Lifestyle changes for heart attack survivor lead to better health

Matt Barribeau talks about his cardiac rehabilitation

Matt-Barribeau-golfingHeart attack survivor Matt Barribeau believed he was in fairly good physical condition when he received a health club membership from his wife, Sherry, for his 48th birthday. Little did he know the first day of his new workout routine would result in a life-altering experience: He suffered a serious heart attack on the drive home with Sherry.

Today, two years later, Matt believes it’s a miracle he is alive considering the severity of his heart attack and his initial grim prognosis. He acknowledges the work of exceptional cardiologists at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center, who he says were operating on him within 10 minutes of his arrival at the hospital. He was diagnosed with 100 percent blockage toward the top of his left anterior descending coronary artery, requiring the insertion of a stent, followed later by intra-aortic balloon pump and swan ganz catheter procedures.

Patient credits U-M Preventive Cardiology Cardiac Rehabilitation Program and staff

In addition to his top-notch doctors, Matt also has great things to say about the staff at the University of Michigan Preventive Cardiology Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, who helped him regain his strength and taught him about heart-healthy eating and techniques for managing stress in his life.

Eager to get started with his rehabilitation, Matt says he began slowly, just walking on a treadmill, until his strength began to improve.

“The cardiac rehab team talked to me about my goals and objectives, and provided an overall education about what I needed to do to get healthy again,” he says. The lessons he learned in the program have become what Matt firmly believes will be lifelong habits.

He credits the “phenomenal support” provided by the cardiac rehab team, including Theresa Gracik, director of the Rehabilitation Program and Steven Walsh, certified clinical exercise specialist, as well as support from his wife, who often walked on an adjacent treadmill during Matt’s 12-week rehab program. “They helped shape my recovery,” he says, and “continue to be a resource to this day.”

Cardiac rehab plan included healthier approaches to diet, stress

Because Matt’s doctors believe genetics played a role in his heart disease, he has adopted a healthier eating plan that features a low-fat, low-salt diet.

As for stress, Matt says he is now able to manage his work-related issues. “I can see what’s important and what’s not and I’ve learned how to delegate differently on specific stressful issues,” he says. Through breathing and meditation techniques, he now has the tools to handle stress, realizing it is an ongoing journey.

“I’m fortunate to be here,” Matt says. “I like to think I was saved for a reason, and I want to continue to tell my story.”


University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center Logo - blueThe University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is the top-ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit the Heart and Vascular page on UofMHealth.org.