Mended Hearts, a peer-to-peer support program at Good Samaritan Hospital, gives new hope to hundreds throughout the region.
By Debra Bresnan
Keith Brown, 65, a semi-retired chemical engineer and avid woodworker, had four heart attacks within an eight-month period before undergoing open-heart surgery with multiple bypasses. “After my surgery, I fell into despair,” he recalls. “I thought that I wouldn’t be able to do the things I love anymore. I thought: I’m a foodie, and I can’t eat the things I love. I love the outdoors, and I can’t do that stuff either. My imagination ran wild. I was in pretty bad shape.”
But when a Mended Hearts volunteer visited Brown in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (CVICU) at Good Samaritan Hospital, a member of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth), it not only completely changed his outlook on life, it inspired him to help others.
With nearly 18,000 members, Mended Hearts is a nonprofit, peer-to-peer support organization in 300 community-based chapters and satellites across the U.S. and Canada. In Suffern, Mended Hearts Lower Hudson Valley was established in 2010. Now, Chapter 368, as it’s also known, boasts 40 members who have offered support to more than 600 heart patients, as well as their families and caregivers.
The program’s trained Visitor Volunteers, who are former heart patients themselves, offer compassion, hope, encouragement and information to others who are recovering from heart surgery or procedures.
Brown has been a Mended Hearts Accredited Visitor Volunteer since 2014 and has visited about 70 patients in the CVICU and the step-down unit. “Quite often, they’re in the same room I was in, and so I say, ‘Hey, you’re in my bed!’” he laughs. “I tell them a little bit about what happened to me and give them encouragement about the future. I tell them I just returned from kayaking or a trip to Mexico or cutting down trees for lumber for my woodworking. I’m back to my old self, with no limitations, and it turns them around, just as it did for me.”
Visitor Volunteers receive training and annual recertification from Good Samaritan Hospital and Mended Hearts. The group gathers for monthly meetings, which include lectures by cardiologists, nutritionists, pharmacists, cardiac surgeons and physical therapists, as well as sleep experts and meditation trainers.
“One benefit of Mended Hearts is belonging to a group of people who have literally been there, just like the patients have,” says Sandi Jeanette, Worksite Wellness Coordinator at Good Samaritan Hospital and the treasurer of Mended Hearts. “Some volunteers are our officers; others schedule patient visits, serve on our program committee, train volunteers or work on fundraisers and hospitality. After our business meetings, we have open discussion, and people share ‘Visitor Vignettes’ and socialize,” Jeanette says. “I’m thrilled Mended Hearts exists here, and we have a nice partnership with the hospital.”
Mended Hearts volunteers not only help heart patients and their families enjoy life again, they also offer a unique understanding and perspective of patients’ needs and concerns, and, when necessary, even a dose of tough love.
“Before I had my surgery, I had only Bayer aspirin and Nyquil in my house,” says Brown, “but now I’m on a regimen of medications. Patients say, ‘I don’t want to take all these pills,’ and I remind them that it’s crucial to follow all the doctor’s orders,” he adds.
“The care at Good Samaritan Hospital is excellent and every patient I visit says the same thing. Often, when I visit patients, I bake cookies and cakes for the staff because they saved my life, and I want to say thank you!”
For more information about Mended Hearts Lower Hudson Valley Chapter 368, visit www.mendedhearts.org.