FARMINGTON HILLS, Mich. – When Fred Shadko developed atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart beat, he found medication couldn't control it.
Shadko needed a pacemaker, and that's when his doctor also recommended a trip to the rehab -- cardiac rehab, that is.
"When I hear rehab, I'm thinking about actresses and actors dealing with alcohol or something like that," said Shadko.
But when he walked through the doors of the Cardiac Rehab Center at Beaumont Farmington Hills, he was surprised.
"Wow, this looks like a gym. This is cardiac rehab?" said Shadko.
He quickly became part of the family.
"The way that they watch over us, the way that they plan things and have us doing things and the reporting they do, it's clearly a medical facility. It's not a gym. It looks like a gym, but it's not," said Shadko.
Cardiac rehab is a medically supervised program of exercise, nutrition counseling and stress reduction.
Dr. David Gowman, chief of cardiology at Beaumont Farmington Hills, said that supervision is critical for people getting back into exercise after suffering a heart problem.
"It makes them feel more comfortable. It makes me feel a lot more comfortable than having them do it on a sidewalk, and I think they're able to push themselves to a level that they wouldn't be able to do otherwise.
According to the American Heart Association, studies find patients who complete a cardiac rehab program reduce their risk of dying by more than 50 percent.
"I think it puts them much farther ahead than a patient that does not participate in the rehab," said Gowman. "I think their quality of life is better, their aerobic capacity is better."
There's also a social and emotional boost.
"Everybody here becomes pretty good friends. We tend to come at the same time of day," said Shadko.
Cardiac rehab registered nurse Beth Crocker said that support is important for people that may going through a difficult time.
"When you're faced with a lot of cardiovascular issues that are coming up, it really makes you realize how mortal we are," said Crocker. "They really care about each other. They typically know what's going on. Coming in and getting involved with the community that we have here that we've created, helps people to cope, helps relieve some of the stress, makes them feel connected, and works through those issues."
In spite of the proven benefits, fewer than 20 percent of eligible heart patients actually participate in a cardiac rehab program. Gowman said several weeks are generally covered by most insurance plans, and many patients benefit so much, they continue to pay out-of-pocket after that.
Shadko has been coming to cardiac rehab three times a week for just over a year. He has lost 33 pounds and has a new spring in his step.
"It's keeping me alive," said Shadko.
He's enjoying time with his granddaughter and looking forward to a new grandchild on the way.
Shadko is also a trustee for Northville Township.
"I was able to walk the Northville Fourth of July parade this past this past summer, and a year before that, I probably wouldn't have. I would have just run out of gas before," said Shadko.
When Shadko learned one of the treadmills in the Cardiac Rehab Center was broken beyond repair, he donated $5,000 to get a new one.
"It's going to mean so much. We were completely overjoyed when Fred made the offer," said Crocker. "It's so wonderful that he's been that generous to provide that for us, and the other patients will greatly appreciate that."
Shadko said it's about giving back, helping others on the journey to better health.
"He has a great heart, and we can take partial credit for that," laughed Crocker. "No, I'm just kidding."
To visit the Beaumont Farmington Hills website, click here.
To learn more about the Cardiac Rehab Center, click here.