A Runner at Heart

July 25, 2018

Aristeo González’s inspiring recovery from open-heart surgery

12 marathons, 15 half marathons and thousands of hours of training are proof that Aristeo González is passionate about running. He had hoped that his lifelong dedication to fitness might protect him from developing heart disease, which has afflicted many in his family, including both of his brothers.

Pulmonary rehab is here!

Doctors Hospital is proud to introduce a pulmonary rehabilitation program for those living with chronic lung diseases. The program is housed in the cardiac rehab unit with access to monitoring devices, the indoor track and special exercise equipment. Cardiopulmonary Director Antonio Cardenas, RRT, is pleased to offer pulmonary rehab services to patients. “We’re eager for the residents of Laredo to have access to this new, beneficial initiative,” he says.

Learn more about pulmonary rehab >

Open-heart surgery

González was in his mid-40s when he first began experiencing chest pain that made it harder to exercise. "High cholesterol runs in my family," he says. "I knew one day something would happen. I think because I've always been active, I resisted for longer."

In December 2014, González had a stent placed for a blocked artery but the problem persisted until even climbing the stairs in his home exhausted him. His primary care doctor referred him to a cardiologist at Doctors Hospital of Laredo, and on November 30, 2016, at age 48, cardiothoracic surgeon Arthur Santos, MD, performed a seven-bypass open-heart surgery on blockages in González's coronary arteries.

Regaining strength

González went to cardiac rehabilitation at Doctors Hospital three times a week for three months after surgery. The program provides patients with nutritional guidance, medication management and safe exercise on specialized equipment. According to the clinical coordinator for the cardiac rehabilitation department, Ana Sanchez, RN, patients who have had heart attacks, heart surgery or interventional procedures should strive to attend rehabilitation multiple times a week to recover strength and stamina. Cardiac rehabilitation is crucial for improving long-term health. Patients who go through rehab may benefit from improved nutrition, weight loss, diminished fatigue, less shortness of breath and reduced risk of rehospitalization and infection.

Each patient receives an individualized therapy plan based on their cardiac condition, fitness level and personal goals. Sanchez is especially emphatic about the importance of goal setting in recovery. “We try to make patients aware that you have to set goals. It may be to enroll in a gym, walk two miles a day, go dancing or practice yoga,” she says.

A year after his surgery, González did a 10K race in Austin, Texas, and in April 2018, he ran a half marathon in San Antonio. “I’m very grateful to Dr. Santos who did the surgery, to the nurses and to the whole team. And thanks to the staff in the cardiac rehab, I began to have more strength to walk and then to run. After rehab, I was like new.”

Social support is key

In addition to physical rehabilitation, there is the emotional component of recovery that many may overlook. “Patients go through a roller coaster of emotions during recovery,” explains Sanchez. “The nursing staff and other patients in rehab provide social support.”

She also encourages patients to include loved ones in the initial assessment so that they can learn how to offer support throughout the recovery process. The cardiac rehab unit has a private conference room that can accommodate up to 12 people for family consultations.

González said that the support of his daughters and wife, who all lead active, health-conscious lifestyles, was crucial for his recovery. His running buddies also helped, visiting him at the hospital and joking that he had to get better fast to go running with them.

González took all of the encouragement to heart. “I am going to continue training to see if I can get a Boston Marathon qualifying time. I promised Dr. Santos that I’m going to get better and run the Boston Marathon. That’s my goal."

Call 956-523-2779 for more information.

Learn more about cardiac rehab >