Story by: David Steen Martin on December 16, 2021
Pediatric cardiologist Delwyn E. McOmber, M.D., has advice for couch potatoes, athletes sidelined by COVID-19 and heart patients alike: Just get started.
“Let’s get rid of the standard definition of exercise — the stuff you learn in PE. It doesn’t matter what you do. It’s just as simple as increasing your heart rate through physical exertion. It doesn’t matter what that exertion is,” Dr. McOmber said.
Dr. McOmber recently joined Norton Children’s Heart Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, though he is no stranger to the area. He has been practicing pediatric cardiology in Kentucky and Southern Indiana for 18 years.
In addition to caring for children with heart conditions and adults living with congenital heart defects, Dr. McOmber serves as medical director of the of the exercise stress lab where health care providers monitor patients’ heart activity while they exercise on a treadmill or a stationary bike.
“We use it specifically in kids with heart issues to test their capabilities and areas of [cardiac] dysfunction,” Dr. McOmber said.
With data from the stress tests, Norton Children’s Heart Institute pediatric cardiologists can prescribe ways to strengthen and improve heart function through exercise.
For years, children with single ventricle anomalies and other heart conditions were told it was not safe to exercise. The advice has changed.
“It turns out they really can be active and safe, but we have to be smart about it. That’s where the testing comes in,” Dr. McOmber said.
The exercise stress lab team also works with children who have metabolic syndrome or are overweight, testing them and finding ways for them to exercise safely and efficiently.
“It’s useful in patients who don’t have heart issues but have struggled with exercise. We have a lot of this because of COVID-19. Even athletes have been put on the couch, where they’ve never been before,” Dr. McOmber said. “Many of them are out of shape.”
The Society of Thoracic Surgeons rates no congenital heart program in Kentucky, Southern Indiana or Ohio higher than Norton Children’s Heart Institute.
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Dr. McOmber enjoys the benefits of exercise firsthand. He enjoys training and competing in triathlons. His wife, Kari McOmber, is a marathoner who teaches health and wellness at the University of Louisville as an instructor in the Department of Health and Sport Sciences. Together, they have five children.
Dr. McOmber is originally from Fresno, California. He went to college and graduate school at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, before attending the University of Louisville School of Medicine. He trained in pediatric cardiology at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, before returning to Louisville to practice.
“I came here for medical school and fell in love with the city,” Dr. McOmber said.
In the exercise lab, Dr. McOmber’s focus is straightforward.
“Our quest is to get everybody who can safely exercise to exercise, which is almost everybody,” he said.
Exercise can transform lives. With medical supervision, that holds true for people born with heart defects and those who have struggled with their weight and being active, according to Dr. McOmber.
“My goal is that every patient of mine has the best possible quality of life for what their diagnosis is,” he said.