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Cardiac rehab helps double transplant patient thrive

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When Sedalia resident Kelly Anspaugh left for the hospital on March 18, 2022, he didn’t think he’d be coming home. 

“That’s how bad I was,” Anspaugh said in a remarkably cheerful voice. Heart disease, which runs in his family and claimed his father at age 40, seemed to have finally caught up with him. Less than a month later, however, Anspaugh came out of surgery with a new heart, a new kidney, and a new lease on life.

Anspaugh, 61, is one of the rare patients to undergo a combined heart and kidney transplant. The procedure was performed at St. Luke’s hospital in Kansas City. 

“They said it was risky,” Anspaugh recalled. “I knew the odds of finding both a kidney and a heart were [very low].” But after 10 days of waiting on the transplant list, a match had been found. 

This was the second time Anspaugh had pursued a transplant to address heart disease. The first was in 2011, a search that ended prematurely when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Over a decade later, Anspaugh finally has his donation, and he doesn’t take it for granted. 

“I pray for the donors every night,” he said. “They’re never out of my mind.” 

Surgery alone is not a cure for heart disease, however. That’s where Cardiac Rehabilitation at Bothwell Regional Health Center comes in. This four-phase, medically supervised exercise program takes a holistic approach to both preventing and recovering from a cardiac event. 

Anspaugh has been a patient in Bothwell’s Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehab program since he had an LVAD, or battery-operated heart pump, implanted in 2017. 

“I’ve known [the staff] for a long time,” Anspaugh said, describing his support system there. “Some of them that aren’t there anymore even still come in to say hi.” 

One person who has been with Anspaugh since the beginning is registered nurse Kathy Woolery. 

“He’s always been an inspiration to his fellow patients as well as our staff because of his positive attitude,” Woolery said. “For him to go through what he’s gone through, I don’t think a lot of people could have done it. Other people might have given up.” 

Perseverance is key, especially for Anspaugh, who is currently in the program’s phase III after his combined transplant. At this stage, he goes through his exercises independently, supported by the staff and his fellow patients. 

“The patients themselves form social groups. They develop friendships and social support systems,” Woolery explained. “Kelly’s group has been coming for many years together.”

A safe, well-monitored exercise space is one of many offerings for Cardiac Rehab patients. 

“Education is also a big part of it. We teach about living with cardiac disease and all aspects of that,” Woolery said. “We look at the person as a whole and address a lot of issues in their life.” 

By coordinating resources throughout the hospital, the team can provide timely support for challenges that might otherwise derail a recovery. “It helps people get their lives back,” Woolery said.

For Anspaugh, that means getting to enjoy family time with fewer worries and far more freedom. He recalled two kayaks he purchased years ago but couldn’t use. Now free of the LVAD and strengthened by his recovery, he’s made plans to take them out on the water. 

“My granddaughter used to call me a cyborg, but I have no electronics in my body now,” Anspaugh said with a laugh. “I can go up the stairs now and not be out of breath. I mow the yard with a push-mower. It’s life-changing.”

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