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Steve N's Story

Heart & Vascular Care
“At age 54, Steve regarded himself as active and in good shape. So, he was puzzled when his workout just didn’t feel right.”

Know your own heart

The stomach flu set him back a few days, but Steve Neu, from Paynesville, was soon back to his normal routine of 24,000 steps a day and an elliptical workout. At age 54, Steve regarded himself as active and in good shape. So, he was puzzled when his workout just didn’t feel right.

Why did he still feel like throwing up during minimal activity? Why did he feel low on energy? Was it still the flu? He searched his symptoms online and one result suggested a blocked artery. However, the classic heart attack symptoms weren’t there: shortness of breath, heavy arms, crushing chest pain.

After monitoring his health a bit more, Steve decided to act. He made an appointment with the CentraCare Heart & Vascular Center, which was recognized in 2018 by both U.S. News & World Report and Consumer Reports for its heart care.

At his first appointment, his EKG was normal. However, a subsequent CT scan showed a 98 percent blockage of the artery on the left side of his heart. Due to the location, Steve required open heart surgery. While recovering, he toured Cardiac Rehab at St. Cloud Hospital. Steve liked the fact that they only care for heart patients. “I decided right then that I would get my rehab there, and I would do all I could to get the most out of it.”

As it turns out, Steve became one of the first graduates of St. Cloud Hospital’s new Pritikin Intensive Cardiac Rehab (ICR) program. Compared to traditional cardiac rehab, Pritikin ICR offers twice the number of sessions and expanded class options in the form of videos or workshops and cooking demonstrations, which focus on safe, effective exercise, a healthy eating plan and a healthy mind-set. It also meets the rigorous research and scientific outcome requirements necessary for Medicare approval as an ICR program. CentraCare is the first to bring Pritikin to Minnesota

“So far, patients completing our program are seeing significant weight loss, decreased use of medication and increased adherence to exercise and dietary changes,” said Julie Czeck, Cardiac Rehab & Prevention Services Supervisor at CentraCare Heart & Vascular Center. “Even people who were adamant they wouldn’t change their habits, are now doing so!”

foodWhile Pritikin focuses on overall lifestyle changes, Steve especially enjoyed the classes related to diet. Since then, he changed his cooking methods, experiments with spices, intentionally considers healthier options and eats smaller portion sizes. But it did come with trial and error. “At our first class, we learned about leafy greens and colorful vegetables. So, I went to the store and bought two pounds of cherry tomatoes. I took one bite, and I didn’t like them,” Steve admitted. “But the class taught me that it can take three weeks to re-train your brain and taste buds, so I stuck with it, and now I load my salads with tomatoes, along with many other vegetables.”

Today Steve feels better, and he recommends others to advocate for their own health. “Even if a doctor tells you that you are OK, don’t let it give you a false sense of security. You might be OK, but take how you feel seriously.”

For Steve, that meant taking charge of his own health. “I wanted my heart care in a facility that knew hearts, knew what to look for and knew how to motivate me to move forward.”