Texas Man Named One of Five ‘I am CardioSmart’ Winners

Roger Johnson credits cardiac rehabilitation with getting his health back on track

Contact: Nicole Napoli, nnapoli@acc.org, 202-375-6523

WASHINGTON (Feb. 10, 2014) — Roger Johnson woke up on August 6, 2013, in the hospital, on a ventilator and without memory of why he was there. The first person he saw was his pastor who told him he’d suffered a massive heart attack—seven days earlier. Johnson, who had high blood pressure and a high-stress lifestyle as a mental health counselor, quickly determined he had to make drastic changes in his life and began working toward a series of heart health resolutions, including cardiac rehabilitation.

“When I woke up in the hospital, it began to dawn on me then that something very traumatic had happened,” Johnson said. “I decided early on that I had been given a second chance at life.”

Johnson, who is from Garland, Texas, is being recognized by the American College of Cardiology’s “I am CardioSmart” contest for getting his heart health back on track after a massive heart attack. He is one of five heart disease patients being recognized during Heart Month for living well with heart disease.

Johnson, who has a history of high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol levels, began having pains between his shoulder blades and under his armpit the morning of his heart attack. He said he felt awful but blamed it on food poisoning—up until that day, his high blood pressure and cholesterol had been managed successfully with medication.

He went to the doctor immediately, where he had an electrocardiogram and was told to wait in the waiting room for results. A self-proclaimed workaholic, Johnson ignored the request and headed back to the office 30 miles away. His heart stopped in the elevator at his office but thanks to good Samaritans standing nearby, he received CPR almost immediately and emergency workers arrived shortly after colleagues called 911.

Johnson received two stents and a left ventricle assist device once he was at the hospital, his heart stopped again hours later and again he was brought back by CPR. His doctors even introduced the idea of a heart transplant, but his heart recovered, against all odds.

“One of the doctors told me that less than 2 percent of the people who survive heart attacks like mine live without some kind of impairment,” he said. “I was a weak but willing patient.”

He began physical therapy in the hospital and after he was discharged began cardiac rehabilitation. Cardiac rehabilitation helps each patient design a program that can improve their lifestyle after heart disease. It can include nutrition counseling, exercise training, smoking cessation help and stress reduction techniques.

As part of the Hospital-to-Home initiative, a national quality improvement initiative co-sponsored by the ACC and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement that is designed to make a heart patient’s transition from the hospital to outpatient status as easy as possible, it is recommended that all patients have a referral for a cardiac rehabilitation program within seven days of discharge after a heart attack.

“Getting patients on the right health track very soon after a heart attack is critical for their recovery,” said Mary Norine Walsh, MD, FACC, chair of the American College of Cardiology Patient-Centered Care Committee. “For these patients, cardiac rehabilitation has been shown to decrease repeat heart attacks and the need for repeat hospitalization and to improve long-term survival.”

Johnson said he worked hard with a team of rehabilitation specialists and set daily goals. The cardiac rehabilitation program taught him about good fats and bad fats, nutritional needs and caloric intake.

“Exercise has been a part of my life off and on, but now I know I have no other option,” he said. “I have learned more about blood sugar, and I am more aware of the physiological effects of food on my energy levels. I now eat food that is good for me, not simply food that tastes good.”

Johnson is one of the lucky ones, and he attributes it to determination and a strong support system.

“I am adjusting to the changes I have to make,” he said. “I ask a lot of questions of my doctors and accept their input into my lifestyle changes. These are not an option. This is a collaborative effort where we work together to achieve heart health.”

CardioSmart is the patient education and support program developed by the American College of Cardiology. Its mission is to engage, inform and empower patients to better prepare them for participation in their own care. In 2013, CardioSmart established a contest to find individuals who were living well with specific heart disease conditions: high blood pressure, heart failure, atrial fibrillation, previous heart attack or coronary artery disease, and showcase their stories to inspire other patients.

David Wang of Boston was the overall winner, through voting on the CardioSmart Facebook page. Read his story here.

For more information on preventing and treating high blood pressure, visit www.cardiosmart.org/Heart-Conditions/High-Blood-Pressure.

For more information on cardiac rehabilitation, visit CardioSmart. 

The mission of the American College of Cardiology is to transform cardiovascular care and improve heart health. The College is a 43,000-member medical society comprised of physicians, surgeons, nurses, physician assistants, pharmacists and practice managers. The College is a leader in the formulation of health policy, standards and guidelines. The ACC provides professional education, operates national registries to measure and improve quality of care, disseminates cardiovascular research, and bestows credentials upon cardiovascular specialists who meet stringent qualifications. For more information, visit www.cardiosource.org/ACC.


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