Typically, new chapters of Mended Hearts form when patients come together and organize. But in the case of Chapter No. 407 in Savannah, Georgia, it was the local hospital that led the charge.
Memorial University Medical Center’s head cardiologist, Jeremy London, M.D., and the hospital’s cardiac nurse educator, Janet Steffen, saw the need for a Mended Hearts chapter and went to their patients in cardiac rehab to get it started.
Terry Ray was in rehab at the time, recovering from a recent stent.
“At the time, I was going through rehab. They asked us if we would be interested in starting a chapter and if I would lead it,” says Ray, president of the new Savannah chapter. “This past September, we were officially chartered.”
The chapter holds monthly meetings at the hospital and brings in guest speakers to talk to the group. They communicate with members through e-mail and social media and plan to start a newsletter. The hospital’s website also links to the group.
So far, most members have been recruited through the cardiac rehab groups at the hospital. Several members of the chapter were also recently trained to be visitors. Soon, they will have someone onsite in the cardiac cath lab and on the heart floor Monday through Friday, talking with patients who are having surgery or who have come into the hospital with a heart event.
“When I was in the hospital, I didn’t have anyone to talk me through it or tell me what to expect afterwards,” Ray says. “Mended Hearts provides peer-to-peer support. It really helps to hear that someone else is going through the same thing. It brings them comfort and lets them know they are not alone.”
The chapter plans to do some fundraising in the near future to pay for patients to go through rehab if they cannot otherwise afford it, or if it’s not covered by insurance.
Last year, Mended Hearts changed the requirement to create a new chapter, lowering the required number of members to 10 instead of 25. The Savannah chapter was the first to form under the new requirement. Though they began with just 16 members, they have already added more: patients and caregivers.
Fredonia Williams, Ed. D., Regional Director of the southern region of Mended Hearts, worked with the chapter to get its charter and to train members to become accredited visitors at the hospital. The group was officially chartered September 22, 2016.
Despite the new requirement, Dr. Williams said the Savannah chapter would have had plenty of members to charter with 25 in just a few months, anyway.
“All of the pieces were in place with this one. This was by far the fastest chapter I have been involved with. Everything clicked,” she says. “The hospital was 100% on board and they had the patients in cardiac rehab right there with them. They see Mended Hearts as a way to close the loophole of support between doctors and patients.”
The hospital and rehab staff already knew the patients — and the patients knew each other — so forming a group was easy, Dr. Williams says.
“The cardiac staff had been with the patients six weeks or longer and knew where the leadership would come from because it had already emerged in rehab,” she says. “I have never seen a group who loved going to cardiac rehab more than this group. They are like a family. They had already bonded and were supporting each other before we got there — they just needed the Mended Hearts name to go with it.” — Scotty Brewington
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