Cardiac rehab program pivots during pandemic

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Kinesiologists bring cardiac care closer to home

Dustin Kimber

When kinesiologist Dustin Kimber hosts an ice-breaking exercise with his clients, it isn’t to learn about their favourite movie or most recent vacation. Kimber’s goal during these sessions is to get to know new clients from the inside out, beginning with their heart.

More specifically, Kimber wants to hear about his clients’ cardiac history; whether a heart attack, surgical procedure or diagnosis has led them to his Portage la Prairie area cardiac rehabilitation program.

“The support of a group of people who have all experienced a similar event can be really comforting,” Kimber says. “We knew there was a need for programming that offered both support and rehab services for people living outside of Winnipeg. Our goal was to allow clients to build back strength so they could regain — and then maintain — activities in their own communities.”

Nolan Turnbull

Established in 2019, the education and exercise-based program Kimber supports, alongside a team of health-care professionals, allows people of all ages who have experienced a cardiac event to receive rehabilitation services closer to home.

The program provides participants with access to a kinesiologist (Kimber), as well as a cardiac nurse, social worker and dietitian, as well as all fitness facilities at Portage la Prairie’s Stride Place over the course of the six-week program — all for a cost of $56.

Kimber credits the program’s accessibility — both in terms of location and cost — as well as the need for these services in rural Manitoba, for its popularity, referencing a waitlist that quickly developed after the program first launched in 2019.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the program to pivot, moving sessions from in-person to online, but it didn’t lose its momentum. Program participants received emailed or mailed education and exercise materials each week, covering a new topic in every package.

“Heart attacks and cardiovascular diseases didn’t stop with the pandemic,” Kimber says. “The move to online allowed us to eliminate the fee, as well as the requirement to travel, allowing participants to complete the sessions in the comfort of their own space.”

The success of the Portage program soon led to programs being established in other rural communities. Nolan Turnbull is a kinesiologist in the Morden-Winkler area. He knew Kimber from a lab group at the University of Manitoba and was inspired to help co-ordinate a cardiac rehabilitation program for his community.

“People are having heart attacks and heart procedures regularly and need that support to help them make those lifestyle changes so they can improve their quality of life and add years to their life beyond that event,” Turnbull says.

The Morden-Winkler program is slightly different from the Portage example, with clients able to access a chronic disease management clinician, respiratory therapist and a pharmacist, but the two programs have the same goal: to improve cardiac rehab for Manitobans.

The success of the programs is measured not only by the number of referrals and overall demand but also in the achievements of the clients that Kimber, Turnbull and their colleagues see each day.

“It’s a really rewarding experience,” Kimber says. “We see clients making permanent lifestyle changes. Sometimes they come back to see us and have found things like a pickleball group that no one was really aware of, right in their community.”

Turnbull says seeing the physical changes is what proves to him the program is fulfilling its goal.

“Their ability to walk, their confidence around physical activity or their confidence in their body and their heart health, it’s really gratifying,” Turnbull adds.

Kimber and Turnbull are thinking big when it comes to the future of rehabilitation programs in Manitoba, acknowledging the individual needs that exist for different groups.

“It’s all individual preference, but sometimes there are cultural barriers, sometimes women might not feel comfortable exercising around men, sometimes it comes down to accessibility,” says Turnbull, who is hoping to create a safe and welcoming environment for women next.

Whatever the client group, both Kimber and Turnbull are motivated to create rehabilitative programs that help individuals in need of cardiac care or managing other chronic illnesses to remove the fear of exercising and physical activity.

“Things like COPD, diabetes, cancer, there are opportunities for rehabilitative-type programs that are home-based or online,” Kimber says.

No matter how big their goals, Kimber and Turnbull’s mission remains the same: finding innovative ways to bring rehabilitation care closer to home.

From Nov. 6 to 12, Manitoba’s health service delivery organizations are celebrating the diverse and highly specialized skills of our province’s allied health professionals. Representing nearly 200 disciplines working in every sector and area of our health system, allied health professionals are vital members of our health-care teams.