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How WellSpan helped a 62-year-old reach her goal after a heart attack

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Signing up for WellSpan Cardiac Rehabilitation program was a key

Michele Luckenbaugh
Michele Luckenbaugh holds a plaque she earned for finishing first in her age division in the 2013 Harrisburg Half Marathon.

Michele Luckenbaugh’s heart attack changed her life. For good.

Luckenbaugh suffered a heart attack in January 2011 at age 62, about the same time she found out she was going to become a grandmother for the first time.

She had borderline hypertension and was borderline obese and pre-diabetic. After receiving three arterial stents and spending a week in the hospital, she was grateful to go home.

Soon, though, she began to feel like she wasn’t making enough progress—physically or emotionally. Her family and her doctors urged her to sign up for WellSpan’s Cardiac Rehabilitation program.

“It turned out to be one of the most important decisions in my life,” she said. “The program gave me the confidence I needed to pick up where I had left off with my life.”

The encouragement Luckenbaugh received during her two months in cardiac rehab laid the groundwork for her future.

“My charge nurse and I were a good match as far as personality and communication style,” she recalled. “Everyone there was great at verbalizing their feedback to reinforce that I and the other patients were doing well and telling us that one success builds upon another.”

As part of her rehab, Luckenbaugh started walking. She logged mile after mile on the treadmill and walking path. After a while, she decided to give jogging a try.

“I had never run before,” she said. “I used to look at runners and ask, ‘Why do they want to do that?’ Now, I understand the passion and the sense of well-being that running can bring.”

As Luckenbaugh regained her physical and emotional strength, her daughter suggested she participate in the Harrisburg Half Marathon.

She rose to the challenge and in October 2011, less than a year after her heart attack, she completed the half marathon.

Luckenbaugh was hooked on running and continued to set new running goals for herself. She completed WellSpan’s Summer Running Series in 2012. She placed first in her age group, a feat she repeated when she finished the series again in 2013.

She ran the 2012 Harrisburg Marathon with her son-in-law and the Harrisburg Half Marathon again in 2012 and 2013. “Now, I jog more than I walk,” she said.

Luckenbaugh knows that each patient’s story is different and most patients won’t become avid runners in their 60s. But what’s more important to her is that survivors regain a sense of control over their health and develop and maintain a healthy self-confidence.

“When you have a heart attack or another critical disease, you feel like a victim,” she said. “The way you feel about yourself will affect your health. I believe that if you have a positive self-image, it can’t help but have a positive impact on your health.

“I want people to know that just because you’re a certain age, you are not resigned to rocking in a rocking chair.”

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