North Hudson Fire and Rescue Battalion Chief Back to Work After Cardiac Rehab

Albert Salvesen

Albert Salvesen cycles vigorously on an exercise bicycle as cardiac nurses monitor his heart rate and an exercise physiologist oversees his training. He speaks with just a slight breathiness as he pedals.

“Everyone here knows what they are doing, and they watch out for you,” Albert says. “That gives you the confidence to push yourself further, so you can keep getting stronger.”

JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute’s Center for Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation speeds the recovery and extends the lives of people like Albert, who experienced cardiac arrest in 2021 when his heart stopped beating for three minutes and 30 seconds.

Albert is committed to cardiac rehabilitation with a clear goal: to get back to his life and his job as a battalion chief at North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue. The husband and father of two from Old Bridge, New Jersey, was 58 years old at the time of his cardiac event and had no clear risk factors for heart disease. He was not overweight, did not smoke, regularly exercised and ate well. 

Yet minutes after a routine stress test in spring 2021, his heart suddenly stopped beating as he experienced cardiac arrest, which has low survival rates even in health care settings. Health care workers used a defibrillator to restart his heart. Albert then underwent surgery to open four blocked arteries.

Benefits of Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation 

Albert soon realized that his life-saving treatment was just the first part of his journey toward recovery.

“Rehabilitation has made an enormous difference,” he says. “People encourage you here and monitor you. It’s like a safety net in case something happens. You just can’t do this on your own. I am thankful, and I feel great.”

The Center for Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation provides state-of-the art rehabilitation for people with serious heart and lung disease, and has the expertise and experience to treat the most challenging cases, such as patients with heart and lung transplants and post-COVID lung conditions. Patients receive closely monitored, individualized exercise as well as nutritional counseling, stress management and help quitting smoking, if necessary. The goal is for people to recover faster, live longer and feel better.

The benefits of cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation are long-established. For some cardiac events, rehabilitation reduces mortality in the first year by 47 percent.

“Cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation reduces your chances of dying. It also reduces the chance you will have another cardiac event, such as a second heart attack,” says Iqbal H. Jafri, M.D., medical director of the Center for Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation.

Some patients might begin rehabilitation barely able to get out of bed or a wheelchair. Patients are often inspired and even surprised by how rehabilitation improves their lives.

“It’s rewarding to see people move forward in ways some of them did not think possible before rehabilitation,” says Steven Markos, M.D., an attending physician in the Center.

‘A Reason I am Still Here’

As a firefighter for 29 years, Albert expected cancer or smoke-related lung issues would be his downfall. “I was dead for three minutes and 30 seconds,” he says. 

His close call with mortality has prompted him to think about his own life and his commitment to his family and his job as a first responder.

“I want to keep working. Not long ago, I pulled a man out of a fire and revived him,” he recalls. “I saved a life, and in turn my life was saved. I think about that and think there is a reason I am still here.”

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care. 
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