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Rehab Clinic's 'Incredible People' Helped Woman Get Back on Track

From the Heart

Tracy Nicholls said she was in “terrible shape.”

Because of a birth defect, the 48-year-old mother of two has been dealing with pacemakers and heart procedures for the past 16 years. After her most recent surgery to replace a pacemaker, she was mentally and physically drained.

“I just felt like I was I was going to die,” the Council Bluffs woman said. “I mean, I was so sick.”

Her new home away from home on the path to recovery: the Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation clinic at Methodist Jennie Edmundson Hospital.

Kay Waters, BSN, RN, CCRP

Rehab focuses on the long haul

The Cardiopulmonary Rehab room looks a lot like a gym, full of treadmills, bikes and other exercise equipment. As many as 35 cardiac rehab and 15 pulmonary rehab patients come through its doors every weekday. There, a team of registered nurses and exercise specialists works to create patient-specific plans that go beyond building strength and endurance during what’s usually a 12-week program.

“We believe real strongly in education,” said Kay Waters, BSN, RN, CCRP. “We do a lot of basic education on both the heart and the lungs so that they have a very good foundation of what's going on with them.”

Patients might also learn about proper breathing techniques, diabetes management, smoking cessation, nutrition and strategies for incorporating exercise into daily life – setting them up for success long after the program ends.

The power of hope

After her most recent operation, Tracy qualified for pulmonary rehabilitation. During her first assessment, she was able to walk for about two minutes.

“When I went there, I honestly just felt like it was the end because my breathing was so bad,” said Tracy, who has a history of knee problems. “I was so miserable when I started. … It was overwhelming thinking that I would never get better.”

Mike Malcom

During those tough early days, she said, the support and encouragement of the staff were critical.

At one point, Tracy asked exercise specialist Mike Malcom, “Do you think you can get me any better at all?”

Yes, he said. Tracy was immediately filled with hope.

With God as her strength and support, she continued in the program.

Soon she began to notice all the ways the staff pushed her toward success. Sometimes she needed to back off or adjust an exercise because of her knees. Other times she just needed a little encouragement. Whatever it was, the staff was there.

“They always made sure that they touched every aspect of your care,” she said. “Not just your physical, but your mental part of it also.”

A family atmosphere

For as much important work that goes on, the cardiopulmonary clinic has a casual atmosphere. Staff members are comfortable with each other, cracking jokes as they perform their duties. Patients join in, getting in pro-Husker jabs at Malcom, an Iowa fan. Former patients frequently drop in to say hello and catch up. Patients, more or less, become family, staff members say, and it’s one of the things they love about the job.

Jordyn Graham

“Just the relationships that you build with the patients,” said Jordyn Graham, an exercise specialist. “You get to see their progress from day one to their last session. It's crazy how much improvement they make over their three months that they're here.”

The relationships don’t end when the visits do.

“The one thing we always tell everybody is that just because they're done, it doesn't mean that we don't care,” Malcom said. “If they have any questions, we’re always here.”

Graduation, and new goals

Tracy recently graduated from the pulmonary rehab program. On her final visit she walked for six minutes and about 600 feet farther than she did at her initial assessment. Days after graduating from the program, she wrote a message praising the rehab staff, which also includes Cassi Reed, RN.

“The staff have been very professional, caring, supportive and would do anything to help you succeed,” she wrote. “I can’t speak any more highly of all the staff. I will miss them terribly.”

Tracy plans to continue her recovery at a local gym, using a plan formed by the rehab staff. Her goal is to return to teaching children at her church.

And while she’s moving on, she won’t soon forget the “incredible people” who helped her get back on track.

“They were just stellar employees. Stellar employees,” she said.


Read the letter Tracy Nicholls wrote thanking the Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation staff at Methodist Jennie Edmundson Hospital.

Patrick Smith

About the Author:

Patrick Smith, a content strategist for Methodist Health System, has over a decade of experience writing and editing for newspapers and other publications. He enjoys connecting with people and sharing stories that illustrate Methodist's "Meaning of Care."

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