Sandra and daughter, Calista
Sandra, pictured post-graduation from Cardiac Rehab, with her daughter, Calista. (Photo: UHN)

logo.jpgSandra Gee was born with a heart condition.

"As a kid, I never stopped. I never let the heart condition stop me," says Sandra, now 49 years old. "At the time, my cardiologist told me to take 10 steps and then take a break. I said: 'hell no.'"

Two kids, five heart surgeries and almost 40 years later, Sandra was nearly crippled by arthritis in her knee. Her physician advised her to go on bed rest when the knee bothered her. She did this on and off for years, which led to weight gain and diminished mobility.

Calista, her 17-year-old daughter, remembers shopping with her mom at this time. Trips were broken up by numerous rest breaks on a bench.

Sandra's cardiologist was concerned about the stress her weight and lack of fitness was putting on her heart. She enrolled in the Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation Program at Toronto Rehab's Rumsey Centre in June 2016.

"I had no fitness when I started," Sandra says.

"The first thing we do at Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation is listen to what the person wants to accomplish, and what the barrier may be to healthy living," explains Joan Kitchen, Sandra's cardiac rehabilitation supervisor at Toronto Rehab. "We encourage setting realistic goals and weekly action plans. And we work with the patient to actively problem solve to find solutions they can try."

Sandra with walking sticks
Sandra now walks almost two miles daily. (Photo: UHN)

Sandra had no hesitation when setting her cardiac rehab goal.

"My goal was to walk with my kids," she says.

After six months of cardiac rehab, Sandra had transformed her life from sedentary to active – and her endurance was markedly better.

"My eldest daughter, Aluthra, says the she used to have to slow down to walk with me, now she speeds up to keep pace."

Sandra has also lost five inches from her waistline and is beginning to fit into her old clothes.

With the weight loss, Sandra is also regaining her lost independence. She is now able to tie her shoe laces again, for example. Calista jokes: "I'm out of a job."

And, Sandra's husband points out that he can put his arms around her again.

Sandra continues with her cardiac rehab prescription and walks every day for up to two miles and maintains her strength training. A friend she met at Cardiac Rehab helps keep her motivated. They meet at a mall for daily walks.

This past summer, Sandra and her daughters were shopping for her eldest's first year away at university. She barely had to take breaks on the bench.

"I​​'m so thankful for my endurance and mobility."​​

Dr. Paul Oh

Healthy heart tips from Dr. Paul Oh,​ Medical Director of the Cardiac Rehab and Secondary Prevention Program​ at UHN.

  • Sit less. Long periods of sitting can have a negative impact on your heart health. But, research shows if you sit for more than four hours a day you can counter this by doing 60 to 75 minutes of moderate exercise.  Also, break up your sitting time by taking doing light activity (i.e. walking, stretching).
  • Get moving. Regular exercise (150 minutes/week of aerobic activity) combats the effects of regular stress in our lives. When we stop being active, our body literally shifts the way our nervous system controls our heart, putting us into a state of higher resting "stress."
  • Resistance training. Aerobic exercise is important, but many of us forget the benefits of resistance training at least twice a week. This is important for your heart, muscular development and healthy bones.​​
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