Anthony's Story

12-Week Transformation: Trio Bonded Through Cardiac Rehabilitation

They met in the waiting room: two seniors with retooled hearts and a 39-year-old man with a new one.

Anthony Galas, single and scared, was looking for revival after surrendering his independence and livelihood to survive a heart transplant. Born with a congenital heart defect, he underwent two surgeries at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital as a young child that allowed him to grow up relatively normal. He hunted, fished, skied and golfed. In his 30s, his weak heart began to fail.

University Hospitals Parma Medical Center’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, which prepared him for his surgery and return to a normal life post-transplant, showed him that having heart meant more than getting used to the new organ thumping in his chest.

“Everybody has defining moments in their life that help us become who we are,” says Galas of Seven Hills. “Health conditions have no prejudice and put it all on the table. The last handful of years tested me in every way humanly possible.

“My outlet since I have been literally allowed back into public post-transplant has been cardiac rehab. Three days a week, it was my consistent safe zone where I felt like a normal person again without being judged. All of us in the program are in the same boat, no matter our age, race or gender.”

Cardiac Rehabilitation through University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute provides exercise and education for patients following a cardiac event, including surgery and heart attacks. Highly skilled nurses, exercise physiologists and registered dietitians monitor patients through 12 weeks of personalized instruction.

They are the coaches and the cheerleaders, the advisors and the role models. Says Mike Tretiakow, an exercise specialist at UH Parma Medical Center for over two decades: “You’ve got to believe you’re going to get better. We encourage our patients to keep them moving forward.”

Along the way, Galas began an invaluable friendship with retired pipefitter and competitive weightlifter Dave Boyce, 70, and Mickey Diasio, 66, a decorated Vietnam veteran and mason specializing in restoration. Both Boyce and Diasio were recovering from coronary artery bypass surgery. Now they meet weekly for lunch in UH Parma Medical Center’s cafeteria and a visit to their friends down the hall in Cardiac Rehab.

Diasio, used to working seven days a week, echoed the agony of facing the long road back to an active lifestyle.

“You feel lost in your life,” said Diasio. “You have to want to be healed.”

The Cardiac Rehab staff became an extension of their families, encouraging them within a safe, inviting atmosphere filled with lively music, laughter and conversation.

“Their education, training and selfless nature creates an environment for success,” Galas said. “I needed their love, encouragement and discipline to become well again. I will always be a product of that program. Seeing everyone wanting me to succeed made me push even harder.

“Your body will do it, but you have to get your mind to believe it.”