A Hartlepool man who suffered a heart attack has praised an NHS rehab team – after staff went above and beyond to ensure he could continue the exercise classes he did before falling ill.
Christopher Akers-Belcher had a cardiac arrest in January, after waking in the middle of the night with chest pains.
Christopher, who is the chief executive of Hartlepool Healthwatch and lives in the town, was rushed into the University Hospital of North Tees and, following various tests, it was confirmed he had had a heart attack.
After being transferred to the James Cook University Hospital and following a period of treatment, Christopher was discharged back to his home and offered the opportunity to attend special cardio-rehabilitation classes.
The sessions are run by the cardiac rehabilitation service at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust in community buildings across Stockton and Hartlepool.
Christopher says he has found the classes “incredibly beneficial” – but it is the help he has had off the team to enable him to continue his weekly sessions at Exortus CrossFit in Hartlepool he is equally grateful for.
He said: “I have found the classes to be absolutely fantastic and incredibly beneficial in my recovery.
“On my third week our normal instructor was on holiday and the class was taken by a lady called Nikki Lilley, who is one of the cardiology nurses.
“Nikki, as with all the nurses, was really great but I feel she went the extra mile.
“My own heart nurse Michelle told Nikki I previously did CrossFit classes prior to my heart attack and I was keen to return as soon as possible.
“It turned out Nikki attends the same gym and – though she is in a different class – she asked my permission to speak with my coach to aid my rehabilitation and return to CrossFit when I could.
“I agreed to this and Nikki spoke with my coach but also agreed to do a training and awareness session with all the gym’s coaches. This was so they could learn what to expect from heart patients and how best to help them to return to a full and active life.
“I think these kind of gestures need recognising as it really is going up and beyond and I really appreciate their care and support.”
Thanks to Nikki’s support, Christopher has now been back doing the CrossFit classes for the last few weeks.
Nikki said: “Christopher wanted to know if there was any way he could return to it as he was feeling cautious about going back.
“I go to the same gym and said I would be happy to speak to the team there about tailoring these classes for people who have had a heart issue.
“CrossFit is really about getting your heartbeat consistently high. I have explained to the team what we as a cardio rehab team do in our classes and the protocols we follow.”
The rehab team runs five levels of classes, several times a week, from community locations in Hartlepool, Thornaby, Ingleby Barwick, Stockton and Billingham.
Patients are referred into the service, who offer advice and support in areas including angina management, stent or valve theory support, emotional and physical risk factors (such as smoking or alcohol), a look at medication levels and so on.
The team run walking programmes and rehab classes, which Christopher has attended and recently completed at Community Hub South in Hartlepool.
Michelle Peevor, community cardiac rehabilitation nurse, said: “Uptake nationally for these classes isn’t high – but when people do come they realise how fun and rewarding it is.
“We ask patients to attend the classes twice a week, following a series of levels. Christopher has just completed the fifth and final level that involves exercises with weights.
“The sessions involve a 15 minute warm-up, a 24 minute circuit, followed by a 10 minute cool-down and heartrate measure after exercise.
“It is normally a huge confidence booster for people – they know they can exercise somewhere in a controlled environment where they know they are safe.”
Christopher added: “Thanks to the expertise of all of this team, I now have the confidence to return to the life I had before I had a heart attack and I can’t thank them enough for that.”
Husband and wife Ashley and Natalie McFee set up Exortus CrossFit two and a half years ago.
Ashley said: “Nikki visited us and has been really helpful in terms of providing information and support around how we can help Christopher and people like him who have had similar health issues.
“I have invited Nikki back in to talk to all of our staff in more depth around how to tailor our sessions and over different issues that might occur and how we should respond in these scenarios.
“We pride ourselves on offering that personalised support to people who come here and putting the focus on this being a positive and supportive environment to be in.”