Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Healing the mind and body through tai chi

Every morning Dan Petricca, 84, of Everett, MA, has breakfast, goes to church, and takes a two-mile walk around the neighborhood. Even though his morning routine exemplifies a healthy lifestyle, there was a time when Petricca could only walk about 20 feet before stopping.

A recovering heart attack patient, Petricca received immediate cardiac care, including a pacemaker, at the Massachusetts General Hospital Heart Center. Today he heals his body and mind through tai chi and yoga for cardiac patients, as suggested by his Mass General Hospital physicians, Malissa Wood, MD, and Danny Chin, MD.

“I wasn’t doing well at all, and they told me I needed a pacemaker. But I didn’t want it, like a lot of people who don’t want an artificial means,” said Petricca.

Even though it took a bit of persuasion from his doctors, Petricca admits that the pacemaker saved his life, and the non-traditional mind-body exercises vastly improved his quality of living.

“The way I feel right now is like my old self [before the heart attack], and I can do anything I want to do,” said Petricca.

A Total Mind and Body Approach

Specifically, Dr. Wood, a Mass General Hospital Heart Center cardiologist, referred Petricca to a study on tai chi and cardiac patients. She believed his involvement would aid his overall wellbeing, but also contribute to studying non-traditional medicine and cardiology. She admits that Petricca’s involvement not only helped his heart condition, but also improved his overall outlook on life.

“His attitude, activity level and overall sense of well being improved substantially following his participation in the study,” said Dr. Wood.
The Power of SupportIn addition to his critical care at Mass General Hospital Heart Center, Petricca says he could not have survived without his family. His two daughters, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren were visitors at the hospital for 59 days straight – Petricca’s total time as an inpatient.

“On two occasions, they called my family and said I was going to die. And I’m still here,” Petricca stated proudly.

The intensive care nursing staff at the Mass General Hospital Heart Center gave Petricca the attention and support of a family member. Following his discharge, three of the nurses called to follow-up on his recovery, and one still calls today.

“They treated me like I was somebody. They made me feel like I was somebody,” said Petricca.
An Unforgettable StoryPetricca is the first to admit his heart attack was caused by sheer grief, and even his doctors refer to his condition as a “broken heart.” Following the passing of his wife, Francis, Petricca experienced a deep sadness, only known by those who have lost a loved one.

The two were happily married for 61 years, were high school sweethearts, and held a bond known by few today. Petricca often reminisces over his wife’s beauty and recites every detail from the day they became engaged.

“She asked me to marry her! I was always shy, and we probably would never have gotten married if she hadn’t asked me. So many other fellows were after her,” Petricca continued. “Every place we went, people were staring at us, and I knew they weren’t staring at me.”
Healing the Heart One Day at a TimeToday Petricca combines physical activity, including walking and non-traditional therapies, with an ongoing check-in with his health care team at Mass General Hospital. Activity has not only improved his physical condition but has also subsided his grieving.

As part of a grieving group at Mass General Hospital, he participates in a healing discussion with others who have lost loved ones. Petricca believes that the combination of group support, physical activity and traditional medicine has saved his life, but complete healing is an ongoing process.

“I want to get well for myself and also for them [the health care team at Mass General Hospital]. I’m doing this so they feel proud of me. They care so much,” said Petricca.

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