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Mended Hearts: A Support Group for Cardiac Patients

This post comes to us from Jess Hoy, a summer intern in the marketing and communications department.

Recovering from or undergoing any kind of treatment is difficult. Physical pain can become a daily struggle. Not to mention the emotional battle and burden placed on caregivers and loved ones.

Mended Hearts helps people after triple bypass surgery and other heart surgeries.
Suzie Matthews, Denny King and Terri Ellison founded Charlottesville’s Mended Hearts chapter to help heart patients and caregivers.

It’s a time when personal and lifestyle changes can be difficult and trying. It’s comforting to know that others are fighting similar battles.

Mended Hearts provides comfort and assurance for patients who are undergoing treatment for heart disease and their caregivers.

We sat down and chatted with the founders of the local Mended Hearts chapter, Terri Ellison, MS, Denny King, Suzie Matthews, and Judy Smith, RN, BSN.

All four members of the founding group have either gone through heart surgery or supported and cared for someone who has. Through their common bond over shared troubles, these four started the local chapter in hopes of bringing together wounded hearts for the purpose of holistic healing.

Support Through Heart Disease Survivors

 “The main idea is support by people who have been through it,” explains King, who went through many of the same procedures as those in the group.

King, who has undergone open-bypass surgery, often speaks with other patients of heart surgeries, ranging from a triple heart bypass to a coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) to closed-chest surgeries.

“Helping patients make the right decisions, the hard decisions with the support of others who have experienced the same thing. Giving them the idea ‘I’m not the only one.’ We want to make sure people get the treatment they need, the best possible options for each individual.”

Smith chimes in with “A lot of people are too embarrassed to ask their doctor, they don’t know what to ask.”

“That’s the value in what we do,” says Matthews, a previous heart patient herself. “They might think it’s a stupid question but we’ve all been through it, we’ve had the same stupid questions, so they might be less afraid to ask us.”

As King describes, “Unless you’ve gone through it you don’t know what’s going to happen when you go in. We say ‘This is how it works this is what’s going to happen.’ We’re trying to help relieve some of the anxiety of the unknown. They take comfort in knowing that we went through all of that bad stuff and we’re still standing here, looking good.”

Caring for Caregivers

A huge part of the healing process centers around caregivers: Friends, spouses and family who take care of the patients and nurse them back to health.

Not only does a large portion of the medical responsibility fall on the caregivers, so does the stress and often loneliness. “Even more so than the patient, the caregivers take a lot of the burden, and it’s easy to get down.”

Mended Hearts has stepped in to help ease some of that burden. Ellison says: “A lot of times we’ll see one wife talking to another wife. We get to see them come together to provide each other with such a sense of relief.”

“Mended Hearts Magic”

“We’ve had people come in here with a really disheartened attitude, really down on themselves,” Smith says, “and just by meeting with other people going through the same thing and talking to us, we’ve seen them leave, even after just one meeting, much better off. That’s why we do this.  It’s like their entire demeanor has been turned around.

“That’s the Mended Hearts magic, seeing these wounded people come together and help fix each other.”

Monthly Meetings

Anyone is welcome to attend the monthly meeting.

At each meeting, participants discuss a topic related to heart care. Smith explains: “Some people will tell us they want to discuss a specific topic. They’ll ask at the end of a meeting. For example, members tend to be very interested in talking about their medication so we brought in a pharmacist to talk about that.”

Other topics include cardiac device upkeep, stress management, health and diet and mental wellness.

Mended Hearts meetings are monthly, typically during the second week of the month. The location and time varies. Brochures can be found in many UVA Heart clinics as well as at the Northridge Medical Park, and fliers are posted throughout the hospital.

All are welcome and encouraged to join. For more information, contact Terri Ellison at 434.243.0858.

Learn more about Mended Hearts of Charlottesville.

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