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Heart patients take virtual journey from Falls to Frisco

NIAGARA FALLS – Jim Palladini hasn’t seen San Francisco since his World War II days in the Navy but he will make it there – virtually – during the next week.

Palladini, 90, is one of 44 “travelers” who have tracked their mileage on the bikes, ellipticals and treadmills and walking track inside the Heart Center of Niagara Cardiopulmonary Wellness Center since Oct. 21. “It’s made me want to go more,” the retired NFTA and Falls school bus driver said. “I used to go 10, 15 miles a week. Now I’m going 20, 25. When you get to work out, you feel a lot better. Exercise is good for everybody.”

Registered nurses Becky Salada and Sue Martinez, and exercise physiologist Jamie Richard make up the wellness center staff. They organized the trip, which rolled through Las Vegas this week and will end next week in California.

“We started in Niagara Falls,” Salada said. “We went to New York City, to Washington, D.C., to Nashville, to New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Albuquerque and our final destination is the San Francisco bridge.

“When we were in New York City, I put out apple cider. When we were in Oklahoma, one patient brought in his “Oklahoma” CD. When we were in New Orleans, we played jazz music and wore beads. When we were in Nashville, we wore really cute pink cowboy hats. Each time we get to a destination, we put up flags.

The 44 participants include cardio patients and people preparing for bariatric weight loss surgery. The general public also is welcome to use the center for a fee which may be covered at least in part by health insurance.

“It was really positive,” Salada said of the reaction to the virtual trip. “They are into it. There are even competitions going between a couple people. They’re really motivated, and excited, to try to get to these different places. I think they appreciate the quirky little things we’ve done: the beads, the hats. ... Jim has been coming for almost two years, since open heart surgery, and has made a lot of progress. He was in a wheelchair during his first visit. He walked 24 feet and was out of breath.”

Exercise physiologist Jamie Richard, left, and registered nurse Becky Salada help keep track of the wellness center's virtual voyage by posting photos and inspirational messages for the 44 participants.

Palladini and his daughter, Charmaine, are grateful for the wellness center and the virtual challenge.

“It helped tremendously,” Charmaine said of the center’s impact on her father’s health. “Becky and Jamie are my angels here.”

Palladini said he has seen steady progress since his cardiac rehab began in 2015.

“It started helping me and I decided, ‘I might as well try to walk.’”

As his health improved, Palladini could once again enjoy visits for coffee and breakfast at Frankie’s Donuts, Tim Horton’s and McDonald’s for breakfast.

“Once in a while, I’ll have a doughnut but it’ll be a plain doughnut,” he said. “They’re tempting you know.”

His daughter ensures both she and Palladini eat healthy – most of the time.

“He does have a fish fry on Friday,” she said, “and I sometimes spoil him with pizza.”

What are his keys to longevity: “Be social, and be kindhearted,” Palladini said. “When I go to a restaurant, I do a lot of treating.”

Exercise helps, too.

Martinez suggested the virtual trip idea after doing something similar at her church: a walk to Bethlehem.

The wellness center challenge has motivated many of the participants to push themselves.

“They have 3,000 steps,” Salada said, “and ask us, ‘How many steps for 2 miles?’ We say 4,000 steps and they go another 1,000 steps. They’re really focused on getting those miles in.”

Niagara Falls Memorial spokesman Patrick J. Bradley said the hospital expects wellness center to get busier once a new cardiac catheterization center opens in a neighboring part of the Heart Center.

But first things first.

What happens after the trip to San Francisco ends?

“I don’t know,” Salada said. “Somebody said, ‘We’ll go back.’ We’ll have to think of something.


Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon

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