As I reflect on my definition of Heart Month, I realize that my response to that question has evolved over time.

The experiences I have had throughout my foundational years, my early career working in cardiac rehab, and now, working with cardiac rehab departments across the country have shifted my perspective. With each cardiac patient I have directly or indirectly supported along the way, my appreciation for the field and the corresponding month-long celebration has grown.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to work in healthcare.

I can recall distinct examples from as early as 6 years old when I expressed a desire to go into healthcare. I worked towards that goal throughout my school years. When I learned about cardiac rehab in college, I knew I’d found my niche. Between my calling for healthcare, my passion for exercise, and my natural desire to nurture and support people, cardiac rehab was the obvious career path for me. Considering the high prevalence of heart disease and the fact that nearly 80% of heart attacks can be prevented with lifestyle change, there would always be a need for heart health professionals.

At this point in my life, Heart Month represented a field I was passionate about and hoped to get into.

As an Exercise Physiologist in cardiac rehab…

My number one focus was to support, motivate, and encourage people who had experienced a major cardiac event. I understood they were scared and looking to me and my fellow clinicians to find hope. Every day there was a new person, a new story, and a new reason to show up as a cheerleader. I have countless stories on the impact that exercise has had on people’s lives – one of my favorites being my 86-year-old patient who told me that having a heart attack was the best thing that ever happened to him!

While I was certainly grateful to be a part of patients’ heart health journeys, at the time, Heart Month felt like a minor celebration. It meant ditching my normal uniform and wearing red on Fridays in February. It meant friendly competition between patients to see who attended cardiac rehab the most times in the month. It meant “thank you” fruit cups from hospital administration for the staff. Every year, February came and went but I never took the time to reflect on its meaning.

Expanding my reach, impact, and appreciation for Heart Month.

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to join the Pritikin ICR team as an Account Manager. My day-to-day varies but at a high level, I strategize with intensive cardiac rehab providers to increase patient engagement and help to remove any barriers sites face when offering the Pritikin program. While my objectives have changed, I am still able to offer motivation and enthusiastic support, roles I relished when I worked directly with patients. Some days I do that by spending time brainstorming with directors looking to improve their initial evaluation process. Other days I’m working with a team on how they might increase early adherence to cardiac rehab. I love partnering with dedicated professionals striving to deliver the best possible program for their patients. Working in support of those positively influencing countless lives invigorates me.

Nowadays, Heart Month has a deeper significance to me. It represents a month-long opportunity to reflect back on the countless lives I’ve made a difference in as well as the lives I’ve yet to offer help. As much as I enjoyed working directly with patients, I feel like I am where I’m supposed to be. I am grateful for the impact Pritikin has on the cardiac rehab industry. Connecting with nearly 100 sites, hundreds of team members, and thousands of patients, our footprint is huge – and it is not lost on me.

How fortunate am I to call this “my job”?  I am humbled every day – but especially during Heart Month – by the dedication of my ICR sites and their passion for lifestyle change, their patients who took a chance at bettering their lives, and my employer for walking the walk in the field of lifestyle medicine.

I recommend reflecting on what Heart Month means to you.  For me, it helped to remind myself of why I do what I do and how grateful I am to work towards improving heart health!

Happy Heart Month!