July 23, 2020
Photos by: Bryan van der Beek | Words by: Judith Tan
(Photo above) Ms Kirti Harnal, 60, does warm-up exercises taught by the Heart Wellness Centre and does yoga at home. She also ensures that she clocks between 8,000 and 10,000 steps even while at home.
Since her heart attack in November 2018, university lecturer Ms Kirti Harnal took her health and exercise routine seriously.
But when the Covid-19 pandemic hit and Singapore imposed the Circuit Breaker, it put a damper on her daily exercise regimen. One of her challenges, being a heart patient, was having the freedom to go outside without fear.
According to the Communicable Disease Centre in the United States (US-CDC), people with underlying heart conditions are more likely to have a more severe infection than others.
So far, most people infected by Covid-19 have a mild viral illness or they are asymptomatic. The risk for heart patients, however, is higher. Coronavirus patients with heart disease have a 10 percent chance of dying.
When the Circuit Breaker was implemented on April 7 this year, as a preventive measure in response to the coronavirus pandemic, “what was outside has come to the inside”, Ms Kirti says.
“I am worried because if I contract the virus, it will be difficult for my family and myself. As a precaution, even before the Circuit Breaker period started, I have limited the time I spend outside as my work nature requires me to have close interaction with my students,” she explains.
(Above) Ms Kirti Harnal does warm-up exercises taught by the Heart Wellness Centre.
Rehabilitation with the Help of Singapore Heart Foundation
Ms Kirti’s heart attack was quite unexpected for the petite 60-year-old, who admits that while she eats healthily, she hardly exercised. She was only 58 then.
“I did not experience the tightness and pain in the chest like my father did. I just felt fatigued and lousy. When I went to the Accident and Emergency Department at the National University Hospital (NUH) the next day, (the results of) my blood test, x-ray and ECG (electrocardiogram) were all normal.
“It was only after repeating the same tests that the doctor found I had suffered a heart attack. One of my arteries was 95 percent blocked. The other two were 60 and 40 percent blocked,” she says.
“I was unable to exercise or walk just after my operation because of the side effects from my medication. It was with the support of my family, the support group and Singapore Heart Foundation, I learnt how to control my stress and heart rate.”
After having had a stent put into her heart in 2019, Ms Kirti joined the Singapore Heart Foundation’s (SHF) Heart Wellness Centre (HWC) at the Bukit Gombak Sports Hall for rehabilitation.
“I was unable to exercise or walk just after my operation because of the side effects from my medication. It was with the support of my family, the support group and SHF, I learnt how to control my stress and heart rate,” Ms Kirti says.
She attended rehabilitation sessions twice a week at the HWC and these sessions helped her both mentally and physically, “allowing me to better manage my situation and overcome my fear should my heart rate go too high”. On her own, Ms Kirti would take walks around her estate and work out with her husband, a retiree.
To ensure she keeps up with her exercises, Ms Kirti does the warm-up programme, taught by the therapists at the HWC.
“I make use of the ankle weights and the one-kg dumbbells. These help with weight-bearing movements to build up my bones. I was told I have osteoporosis. Unable to continue with my walks outside, I make sure I walk up to between 8,000 and 10,000 steps within the home,” she says.
She also does different forms of yoga to maintain her body’s flexibility as well as help her wind down at night. Tightly-wound, sometimes from staring at her computer screen for too long and from grading papers, Ms Kirti hardly sleeps.
“I usually sleep about two to three hours at a stretch on good nights, until I discovered Yoga Nidra. It is a powerful meditation technique, and one of the easiest yoga practices to develop and maintain. I lie comfortably while listening to the programme on my computer, which teaches me to sense my whole body. I only realised that I had fallen asleep when I missed most part of the lesson,” she says, laughing.
(Above) When she found out that 95 percent of one of her arteries was blocked, university lecturer Ms Kirti said she only felt fatigued instead of the typical pain in the chest. She went for an operation to insert a stent into her heart in 2019.
Re-connecting with Students Online
Always loving the face-to-face interaction with her students at the university, Ms Kirti has to adapt to conducting lessons online via Zoom.
“When other lecturers started conducting online lessons at the university, I was resisting for as long as possible. I teach business and professional writing to undergraduates and when I was in the physical classroom, I was able to read their facial expressions and body language to know if they understood,” says Ms Kirti.
But with the Circuit Breaker, she put away her bias and learnt how to conduct online writing lessons.
“[I miss] kissing my two sons and watching my students form groups to work on projects — hearing the tittering and laughter. I also miss the outdoors and walking in nature. But with the Circuit Breaker, I have learnt to appreciate other things.”
“I guess that is the new normal, the future. I adjusted my lessons to include online presentations and conducting interviews via Zoom. I usually wake up early and do some exercises at home before conducting my e-lessons,” she says.
What Ms Kirti misses during this period are the simple everyday things that she says everyone takes for granted.
“Such as kissing my two sons and watching my students form groups to work on projects — hearing the tittering and laughter. I also miss the outdoors and walking in nature. But with the Circuit Breaker, I have learnt to appreciate other things. Before the circuit breaker, I would have been on my way to school by 6.45am,” she says.
“Having been working from home, I was able to sit at the balcony and enjoy the sunrise,” she says.
Visit www.myheart.org.sg to find out how you can contribute to the Singapore Heart Foundation or donate through Giving.sg.
Read more about how Social Service charities, volunteers and beneficiaries are coping during Covid-19 in Singapore:
- Kumarason Chinnadurai: A Funny Type of Kind
- Dr Roland Yeow: Innovating at Boys’ Town During Lockdown
- Youth Workers Game and TikTok for Outreach
- More Who Need Help, Fewer Donations: How Charities in Singapore Do More With Less
Catch The City of Good Show, every Wednesday, 8pm, Live on Facebook. Support Social Service charities such as Singapore Heart Foundation with the Dream Academy gang on HOME IMPROVment. The sector enhances the well-being of the community, with its professionals and volunteers working relentlessly to help families and individuals overcome issues.Play your part and support the charities at Giving.sg – The City of Good Show: Social Services
Thank you for the story of heart patient Kirti. Very inspired by what she has been doing after her operation. Great to know that she is able to resume teaching and get back to her normal life. Thank you for this inspiring story. I am a cancer patient and currently undergoing chemo for Stage 4 cancer. I too hope to remain as positive as I can and enjoy the things that I would like to do in spite of the current situation we are in, however, like Kirti, will also have to be careful when we are out in the open too. Wishing Kirti all the very best. Regards Jane Koe