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Heather Rugg, Senior Exercise Specialist, Cardiac Rehabilitation, UMass Memorial - HealthAlliance Hospital

Patients who meet Heather Rugg are often at a crossroads in their lives. As a cardiac rehab specialist at UMass Memorial -- HealthAlliance Hospital, Heather works with patients who are recovering from heart attacks, heart surgery and heart failure, as well as diseases and conditions affecting the heart.

"I motivate patients by giving them positive reinforcement and support," Heather said. Her work with patients combines an exercise program monitored with advanced telemetry equipment and education. "We address nutrition, stress management, diabetes management and smoking cessation," she said. "We look at the whole person and the risk factors that got them here to try to prevent them from having another episode. Good communication is vital, so patients understand what is going on and how we can help them live a healthier lifestyle."

Heather brings heart to the job and works hard to earn patients' trust. "Fear is the biggest obstacle," she said. "Patients can be afraid something bad is going to happen again. They're not sure of their limits. I try to be a calming presence and reassure patients that we will work closely together and contact their cardiologist if we need to make adjustments. I want them to feel this is a safe place for them to come."

Heather enjoys the teamwork that goes into caring for patients and the support she and her colleagues provide to each other. "We have a great team dynamic," she said. Heather works closely with her fellow caregivers to make sure patients have access to all the resources they need. "Whether it's the Complementary Care Center or stress management or social services, we figure out what that patient needs to heal," Heather said. "Each plan is highly individualized."

As a caregiver, Heather says her goal is to help patients return to the activities in life that they enjoy. But while they're in her care, she wants to make cardiac rehab a positive, life-altering experience. "We have patients come in who've just lost a spouse and they've had a heart attack and feel lonely and devastated," she said. "I want them to know someone cares about them. When I see them leave here in a better place than when they came, I know I'm doing what I'm supposed to do in life."