“Your main artery is 92% blocked.”

That’s a scary sentence, and it lead to Joe Fernandes having open heart surgery in 2019. While he had been exercising regularly at the Gym, he had noticed a gradual increase in chest pain during certain activities. His heart itself was okay, the problem was blood getting to and from.

Following major surgery to bypass the blockage, in 2020 he worked on building a village of people who could help his rehabilitation – cardiologists, family, doctors, and within the AUT Millennium community, the Human Potential Clinic, and a personal trainer.

Joe’s been part of the AUT Millennium community for years, having worked as a chef in the kitchen catering for Conference and Accommodation guests. He has a jovial relationship with Chief Operating Officer Steve Lindsay, so when Steve heard about Joe’s heart surgery, he took him upstairs to meet with the Human Potential Clinic team. It was the start of a 10-week journey towards better health and safe exercise.

Exercise prescription in action

Working under the guidance of Matt Wood and Graham Keyes, Joe was introduced to the concept of exercise prescription. The HPC team put him through a series of tests, measuring his cardiorespiratory fitness, heart electrical activity (ECG), blood pressure and blood glucose, amongst other health markers. Some were completed while Joe was on an exercise bike, so the data was specific to how his body performs during exercise, rather than at rest.

That information was critical, providing the basis for a safe, personalised post-operation exercise programme. “With people who are very high risk, we often find they’re under-prescribed in terms of exercise,” Graham says. “They’re not doing enough to get any benefits or make improvements. We’re able to determine a specific individual’s ‘sweet spot’ – the zone of exercise which will provide benefit, but is also safe for them based on their unique risk factors.”

The team developed a 10-week programme for Joe, seeing him a couple of times a week and keeping an eye on his blood pressure and heart rate during sessions. Coupled with a renewed focus on his diet, Joe started to see gains in his confidence, strength and fitness. “Cardiorespiratory fitness is the biggest single contributor to someone’s cardiovascular health, more than any other risk factor,” Graham tells. “Someone with high fitness is less likely to have a medical event, but if they do, they’re more likely to survive, and more likely to have better outcomes. When Joe came to us, he had very low cardiorespiratory fitness. Nine months later, at his retesting, he’d had a 29% increase in his fitness, which is significant, and related to many health benefits including a reduction in the chance of having a cardiac event.”

Hitting the Gym

Many of us will know from our own experience – the fitter you are, the more you enjoy exercise. As Joe’s tolerance increased, he also grew to enjoy his workouts, and was keen to return to the Gym.

Joe with his trainer Gary posing for a picture in AUT Millennium's Gym.
Joe with his personal trainer, Gary Kettless.

“It’s not our goal to keep our clients forever, we want to get them to a point where they can be self-sufficient,” Graham says. Joe’s final two HPC sessions were done in the AUT Millennium Gym so he could begin to integrate the equipment into his routine. It’s also where he linked up with personal trainer Gary Kettless, who he was familiar with from his time working in the building. Graham gave Gary a rundown on where Joe was at, and importantly, where he had come from, and the pair set about continuing Joe’s progress.

“It was great to get those stats from Graham to know Joe’s accurate condition before we started,” Gary says. The pair started with gentle weights and gradually pushed on as Joe’s confidence increased. “Building his confidence was the most important thing,” Gary says. “He’s on the wrong side of 60, and he almost died, so you understand his confidence wasn’t high. But he has done so well, he’s done everything I asked of him. When someone trusts you like that, it’s quite special, especially when you see the results he has.”

Ask Joe how he’s getting on in the Gym now, and there’s an energy to him. “Gary keeps me on my toes!” He proudly talks of his improvements, such as increasing his treadmill incline to 2.5, and his speed from 4kph to 6kph, as well as now being able to complete core exercises on his own. He’s also decreased his fat percentage and increased his muscle mass. “I’m feeling much fitter and stronger than I did at the beginning of last year.”

And he has the evidence to prove his heart is, too.

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