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The 2024 Cardiac Rehab Persons of the Year Awards

The 2024 Cardiac Rehab Persons of 2024 





It’s the leading cause of death in the United States - heart disease - with someone having a heart attack every 40 seconds. Statistics show approximately  1 in  5 of these patients will be readmitted to the hospital for a second cardiac event within five years - but this doesn’t have to be the case. 

Cardiac rehabilitation can’t change the past, but experts say, it can absolutely help to improve a patient’s future. Just ask this year’s Cardiac Rehab Persons of the Year Award winners - Chrisanne Belina and Lawrence Freirich.

“Like so many people, my lifestyle led to my heart attack,” explains 65 year old Chrisanne. “While we all know we need to eat better and exercise more, we don’t always know how, that’s where cardiac rehabilitation makes all the difference.” Chrisanne, who had a history of hypertension, high cholesterol and was borderline diabetic, was determined to take advantage of the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program at Hackensack University Medical Center where weeks prior, she received an emergent, lifesaving stent placement. “It was incredibly scary, I was airlifted to the hospital, I never want that to happen again which is why I worked with the cardiac rehab team to make life changes and why I’m so proud to receive this award.”

Lawrence, 65, had a similar scenario. “When I look back at the first days after my heart attack, I had no idea what my life would be like going forward,” explains Lawrence who says he was scared and unsure of the direction his life would take. “Working with the cardiac rehab team provided me with structure and purpose.” 

Cardiac rehab is a medically supervised program designed to improve your cardiovascular health if you have experienced heart attack, heart failure, angioplasty or heart surgery. Cardiac rehab has three equally important parts:

Exercise counseling and training: Exercise gets your heart pumping and your entire cardiovascular system working. You’ll learn how to get your body moving in ways that promote heart health.

Education for heart-healthy living: A key element of cardiac rehab is educating yourself: How can you manage your risk factors? Quit smoking? Make heart-healthy nutrition choices?

Counseling to reduce stress: Stress hurts your heart. This part of cardiac rehab helps you identify and tackle everyday sources of stress.

Hackensack University Medical Center’s Cardiac Prevention and Rehabilitation Center team includes registered nurses with critical care experience, exercise physiologists, and a registered dietitian. In 2021, the team was accepted into the Take Heart Collaborative, a national forum for multidisciplinary professionals who are working to achieve the goal of 70% cardiac rehabilitation participation in eligible patients. 

“Across the country, we’re seeing only 20% to 30% of the people who qualify for cardiac rehab,” explained Lucia Izzo, MSN, Assistant Nurse Manager of the Cardiac Prevention and Rehabilitation Center. “Medicare and the CDC want to get that number up to 70% because cardiac rehab outcomes are so incredible. We are working hard at Hackensack University Medical Center to meet that goal.”

One of the many ways the team does that is through the ‘Cardiac Rehab Persons of the Year’ awards. The annual ceremony, now in its 22nd year,  recognizes two patients who achieved significant progress in lowering their risk for heart disease. Chrisanne not only exercises at a gym every day, she lost about 16 pounds, and has reduced all of her heart disease risk levels including her cholesterol and hypertension. The journey for Lawrence has resulted in continued weight loss of over 60lbs with a change in diet and regular exercise. “I am grateful to be able to continue enjoying my life with my wife and children and to spread the word about this program in the hopes of helping others,” he says. 

Congratulations to this year’s award winners and to find out more about the program, visit: or call 551-996-3589.