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Ed O’Sullivan
Six months of cardiac rehab helped carpenter Ed O’Sullivan build the strength he needed to return to the work he loves. His most recent project was building a sauna at his cottage, which can be seen in the background. (Photo: Courtesy Ed O’Sullivan)

Ed O'Sullivan doesn't shy away from physical labour.

In fact, the 69-year-old carpenter counts on his body to cultivate his craft – renovating period houses.

That's why a diagnosis of amyloidosis in 2018, which forced him into early retirement, hit so hard.

Amyloidosis is a disorder that produces an abnormal protein in the body and can affect different organs. In Ed's case, it caused his heart to stiffen, so it couldn't pump as well as it should.

"I was happy working, and prided myself on never getting sick," Ed says. "Then all of a sudden, I had a heart condition, and couldn't do what I love."

Fast-forward to today, where a combination of medication, support from a multidisciplinary team, and six months of participation in Toronto Rehab's Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation Program has allowed him to start taking on small jobs again.

heart month logo​Ed credits a big part of his recovery to the power of taking a walk.

You want me to do what?

When Ed arrived at Toronto Rehab's Rumsey Centre for his first session of Outpatient Cardiac Rehab, a group-based exercise and education program, he couldn't walk further than 10 feet without feeling winded.

After taking one look around the gym, he felt skeptical of the impact the program could make.  

"All I saw were people walking a track, playing with resistance bands, and doing a lot of talking," he says. "I asked myself, 'is this really rehab?' But I couldn't do anything else, so I decided to give it a go."

The Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation Program helps people with heart disease improve their cardiac health and fitness, and reduce their chance of future cardiac incidents by making lasting lifestyle and behavioural changes.

"Our goal is to help our patients thrive, get back to work, and reach the activity level that they want to get back to," says Evelyn Foster, a cardiac rehab supervisor and kinesiologist.

The program is committed to integrating education into every patient experience, and optimizing each patient's safe integration back to their communities. 

Ed's exercise prescription was pretty straightforward: Walk the track, slowly increasing distance.

"In the early days, I'd play musical chairs with the chairs lining the track – I couldn't go very far before I needed to stop, wait for my heart to catch up, and keep going," Ed recalls.

But soon the number of steps he could take went from 10 to 20. Then 30, and so on.

"Now I can walk up to 15 laps around the track – and eight laps equals one mile," he says.

"The transition has been absolutely amazing. Slow and steady."

Benefits beyond exercise

As for all the talking he noticed when he first arrived? It's played a significant role in his rehab.

"There's a motivational energy here, as staff work hard to keep us focused on recovery," he says. They're always reinforcing the importance of exercise, eating properly, paying attention to your body, and leaning on your network for support."

A network that, for Ed, has expanded to include volunteers and other participants.

"Everyone has different reasons for being there, but learning their life stories, and sharing my own, helps get stuff out."

Evelyn also encourages this open dialogue by organizing educational sessions as group discussions, rather than a classroom-style approach.

"When I lead education sessions, I like to sit down with the group, so everyone sees each other's faces, rather than the backs of their heads," she says. "This encourages them to connect more."

Today, you'll find Ed slowly getting back to a scaled-down version of the work he loves. His most recent project was building a sauna at his cottage.

"Before rehab, I couldn't cut more than a single piece of wood," he says. "The last time we were at the cottage, I decided to test myself, while waiting for my son-in-law to come outside and help me.

"Seventy-two pieces later, he showed up. Turns out, he was hiding upstairs, watching to see how far I could go.

"Over the last year, I've gotten my life back – and it feels amazing."​

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