The Heart of the Community

“American Heart Month” Isn't Just In February at St. Joseph’s

Article by Don Seaman

Photography by John Agnello

Originally published in Wayne Lifestyle

It happened on a Sunday.

Mike Sibilski was at home in Wayne, in his kitchen with his 21-year-old daughter, Julianna, when he felt a throbbing pain in his arms.

Mike was having a heart attack.

The sudden pain in his arms was out of the blue. He never felt any symptoms leading up to it, so it would've been easy to wait it out to see if it passed. What he did next made all the difference. Had he decided to simply lie down for a while to rest instead of telling his wife maybe they should go to the hospital, he’d be gone. There would be no watching his daughter graduate from college. No walking either Julianna or her 24-year-old sister, Cassie, down the aisle. No growing old with Anne. The “widowmaker” cardiac event he was having would’ve seen to that, without mercy.

Instead, they headed straight to St. Joseph’s University Medical Center, for a rapid diagnosis and treatment within their state-of-the-art catheterization lab. It was on this mammoth machine that he had his stent inserted, saving his life.

"The minute we arrived they jumped into action. So organized and methodical from the start. They were all so communicative throughout the process and you could really feel their concern for you. And I was very impressed - and relieved - at how painless it all was, despite the condition I was in," Mike explains.

This catheterization lab provides doctors with a full-body image, showing details down to the vascular level, which allows them to see exactly where in the body a blockage could be. And in the case of a cardiac event, that’s crucial.

While Mike was treated for his cardiac event in Paterson, Wayne now boasts a cutting-edge cath lab of their own, used primarily for diagnostic purposes, with Paterson handling most critical care cases. Wayne’s lab opened in March of 2023. In Mike’s case, his 100% blocked artery required the trauma-center care provided in Paterson.

For Mike, and so many others like him, it was life changing. And, although the process can be done in a single day, St. Joseph’s care doesn’t end there. It’s just the beginning.

Recovery begins with education. Physical conditioning and good nutrition are keys to getting your heart health back, according to MaryAnn Hozak, DNP, RN, NEA-BC and Administrative Director for the Department of Cardiology at St. Joseph’s Health. “After a cardiac event, patients are directed to our outpatient cardiac rehabilitation, where they are medically monitored while exercising and regaining heart strength. Mike has participated in the outpatient cardiac rehabilitation program right near his home -- at St. Joseph’s Wayne Medical Center.”

“Our goal is to instill a healthy lifestyle for our patients,” says Evonne Greenwood, manager of cardiac rehabilitation. “We educate patients on the importance of safe exercise, proper nutrition, medication management, and psychosocial support, just to name a few.  We are consistently involved in progressing each patient through their individualized cardiopulmonary rehab plan and inspire and encourage them to continue this healthy lifestyle once they graduate.”

Their program also offers a community component for patients, when they are well enough to exercise off hospital grounds. “We have a partnership with the YMCA in Wayne so that after their outpatient cardiac rehab program at the hospital is finished, they can continue their exercise program. We’ll have a nurse there on site to give them some reassurance that they’ll be doing it safely and they’ll be monitored,” says Hozak.

Through the course of the program, Mike lost 55 pounds during his cardiac rehab, impressed with the accountability the monitored program offered. It all goes back to the healthy lifestyle change that St. Joseph’s encourages. Their rehab program is one of a full life reboot, including exercise, healthy eating - and not just for the patients.

“It’s not always the patient who’s responsible for cooking in the home,” says Hozak. Hozak. “We work with the nutritionist at ShopRite to help our patients – and their families - with their shopping to create a healthy eating plan at home. We keep the entire family involved when someone has a cardiac incident. They’re all invested, they’re all anxious. We support the entire family as a team.”

In Mike's case, that meant something even more dear to his recovering heart. He's the primary caretaker for his mother as well, so not only was her welfare at risk had he not been treated, he now has an opportunity to improve her overall nutrition through this program as well. 

Recovering from an “insult to the heart,” Hozak says, requires a holistic approach to rehab. Procedures like angioplasty or inserting a stent may win the battle, but it doesn’t win the war. You have to address what brought you there in order to recover fully throughout the rest of your life.

St. Joseph’s doesn’t stop with their inbound cardiac patients. One of the things that she's proudest of is their involvement with the community. In light of an increase in cardiac events happening in sports, they’ve worked with DePaul High School to add baseline EKGs to their student athletes’ physicals. The hospital team is present The hospital team is there at every Wayne Day and many other events throughout the year to connect with the community.

“We’re part of the fabric of the community,” says Hozak. “And the community is part of the St. Joe’s family.”

She should know all about why it’s such a family. She really is a St. Joseph’s lifer – not only did she recently celebrate her 40th year of nursing while working at the hospital in Paterson, she was born there.

And Mike Sibilski can certainly attest to how much of a difference that medical family can make, even when you’d never met them before you really need them.

The new, ultramodern cath lab on St. Joseph’s Wayne campus might provide medical miracles, but there’s far more to cardiac health than technology. The cardiac team at St. Joseph’s is committed to helping their patients, families, and everyone in the community to develop a healthy lifestyle. Here at Wayne Lifestyle, that level of care is nothing short of heartwarming.

St. Joseph's Wayne Medical Center is located at 244 Hamburg Turnpike in Wayne. 

“You don’t want to become a memory.” – Mike Sibilski

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