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Hurley takes heart with cardiac rehab

Carlo Hurley exercises Monday morning at Sanford Worthington Medical Center. (Ryan McGaughey / The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — As a lifelong resident of southwest Minnesota, a 1973 graduate of Worthington High School and an enthusiastic recreational golfer, retired railroad employee Carlo Hurley knows plenty of people.

He hadn’t expected, though, to become so friendly with the physical therapists at Sanford Worthington Medical Center.

“I’m on a first-name basis with the cardiac rehab staff here,” joked Hurley. “I’ve gone through cardiac rehab four different times.”

Thanks to those experienced staff members, as well as Hurley’s own positive attitude and willingness to follow his prescribed regimen, he’s been able to remain active and calm even while continuing to battle coronary artery disease.

“It’s genetic, in my case,” said Hurley. “I get it from my mom’s side of the family; she had bypass surgery exactly one year before I did.”

It was in February 2002 that Hurley first began experiencing troublesome, telltale symptoms.

“I couldn’t do much without having to stop to catch my breath,” detailed Hurley. “And I was having some chest pains, and pain down the side of my neck and shoulders.

“I thought maybe a massage would fix it.”

Instead, when Hurley went in to the clinic to be checked, an initial stress test pointed to bigger problems — and an angiogram confirmed it.

“It showed I had four blockages, and the other areas they couldn’t even see because the blockages were so bad,” said Hurley.

After major bypass surgery and stent placement, Hurley went through his initial cardiac rehab program.

“I was good until 2008, when I had a heart attack,” said Hurley. “They put another stent in at that time.”

But again, in 2009, Hurley recognized the warning symptoms. Another stent — followed by a third cardiac rehab stint — ensued.

“It’s not so much that I have heart issues but that I have coronary artery disease,” said Hurley.

Most recently, Hurley’s cardiologist inserted a stent in November 2018, when Hurley’s attentiveness to his physical wellbeing and medical monitoring determined he was once more at risk of having a blockage threaten his vital functions.

“So I’ve been doing cardiac rehab since then,” said Hurley.

The compromised health situation in which Hurley, a 36-year track maintenance worker for Union Pacific and Chicago Northwestern who is a third-generation railroader, found himself forced a disability retirement about 10 years ago.

But Hurley took it in stride, knowing it was essential for him to take care of himself.

“I know what the outcome can be with this, and it’s something I have to live with for the rest of my life,” Hurley expressed. “I have to keep doing what I’m doing to keep my head above the ground.”

That means following through with the recommended cardiac rehab program when necessary, and Hurley is currently nearing the end of his most recent effort.

“You go in to the PT/OT area on the lower level of Sanford Worthington Medical Center three times a week for eight weeks,” Hurley described. “First thing, you weigh yourself, then they check your blood pressure and hook up monitors for your heart rate.

“They have me do some warm-up exercises, then I do machines — treadmill, bicycle, etc. — for 10 minutes apiece, followed by some weights. After cool-down exercises, I call ‘er a day.”

Hurley mentioned the goal is to “get to a certain level with some of the exercises they have me do,” he said.

“Michelle and Nancy are super good gals who know their stuff,” endorsed Hurley. “They’re really personable and don’t make things seem regimented or unpleasant.

“I do what they tell me to do, the time goes fast and the next thing you know you’re out the door.”

The Sanford therapists also review a thorough after-care plan with Hurley and other cardiac rehab patients.

“The first couple of times, they go over exercises to do at home and recommended diet,” said Hurley. “I have followed that to some extent — I could be a little more vigilant, I suppose — and on my off days I try to go and exercise at the Y or Great Life.”

Hurley’s doctors and therapists emphasize the importance of exercise and diet in keeping his arteries clean and free-flowing, so he tries to take their advice to heart.

“You gotta watch fats, salt and sugar,” urged Hurley. “No matter what you look at in the grocery store, those are in there.

“And I love soups, but there’s usually over 1,000 grams of salt in them. Homemade soups are best because you can control the amount of added salt.”

Hurley also knows to choose wheat bread and bakery products over white and to avoid processed foods as much as possible.

“I love vegetables, so that’s a positive,” he said. “And I’ve gone from eating ice cream to frozen yogurt; you just have to be smart about your food choices.

“I have a banana every morning and eat eggs with pepper, and I’m a salad eater so I’ll get a side of salad instead of French fries.

“As the old saying goes, ‘If it’s good for you, it’s not going to taste worth a hoot,’” he joked.

But time spent with his wife Shirley, plus their two daughters and four grandchildren, makes Hurley’s efforts to stay healthy worthwhile.

“I enjoy golfing, I enjoy my grandkids and when the weather does get decent — hopefully in another six to seven months — I enjoy being outside doing yard work and gardening,” Hurley said.

“Shirley and I got back two weeks ago from spending eight days in Hawaii, and we should have had them turn the plane around in Denver; we’ve had our winter.”

Hurley has received care from the same cardiologist since his first cardiac scare in 2002, and he calls the doctor “phenomenal.” He’s also grateful for the chance to undergo his cardiac rehab in Worthington with skilled rehabilitation staff.

“I’ve been very lucky with that,” said Hurley. “They’re super, they know their stuff and it’s nice to have that expertise and opportunity right in town.

“It’s just a hop, skip and a jump from home.”

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