She has lived 41 years longer than her father did
Heart disease has been a part of Gail Chalifoux’s life for longer than she cares to remember. Her father died of a heart attack at just 33 years old and she, herself, suffered a heart attack at age 52 in 1998. Then, about 18 months ago, she had a second attack.
While the incidents were painful and frightening, Chalifoux, 74, is grateful she has had something available to her that her father did not – good medical care. She is seen often by Falmouth cardiologist Megan Titas, MD, FACC and stays fit with cardiac rehab sessions at Falmouth Hospital twice a week.
“My dad was one of six kids and he was the youngest death, but four other brothers and sisters died in their 50s,” she said. “The youngest one made it to 86 because he was able to get help. They had learned so much in the interim.”
Chalifoux’s mother also had heart issues and unfortunately, the predisposition to heart disease was passed on to the children from both parents. Along with her own health issues, Chalifoux lost a younger brother to a heart attack when he was in his 50s.
When she suffered the first heart attack, she and her husband were putting in a lawn in their new home in Mashpee. During a walk to get an ice cream cone later that day, she started feeling nauseous. “I felt like I had an elephant sitting on my chest,” she said. “We were at Falmouth Hospital 10 minutes after that.”
At that time, angioplasty procedures to open heart blockages (that cause heart attacks) were only available on Cape Cod once a week, so she was transferred to a Boston hospital for the procedure. Still in pain after the procedure, doctors went in a second time to open the artery, she said.
“I was very scared and said, ‘whatever you have to do, do it,’” she said.
She was free from chest pain for the next 20 years, and then, in July of 2019, she again felt the familiar stab of discomfort. Her cardiologist, Megan Titas, MD, FACC referred her to interventional radiologist Richard Zelman, MD, FACC, who placed stents to open three blocked arteries that were causing the problem. But, the heart disease was so persistent, she had to return for more help soon after.
“I felt better, but not the same, and after three months, I felt way worse. So, he put three tiny stents with a slippery lining in the same stents (placed by Dr. Zelman previously.) Those three stents were already occluded,” she said.
Since then, Chalifoux has felt fine and she credits Dr. Titas with putting her on the road to recovery. One of the best pieces of advice she got from her was to start the Cardiac Rehabilitation program at Falmouth Hospital, she said. She went for a rehabilitation regime to start and, before the COVID-19 pandemic, went twice a week for a maintenance program. She spent 20 minutes on three different machines that focus on the hands, arms and feet.
“My husband is an avid exercise guy – he runs seven days a week and goes to the gym six days a week – and he was always saying to me, ‘when I exercise, I feel so good.’ I never got it, but when I did the cardiac rehab and exercised for a half hour, I finally got what he was talking about,” she said. “I just love it.”
Cardiac rehabilitation is an important part of maintaining cardiac health after a heart attack, and both cardiac rehabilitation programs at Falmouth Hospital and Cape Cod Hospital are accredited by the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation, said Dr. Titas.
“The program is a proven, effective way to develop cardiac strength, improve your long-term health, and increase your longevity,” she said.
Chalifoux also suffers from diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, so the pandemic has forced she and her husband to isolate at home much of the time. But, with the cardiac rehab program now open at Falmouth Hospital again, she is back at the gym for her exercise program every Tuesday and Thursday. “They take our temperatures and sanitize when you get off (a machine). Everybody’s been really careful,” she said.
Chalifoux agreed to tell her story, in the hope that someone else would benefit from her experience and the benefits she has seen from the cardiac exercise program, as well as the good care she has received from Dr. Titas.
“I like that she’s offering me new things, when they come along,” she said. “She’s been really great.”
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