Old Farnhamians' Association

2008 Farnham Lecture

Cardiac Rehabilitation


Dr Hugh Bethell

29 November, 2008

On a very cold October evening, a smaller than usual audience listened to the twentieth Farnham Lecture, given by one of the pioneers in cardiac rehabilitation. Dr. Hugh Bethell is the founder of the Rehab unit at Alton and his talk was aimed at those people who would add to the ever increasing worldwide problem of heart disease. He began by outlining the rapid increase in this problem in most countries in the world and in particular in the United Kingdom. He emphasised that this was not a man only problem, but women were also likely to have similar problems.

He moved on to the many reasons for this escalation and these included heredity, obesity, lack of exercise, stress, high cholesterol and general lifestyle. All of these could cause a breakdown in the functions of the heart and would result in a coronary attack of minor or major strength. Diagrams and photos were shown of the hearts of victims and one could see clearly the different types of problems that occur.

Today there are several methods of repairing the body after an attack and Dr. Bethell went into some detail about the use of by-passes, whether single, double, triple or quadruple, and the recent increase in the use of stents. All of these have to be followed by an exercise regime to insure that the patient remains fit and the blood in the body continues to flow properly.

The speaker said that in the past heart problems were dealt with by molly-coddling the patient, and it was not until the 1950s that ideas began to change and it was realised that it was necessary to work this important organ to regain and maintain fitness. In the early 1970s he worked with the then manager of Alton Sports Centre on a series of fitness sessions and began to offer the service to local people. Initially they only took in people who had already suffered a heart attack and began by monitoring them on either a treadmill or a bicycle to assess their levels of fitness. The patient was then given a programme of exercises to follow on a regular basis and monitored to see how the levels of fitness improved and how the heart itself improved. This scheme proved highly successful and soon the expanded the type of patients to those with angina, high blood pressure etc.

By the early 1990s the throughput of patients was such that the Sports Centre could not cope and it was necessary to have a purpose built building for the Rehab Centre. There would be no local or government help and it took four years to fund-raise the money to build the unit that exists today. Gradually, an experienced staff was built and now the centre takes in over five hundred new patients every year and runs more than one thousand sessions each week. Hugh Bethell has retired from running the centre, but is still involved in overseeing progress of this revolutionary method of treating such a delicate organ of the body. He is now Chairman of the British Cardiac Rehabilitation Association and his methods are used nationally as well as abroad. He recently received an MBE for his work.

This was a thought provoking lecture by a man who made a difference to the lifestyle of many people in this country and especially in this area.



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