John Malone flat-lined for two minutes after suffering a massive heart attack, then spent 16 days in the hospital.
Afterwards, he needed intensive cardiac rehabilitation to regain his strength. He found both expert care and second-to-none compassion at Regional One Health’s Center for Rehabilitative Medicine.
John said Occupational Therapist Dardhielle Jean not only helped him feel better than ever, she made him feel like family during a challenging time.
John Malone was doing things the right way.
At 57, he worked in inventory control for the City of Atlanta and took care of his adult son, who is autistic. He found time to exercise four or five days a week. He tried to eat healthy.
So naturally, the massive heart attack came as a shock.
He’d been feeling off for a few weeks, so he went to an urgent care. An EKG came back normal, but the doctor suggested he see a cardiologist.
“I made an appointment for Friday. I had my heart attack Thursday night,” John said. “I felt the pain in my chest, and I was able to get to the steps and ask my wife to call 911.”
John flat-lined for two minutes. He recalls seeing the faces of loved ones who had passed away, and the most beautiful sunset he had ever witnessed. “I was reaching for them, and I felt the spirit leaving my body. Then I heard the paramedic say, ‘I’ve got him, I’ve got him,’ and all of a sudden I was looking down into my own face.”
John Malone had been given a second chance at life.
He spent 16 days in an Atlanta hospital. Upon release, he needed intensive cardiac rehabilitation, a combination of physical and occupational therapy, to regain his strength.
His brother, who lives in Olive Branch, suggested John move in with him and do his therapy at Regional One Health’s Center for Rehabilitative Medicine. “Leaving my son was tough, and it was hard to place that responsibility on my wife,” he said. “Those are things I struggled with.”
But he knew he was where he needed to be as soon as he met Manager of Rehabilitative Services Ambrosia Scott, DPT, LAT, CCI; and occupational therapist Dardhielle Jean, OTR/L, CHT.
Their expertise gave him confidence, and their kindness gave him comfort. “They make patients feel included in what they do,” John said. “It’s not a journey the patient has to take alone, it’s a journey the patient and therapist take together.”
For John and Dardhielle, that journey started in the rehab kitchen.
“I grew to hate that kitchen,” John laughed. “She had these little cones and she had me take one off the shelf and put it on the counter, then take it off the counter and put it back on the shelf. My pulse went up to 120 just from that. It was amazing how it tasked my body. For two weeks, that little bit just beat me up.”
But each time, John got a little stronger. Soon, they moved onto strength training with resistance bands and pedaling on a standup bike.
“She never stopped pushing me. Her favorite words are, ‘Very good, Mr. Malone. Very good,’” John said. “But I learned the worst thing you can do is let her know you’re progressing…that’s when she increases what you’re doing!”
For Dardhielle, those increases are carefully planned based on a patient’s resting and maximum heart rate and overall health. “The heart is a muscle, and you want to work it but not over-exhaust it,” she said. “The idea is to increase the strength of the heart incrementally.”
Her goal is to help patients live independently, which means being able to perform activities like household chores and self-care. With patients like John who are working at the time of their illness, she also looks to get them back to work safely.
With that in mind, she incorporated tasks that mimicked what John would do at home and work – cleaning, laundry, carrying and lifting increasingly heavy loads.
Ultimately, she’ll take him through a comprehensive functional capacity test to determine if he can safely return to work.
While it was a journey John never expected, it’s one he said has made him stronger. “I came in on death’s door, and now I’ve never felt so good,” he said. “I want to be better than before the heart attack, and take what I learned at Regional One Health and make it part of my daily life.”
With Dardhielle’s support, he’s confident he can do it.
“She’s so observant on posture, stride, everything, and she ingrained that in me. When I sit down I hear her voice in my head: ‘John, sit up straight,’” he said. “She has amazing attention to detail, and that helped me learn to perform each exercise correctly so I can get the full benefit.”
But that’s not even what meant the most to him.
“The best thing about being here is how Dardhielle made me feel like family. She is sincerely empathetic and caring, and had a genuine desire to help me get better,” John said. “It made this transition in my life so much easier.”
As he prepares to return to Atlanta, he’s determined to take full advantage of his second chance: “I want to get home and be a better father and husband, and just live a healthy, productive life with my family,” he said. “I’m grateful that I have the chance to do that.”