Fear and anxiety are common emotions among cardiac patients. Often, the trauma of heart-related health emergencies is as difficult on loved ones as it is on the patients themselves.
Enter The Mended Hearts Inc., a nonprofit organization devoted to the hope, healing and well-being of cardiac patients and their families. Founded in 1951, The Mended Hearts’ mission touts peer support, caring and sharing among cardiac patients and with trusty volunteers. Last year, the organization served 225,000 patients representing 300 chapters in 450 hospitals nationwide.
“The primary focus of our mission is to provide face-to-face, one-on-one hospital visits for patients facing a heart-related event,” says Marcia Baker, Director of Field Services, The Mended Hearts national office, Dallas. “Our members are passionate, caring people who have often experienced a heart event themselves. There is a common bond among members, as they know there is life after a cardiac event.”
Jack Walsh, founder and President of the Scranton Chapter of The Mended Hearts Inc. No. 276, explains, “Our message and mission are simply to be there for the patient and to listen to their needs and to their worries.”
Walsh established the Scranton Chapter 19 years ago, just months after his first life-threatening heart attack. Since then, he has grown the chapter to 100-plus members, with an active calendar featuring numerous speakers, educational workshops, and heart-healthy cooking and tasting demos. Walsh’s tireless work has remained steady despite 35 hospitalizations, emergency heart surgery, three blocked arteries, several angioplasties and stents, and a hole in his pericardium.
The Mended Hearts program was born of the vision of founder Dwight E. Harken, MD, of gathering heart patients to discuss their feelings and experiences. The first meeting included patient Doris Silliman, one of the first 50 patients ever to have heart surgery, plus three other postsurgery patients. As they met, all shared with renewed happiness their feelings of well-being, as well as their plans for the future, and their meeting became a model for future Mended Hearts gatherings.
“The fact that I am standing here today is alone a testament that lifestyle changes and cardiac rehab do work,” says Walsh, noting that often changes mean a total “360” in lifestyle, diet and health.
Outreach also includes speaking engagements at local clubs, schools, churches, community events and health fairs.
Mended Hearts of Scranton holds an annual dinner and dance for 300 guests, with Lear Von Koch, MD, thoracic surgeon, as guest speaker. The chapter also has sponsored world-famous cardiac surgeons and physicians as special speakers, in addition to month-long cooking and dietary classes in which participants sample and learn to cook heart-healthy foods.
Follow-up and outreach are paramount, and by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, patients can be provided with volunteers via phone, email or regular mail.