Cardiac Rehab Patient Provides Inspiration to other Patients and Staff at MMC

Ashland resident Ken Fontecchio has enjoyed an interesting life. He has served as a Captain in the military and spent a year in Vietnam. He was in great shape running half-marathons and could easily swim a mile as a young man.

Fontecchio obtained a BS degree in Medical Technology and completed a Fellowship in Immunohematology. These degrees allowed him to enjoy a successful career as a lab manager and personnel director at a 400 bed hospital for a number of years. He decided to change fields, though, and at age 48 he received a BS degree in nursing and was employed at the Tomah VA Hospital helping other Vietnam veterans.

“I could really relate to their situation,” Fontecchio says of the job. This highlights his compassion for helping others in need. But, as the years progressed, Kent’s health started to decline.

He’s suffered several strokes, underwent bypass surgery, and has an artificial valve after suffering from a heart attack. He also has had two stents and a pacemaker put in. While in Vietnam he injured his leg and was exposed to Agent Orange, which has caused other medical problems. While many would be frustrated by the ailments, he says “you have to keep going and have a positive attitude.”

It was this attitude that introduced him to Cardiac Rehab at Memorial Medical Center and a pathway to getting healthy again.

The Cardiac Rehab program is an exercise and education program designed to help heart disease patients change their physical lifestyle and increase their physical activity level. Broken into three phases, the treatment is medically supervised and individually monitored.

Fontecchio completed Phase 2 of Cardiac Rehab last year. This level combines medical treatment with progressive exercise training and education during the heart-healing process. From there, he graduated to Phase 3 that has helped him strengthen his cardiovascular system while decreasing his cardiovascular risk level. Many patients stop here due to insurance reimbursements, but not Fontecchio. Instead, he’s committed long-term to Phase 3 with no plans on quitting.

As a regular at Cardiac Rehab, he’s become more than a patient. He’s taken it upon himself to become an unofficial advocate, bringing fresh flowers and a clean joke to brighten up the area. He says he’s become this way because that’s what friends do for each other..

“The staff here really care about me,” he explains. “If I say I might not be be in tomorrow because I’m not feeling well, they’ll actually call me up the next day at home to see how I’m feeling.”

“My wife doesn’t need to worry about me while I’m here,” he says. This piece of mind is priceless after a scare last year that sent him to the Emergency Room. He mentioned to the staff he wasn’t feeling well. After talking more about his symptoms, Cardiac Rehab Director Cyndi Belanger sent him to his doctor, which lead him to the ER. It turned out he had Endocarditis, or an infection of his heart.

To this day he’s still on antibiotics but is 100% when it comes to exercising and cracking jokes in Cardiac Rehab. “Coming here forces me to exercise. I come here first and foremost for my health. But, it is also a social outlet. I have friends here and it gets me out of the house. As long as I’m able, I plan to keep it up.”

The exercises have become daily routine. Afterwards, he treats himself to a cup of coffee quality conversation with a group of guys he’s befriended at McDonalds—a simple routine that 70-year old Fontecchio hopes keeps him happy and healthy for decades to come.