ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – We’ve all been inside a hospital. It can be cold, sterile and, daunting at first. But at Hendrick’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Center, underneath the so-called sterile nature, are lifelong friendships made in recovery.

Going up the elevator to the fourth floor of Cedar Mall at Hendrick, it may seem just like every other doctor’s office. It can be cold, it has that certain smell that most hospitals have, and waiting rooms full of chairs. When you walk into the Cardiac Rehabilitation Center, though, it has hints of all of those things mixed with a gym, dumbbells, treadmills and all.

For patients recovering from extreme heart conditions, such as heart attacks or having a stint put in, it can be a daunting moment. It can seem cold, until you see the large cork board to the right of the door filled with letters from past patients.

“If you’ve had not had heart problems, you’re scared to death when you walk in here the first time. You don’t know what- you don’t know what your life [is] going to be like, you don’t know what you can do, or can’t do,” patient Mike Parsons explained.

For Parsons, he suffered a serious heart condition in 2006 at the age of 36, and was admitted to Hendrick. He began recovery soon after.

“You never look at your mortality until that time,” revealed Parsons.

Parsons has been in and out of Hendrick’s Cardiac Rehab Center ever since, and has continued coming back for one main reason; the friendly nurses and doctors who tirelessly care for him.

“We’ve looked at cardiac programs at Baylor Scott & White, and this one is as superior as any of them, and I think it’s because of the staff,” Parsons said.

The longtime patient returned Tuesday for the center’s 30th anniversary celebration. He spoke with KTAB/KRBC about those memories, and the unique relationships he’s built along the way. He made mention of Elda Salinas, who worked with him day one.

“The first day I was here, decided I was pushing too hard, so she [Salinas] backed me down,” Parsons said with a smile. “Now, she’s having to get me to pick up the pace.”

Salinas, who said she had never done an interview, and laughed as she said she may never do one again, responded, “When he’s here I’m the boss, and he has to listen to what I have to say.”

Unlike regular hospital visits, Salinas said coming through the rehab center can take months to years in some cases, and those relationships become like family.

Salinas told KTAB/KRBC, over the years, she’s gotten to meet Parsons’ wife, kids, and even some of his 16 grandchildren, “You get to see them progress and really get close to them.”

Not only finding a new friend, but also helping Parsons build the lifestyle changes he needed to make to keep him out of the hospital for good.

Hendrick’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Center sees about 60 patients per day, but Parsons said the staff makes sure each patient is cared for like family even in all the busyness.