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Mike Hudson, cardiac rehab patient, skating in an arena
Mike Hudson was sidelined from hockey due to a heart attack. It led to open heart surgery at HHS and was followed by rehabilitation. This included a partnership program with the YMCA called Healthy Hearts.
February 7, 2023

Getting back on the ice after open heart surgery

Burlington resident Mike Hudson was surprised to end up in hospital after a heart attack in April 2022. By the time paramedics got him to his local hospital, most of his symptoms had subsided. As someone in his late 60s who is healthy, active and had no known risk factors for heart problems, he was shocked to learn the cause.

Cardiac rehab patient, Mike Hudson at an indoor arena before going onto the ice.

Mike Hudson, HHS cardiac rehab patient who benefited from the Healthy Hearts Program, has now returned to the rink.

“It wasn’t until I looked back that I realized some very small signs were there, coupled with a genetic connection I hadn’t realized. But, I never would have been able to put the pieces together if it weren’t for the heart attack,” says Hudson.

He was referred to Hamilton Health Sciences’ (HHS) Hamilton General Hospital, the regional cardiac centre for south-central Ontario. There, the cardiac team found that all five of the arteries that supply blood to the heart were blocked. This would require open heart surgery and subsequent cardiac rehabilitation.

Building back stamina

After Hudson’s successful surgery later that spring, he was referred to HHS’ Cardiac Health and Rehab Clinic to get continued support in his recovery.

This team consists of physicians, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, social workers and dietitians who work together at the individual patient level. This means each patient is assigned a team based on their recovery needs to help them improve their overall health in a way that works best for them.

“Bringing health experts into a community health setting allows patients to get the best care close to home.”

There are four main areas of focus: medication management, exercise, stress management and nutrition. Patients learn about these areas generally in a group class format, then meet with their team to discuss their goals and tailor each area for their own recovery.

When the pandemic hit, the team had to shift to virtual classes and appointments. Then as restrictions opened up, instead of bringing patients back to the Hamilton General Hospital, they partnered with the YMCA of Hamilton/Burlington/Brantford. This allowed patients to stay within their community – the cardiac rehab team comes to them. They continue to work out of both the Burlington and Hamilton mountain YMCA locations.

headshot of Vince Pacifici, cardiac rehab physiotherapist

Vince Pacifici, physiotherapist, Cardiac Health and Rehab Clinic

“After surgery, even simple tasks can be difficult, so getting patients’ stamina back is very important,” says Vince Pacifici, physiotherapist with the Cardiac Health and Rehab Clinic. “Since it’s much easier for them to go to the YMCA, we’re better setting them up for success. We’ve even just started, as trial run, to offer our program out of the YMCA’s downtown Hamilton location too.”

Healthy Hearts

Being an avid hockey player who participates on multiple teams, Hudson’s rehab goal is getting back on the ice.

“Hockey is about more than just the game. It kept me fit and is a great way to spend time with friends,” says Hudson. “After my surgery, I was really missing it.”

For those who have more fitness-related goals, the cardiac rehabilitation team can refer patients to the Healthy Hearts Program. This is where HHS and YMCA staff work together to create a tailored and gradual fitness plan. Patients participate in sessions twice a week for 16 weeks that are supervised by hospital-trained YMCA staff.

“It was the most amazing feeling to be back on the ice.”

“While it’s wonderful to work with a patient who’s eager to get their fitness level back up, I was concerned Mike may push too hard,” says Pacifici, who worked with Hudson. “Plus, he had already gone to the gym before his surgery so it would be easy to overdo it. That’s why I felt gradual and supervised exercise with the Healthy Hearts Program would be a great fit for him.”

While the YMCA staff help patients with each session, they also have regular communication with the HHS cardiac rehab physiotherapists on the patients’ progress. Then the physiotherapists have regular follow-ups with the patients to re-evaluate all aspects of their recovery.

“We are so pleased to have the cardiac rehabilitation program and Healthy Hearts reactivated after pandemic closures,” says Genevieve Hladysh, a senior regional manager at the YMCA. “Bringing health experts into a community health setting allows patients to get the best care close to home. With safe exercise prescription, social connection, and ongoing support for lifestyle change we have seen so many have amazing outcomes.”

Group photo of the HHS and YMCA staff that support cardiac rehab.

The HHS and YMCA team that supports patients through their cardiac rehab and the Healthy Hearts Program (Genevieve Hladysh, third from the right).

Pacifici checked in with Hudson every few weeks and had no concerns with his fitness progress. “We did have to keep a close eye on his blood pressure and his physician had to make some adjustments to his medication, but otherwise, he was a model patient,” he says.

A successful rehab

Hudson entered the Healthy Hearts Program in August 2022 and finished at the end of the year.

“Not only were the YMCA staff wonderful but being surrounded by others who have had a similar experience with similar goals made for a supportive community,” says Hudson. “There were even some people who had finished the program that would pop into the group warm-up to encourage those of us that were still building our strength back.”

As Hudson entered the new year he got one step closer to his goal. He laced up his skates again for the first time.

“It was the most amazing feeling to be back on the ice,” he says.

While he hasn’t been cleared yet to play hockey, he continues to regularly attend public skates to get himself ready for the game.


February is recognized as Heart Month across North America and is a time to focus on your heart health.