At 76, Creta Carter Nichols was the picture of health, or so it seemed.
She exercised, ate healthy and enjoyed a vibrant social life. So she wasn’t
overly concerned in April 2013, when a pain spread across her chest at
shoulder height. After all, she had none of the classic heart attack symptoms.
Still, Nichols was concerned enough to follow-up with her doctor. All
of her tests were normal, except for a blood enzyme test, which showed
she had experienced a heart attack.
“With my healthy lifestyle, I couldn’t believe it,” says
Nichols. “But my cardiologist said, ‘Family history is hard
Nichols later discovered that women don’t always exhibit the “classic”
heart attack symptom of crushing chest pain that radiates down one arm.
Their pain may feel more like uncomfortable fullness and may be accompanied
by shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain. Men, in
addition to chest pain, can have pain in one or both arms, the back, neck,
jaw or stomach, cold sweats, nausea, lightheadedness or shortness of breath.
Everyone reacts differently, so it’s best to call 9-1-1 and get
to the hospital right away.
After having three heart catheterizations and two stents, Nichols found
a resource that sustains her to this day. Since 1986, the Southeast Georgia
Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Program on the Brunswick Campus has been helping patients improve their heart
and lung function, physical stamina and overall health.
The program offers three phases. Phase I, which begins when a patient is
hospitalized for a respiratory or cardiac condition, includes symptom
assessment, treatment options, coping strategies and educational sessions
on diet and nutrition. Once discharged, patients move into Phase II: a
medically prescribed and monitored exercise and education program. When
patients graduate from Phase II, they have the option to continue their
exercise routine in the maintenance program, known as Phase III. This
phase offers patients the opportunity to continue improving their health
in a clinical setting, but with limited monitoring and supervision.
“Our nurses monitor patients’ blood pressure, heart rhythm
and oxygen saturation before, during and after rehabilitation exercises,”
says Valory Peeples, MBA, RRT, director, Cardiopulmonary Services. For
patients recovering from a life-threatening cardiac event, that’s
“When you’re there, you’re reassured,” says Nichols.
“The staff and my peers are so encouraging. It’s my happy
place. I regained confidence in my body and knew rehab was healing my
A New Identity
As Nichols’ strength and stamina improved, her mind shifted from
identifying as a heart attack victim to wellness. Her experience was so
positive, she stayed on for Phase III. For a monthly membership fee, she
can access the workout facility, staff expertise and health education
classes. Three mornings a week, she rotates between the elliptical, treadmill
and rowing machine. “At 82, I don’t run anymore, but I do
jog on the treadmill for two minutes just to prove to myself that I can!”
While not every octogenarian is as fit as Nichols, the
Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Program welcomes all ages and abilities. “Some participants have exercised
here for 20 years, but newcomers are equally welcome. It’s like
a family,” Peeples says.
When she considers her own transformation, no one is more grateful for
the Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Program than Nichols. When first diagnosed,
she wept. “I did not want to be identified as a heart attack victim.
I’ve now become a self-appointed ambassador for the program.”
Nichols tells others in her community about the
Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Program and encourages them to restore their health and to get involved doing
something they love. A worthy role model, Nichols practices what she preaches.
“The program is absolutely wonderful. I’ve been to Africa
four times since my heart attack, I’ve volunteered in the community
and I ride bikes with my grandchildren.”
2415 Parkwood Dr., on the first floor of the Southeast Georgia Health System
Brunswick Campus, the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program is certified by the American Association
of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation. Program services are usually
covered by most insurance companies, but physician referral and copayments
may be required. For more information about the
Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Program, please call 912-466-1100.