Pandemic means limited access to life-saving cardiac rehab services

OAK HARBOR, Wash. -- As things get going again and offices start opening back up, there are a lot of people who have missed out on precious time, including folks who have needed potentially life-saving treatments.

Those with heart conditions or people who have suffered heart attacks are usually required to go to cardiac rehabilitation offices as part of their recovery, but most of those offices have been closed since the beginning of the pandemic.

It has been an especially frustrating time for Darwin Wilson and his wife Kari, who live in Oak Harbor.

Wilson suffered a heart attack around the beginning of the pandemic, and once he recovered enough, doctors ordered him to immediately begin cardiac rehabilitation. But his nearest hospital, Island Hospital, closed its cardiac rehab unit because of Covid-19, as did most cardiac rehab offices around the state.

The couple became frustrated that at a time when they could go to Walmart and shop for flowers, they couldn’t get the potential life-saving service they needed.

“I was scared, really scared,” said Wilson. “I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

“The doctors said that he has to go to rehab,” said Wilson’s wife Kari. “He needs to work out, he needs to be monitored by someone, and he needs to be at the hospital in case something happens.”

Hospital administrators say the threat of Covid-19 is what has kept cardiac rehab facilities closed.

“The facility is basically a gym with a group of people in close quarters, and breathing heavier during exercise,” said Dennis Richards with Island Hospital. “These are also cardiac patients who, according to the CDC, are at higher risk for Covid-19 and it may be difficult for some of the patients to wear a mask while they exercise.”

Richards says the hospital is still working on opening its cardiac rehab offices, and other hospitals are beginning to open them up now.

Darwin Wilson will have to travel, but has finally been able to secure an appointment at a cardiac rehab office and start his road to recovery.