“I’ll see you around.”
“Not if I see you first!”

This kind of good-natured ribbing isn’t what you’d expect to hear at a hospital-based fitness center, but it’s part of a normal day at the USC Verdugo Hills Hospital (USCVHH) Cardiac Rehabilitation Program (CRP) for cardiac patient Phil Downs.

Downs, 73, a retired California Highway patrol officer, can easily engage in strenuous physical activity that someone 20 years younger can’t — and he often does. He’s been a regular at the fitness center since 2008, after a stent was placed in an artery leading to his heart.

Big Benefits from Exercise

Before the procedure, Downs had experienced arm and chest pain and a loss of energy. Tests determined the problems were caused by an arterial blockage. After the stent was inserted, Downs’ doctor recommended regular cardiac exercise to improve his heart’s blood flow and muscle strength and prevent future cardiac problems.

“Phil is in excellent shape for someone his age,” said Rick Andrews, the CRP exercise physiologist who has guided Downs from the beginning.

Andrews and the other exercise physiologists who work at USC-VHH make individual adjustments to best meet the needs of their patients. Initially, Downs used a treadmill, but Andrews deleted that from his routine after Downs had surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right knee. At the same time, Downs chose to boost his strength training.

“There’s no question that my endurance is because of working out in the gym,” said Downs, who can be found exercising three mornings a week on a bicycle and weight machines at the CRP fitness center.

The exercise definitely has made a difference. With no help, Downs built a master bathroom and wrap-around porch at his La Crescenta, CA, home, and regularly performs maintenance work on his cabin in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. He also installed custom railing at his daughter and son-in-law’s home — his son-in-law found he couldn’t keep up with the older man’s long workdays during construction.

“The program has absolutely benefited and enhanced the quality of my life,” Downs said. “Probably the greatest benefit is that a few months after starting the muscle toning work, the back pain that I had all my life went away and has never returned. Between the stent and the exercise, I feel like I have the energy level of 10 years ago.”

Enjoying New Relationships

Downs is one of the program’s maintenance patients, meaning that his workouts are no longer done under doctor’s orders, monitored by an EKG machine or charted. As
such, he can continue to use the facility at his own expense, consult with the staff and have access to hospital care if needed — offerings distinctive to the CRP.