A Word From Our President

Donnette Smith, Huntsville, AL

Doctors may have saved my heart, but Mended Hearts has saved my life. Thanks to the incredible vision of Dr. Harken and others, this organization has had such transformative power in my life, and in so many other lives. That’s why I’m so delighted at the opportunity to serve as the president of Mended Hearts.

I never thought I’d be the organization’s president, though I’ve long been an active member. My journey with Mended Hearts began in June, 1988. I’d known that eventually I’d need surgery to replace a valve in my heart, and that time had finally arrived. I was absolutely terrified; I didn’t know anyone who had been through anything like that, and I was convinced my life was over.

Then a man knocked on my door. He held a bud vase with a single rose. The nurse introduced him, but I didn’t even pay attention to his name. He said, “I had heart surgery two years ago.” This man was fit, healthy and happy. He talked about how he played golf and traveled. Heart surgery had been a bump in the road for him, nothing more. Hearing his story gave me such hope, such encouragement. I asked him questions that I hadn’t dared ask the nurses. When he left, I felt a new sense of peace, and I was determined that when I got well, I’d become part of this organization. Of course, after my surgery, I went back to my career and my family.

Five years later, in 1993, I suffered an aneurysm and was desperate to talk to someone who had pushed through the same condition. By then, our local chapter had disbanded. I resolved to start it again after I recovered. Starting a new chapter took about a year, but we’ve been around since 1994. I’ve been honored to serve at the local and regional level in multiple capacities. Mended Heart is truly the greatest organization I’ve ever been a part of.

And this organization is changing! Though my presidency has only recently begun, we’re already making tremendous progress. We’ve made impressive inroads on a project for medication adherence, forging new partnerships with pharmaceutical and medical device companies. They’re helping us to educate patients on the importance of taking their prescribed medications – and asking the doctor questions.

The new board members and I are excited to expand the organization’s reach. Our first step: engage a younger generation, who will soon be the lifeblood of the organization. We’ve begun to offer virtual training and webinars for our more computer-savvy volunteers, who may need to squeeze in their training on a lunch break or between their kids’ extracurricular activities. Meanwhile, we’re also focused on improving name recognition not only in patient care settings, but also in the broader community. We want people to know Mended Hearts, to trust us as a vital, reliable resource.

I also hope to enhance our resources for caregivers. The most romantic moment of my life was after one of my heart surgeries. I was still in the ICU, but I couldn’t sleep. The nurse suggested that I take a walk and told me that my husband was in the waiting room. I found him there, asleep on the floor, underneath a makeshift tent he’d made by draping a sheet over a table. He’s been so absolutely devoted, and he’s certainly not alone. Mended Hearts can support our caregivers, the way they’ve supported us.

I look forward to building on Dr. Harken’s extraordinary vision alongside our members and our newly elected board members.