining his own heart health, but he’s also committed to giving back.  

“Amar has taken it upon himself to be there for other patients who are going through this similar journey,” said Szymanski. “He is someone who others can look up to and see that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”  

Learn more about Northwestern Medicine Cardiovascular Care and the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute.           


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