Working with patients who have habitually neglected their own health and seeing them learn to take responsibility and regain their lost health is incredibly satisfying.
The heart protector
His name translates to heart protector and that’s exactly what he does. But it’s his work outside of the hospital that cardiologist Dr. Howard Wightman is recognized for by his community in Kentville, Nova Scotia.
In 1992, as a new physician in the Valley, Dr. Wightman was inspired by the idea that coronary disease was likely an inflammatory, proliferative condition in the artery that could be brought under control by diet, exercise and aggressive risk factor reduction. He joined forces with two motivated dieticians at the Valley Regional hospital and founded the Extended Warranty II program.
This 10 week program, originally operated out of Evangeline Middle School in New Minas, offers supervised exercise programs and educational presentations around heart disease, stress management and nutrition. Today the program is hosted at the Valley Regional Hospital and Acadia University.
Dr. Wightman and his group of volunteers dedicated a night every week to the program and even offered nightly cooking classes to teach patients how to prepare low fat vegetarian food. “Patients were a little skeptical at first but soon saw the benefits and improvements in their health,” said Dr. Wightman. “They really liked the individual attention and guidance and were proud to be a participant in their own healing.”
Dr. Wightman’s commitment to improving the health of his community is commendable. His volunteer efforts are admirable and have positively impacted his patients and their families’ lives.
In 1997, as the Extended Warranty II program’s success grew, Dr. Wightman formed the Valley Cardiac Rehab Society and began to fundraise for the purchase of additional exercise equipment. His inaugural Hearts on Ice family skating fundraiser raised $12,000. To date, the annual event has raised more than $200,000 all of which has gone back in to the program.
It didn’t stop there. Dr. Wightman brought the Valley Cardiac Rehab Society and the Town of Kentville together to create LifeCycle, a community event to celebrate the health and healing benefits of exercise and active living. The Town of Kentville gathered to participate in road bike rides, a kid’s bike rodeo, slow bike races, mountain bike skills workshops, Zumba and yoga classes, and various health presentations.
Nova Scotia has some of the highest rates of chronic disease and obesity in Canada. Obesity is caused by the combination of unhealthy eating and inactivity. Physicians know that inactivity can increase the risk of developing chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease.
Dr. Wightman’s passion for promoting good health and assisting his community in the prevention of disease is to be applauded. “It’s enjoyable for me, as a physician, to take on a leadership role in health promotion,” said Dr. Wightman. “I am passionate about it and get so much joy in seeing people discover that they have the power to improve their own health.”