Mount Nittany Health gets to the heart of the matter

July 06, 2021
5 min read


A recent patient complained of shortness of breath and thought he had a cold he just couldn't shake. Tests revealed his heart was pumping at about 15-20 percent of its capacity. He was admitted to Mount Nittany Medical Center and diagnosed with heart failure, meaning his heart was no longer pumping enough blood to meet his body's needs for blood and oxygen. Like most patients diagnosed with heart failure, he assumed the worst.

"Hearing the term heart failure, patients often believe there is nothing to be done — that the heart is no longer working," shares Alexander W. Szymanski, MD, Mount Nittany Physician Group Cardiology. "While heart failure is a serious condition, with the right treatment, it's a very manageable disease."

Heart failure can be an overwhelming diagnosis and often requires lifelong management. Fortunately, studies consistently demonstrate that receiving care in a specialized heart failure program results in slowing the progression of the disease, and in certain circumstances, reversing the condition, allowing patients to live fuller, happier and healthier lives.

The possibility for improved therapeutic outcomes inspired Dr. Szymanksi and Jennifer Illig, PA-C, Mount Nittany Physician Group Cardiology, to create a heart failure program at Mount Nittany Health. The heart failure program at Mount Nittany Health is designed to help patients understand their disease process and better manage their disease through lifestyle changes and medication. The multi-disciplinary care focuses on care coordination to meet the patient's entire spectrum of care needs.

"Heart failure patients need specialized and comprehensive disease management. The program allows us to follow their care very closely with a single-minded goal to improve their health and, ultimately, their quality of life," shares Illig. "As the program coordinator, I spend a lot of time with patients, providing education about heart failure, offering frequent office visits if needed, and simply talking with [patients] on the phone to check-in.

It is possible to relieve symptoms of heart failure and slow or stop the progression of the disease with simple lifestyle changes. Changing one's lifestyle, however, isn't always an easy task. For this reason, the heart failure program provides intensive support and coaching to help patients quit smoking, reduce salt intake, lose weight, track daily fluid intake, limit caffeine and alcohol, monitor blood pressure, eat a heart healthy diet and be physically active, as well as encourage flu and pneumonia vaccinations.

"The patients benefit so much from the program. Together we develop an individualized care plan that compliments the patients expressed wishes and goals of care," shares Illig. "One of the most significant benefits of the program is the patient-provider relationship. The patients feel comfortable discussing their condition and concerns with a team they trust and who is easily accessible when needed."

After participating in the program, this particular heart failure patient is now back to his full-time, physically demanding job. He now falls into the reversible category of illness, meaning that he is in remission. "The success of this patient, indeed, all of our patients to reach their highest health potential is the focus of our program. We love to help our patients improve and get back to what they love," shares Dr. Szymanski.

The heart failure program is one more of many ways Mount Nittany Health delivers on our promise to provide the exceptional care our community deserves and expects.

If you're interested in supporting life changing healthcare for our community like our heart failure program, consider making a gift to Mount Nittany Health through the Foundation. To learn more about the Foundation, visit or call 814.234.6777.

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