Virtual Visits Empower Real Support

virtual visit with healthcare provider

“I feel much better after talking with you. It was nice of you to take the time.”

 

“Thanks for listening. May I email you at any time?” 

 

Messages like these come from grateful people learning to live with cardiovascular conditions or those recovering from cardiovascular surgery. Many of these messages arrive in the inbox of Michele Scott, 68, a trained Mended Hearts® volunteer committed to providing help and hope to people living with heart disease and to their caregivers and families as part of the MyHeartVisit® Accredited Visiting Program.

 

“People go through so much when they have heart surgery,” Michele said. “It’s emotional, and many times, they don’t know what is going on.”

 

Michele is part of a team of trained volunteers at the ready for virtual visits on the phone, through email or even via video visit to offer information and support for heart patients and their families through Mended Hearts.

Personal Mission

For Michele, the mission is personal: After a mitral valve replacement in 2007, she was in a medically induced coma and required a second surgery while in the coma. Her husband Dennis was on his own. “No one spoke to Dennis,” Scott said, dismayed at the memory of her significant other’s lack of  no support. Dennis spent the next six weeks at home caring for Michele, nursing her back to her previous self. “He made sure I was OK,” she said.

 

Today, Michele thinks a lot about the caregivers and family members when serving as a Mended Hearts volunteer. When conducting patient visits, she understands how important support and education can be for not just the person in the hospital bed, but also for the people around that person. 

 

Michele’s first experience with a Mended Hearts visitor was as she was being released from the hospital in 2007. “There was a visitor that did come, but I was on my way out of the hospital to come home and I just wanted to come home,” she remembered. However, Michele promised the visitor that she would attend a Mended Hearts meeting after he requested that she attend. “He said, ‘You promise?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I promise.’”

 

An inherently shy person, Michele remembers the trepidation that accompanied her first Mended Hearts in-person meeting about six months later. “I’m a very quiet person; I like to observe,” Michele explained. She was glad that no one “pushed her” to share more than she was ready to during the meetings, something she very much appreciated. After attending a few meetings, however, Michele’s confidence and trust in Mended Hearts grew. While she continued her own recovery, she began connecting with others at the meetings.

 

Then, Michele became a Mended Hearts volunteer herself; she started out helping with administrative tasks like stapling, putting labels on envelopes and helping the editor with the newsletter. Then, she volunteered as editor of the newsletter and also a visiting volunteer, conducting hospital visits with those who had undergone cardiovascular surgery just before the pandemic. 

 

Volunteering for different jobs within Mended Hearts has helped keep her engaged: “Mended Hearts has really helped me grow as a volunteer,” Michele noted. “I’ve done a variety of volunteer work. I enjoy going back to our community and helping people.”

 

A New Way to Visit

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. in early 2020, hospitals shut down visitor programs. But, not unlike patients learning to live with heart disease, The Mended Hearts, Inc. organization found a new normal and began to connect with patients in a different way: virtually. The nation’s largest cardiac peer-to-peer support group did not let a pandemic stand in the way of helping those with cardiac conditions and their families.

 

“Mended Hearts did a great pivot and came up with programs including the patient advocacy network and the contact (call) center, and I’ve enjoyed working with both of these programs,” Michele said.

 

Allowing easy access to trained Mended Hearts volunteers via phone, email and through video-enabled virtual visits has empowered the organization to reach people in need of support and information in a whole new way. The MyHeartVisit® Accredited Visiting Program is vital support for patients and families. Before the pandemic, trained volunteers made more than 200,000 peer connections each year and during the pandemic volunteers were able to support over 50,000 patients and family members. While visitors never give medical advice, they can perform the important functions of listening to patients to understand their concerns, offering support and sharing information about living with heart disease from a patient, parent or caregiver perspective.  

 

Expanding the Personal Touch

“I like the virtual visits because you can actually see the other person that you are speaking with,” Michele said, noting that it has even been a handy tool for her fellow Mended Hearts volunteers as they check in with one another. 

 

The volume of emails and phone calls she has fielded has been much higher, however.

“I offer them encouragement and listening,” Michelle said, expressing how important the act of listening is, particularly when in the virtual setting. “I enjoy listening to people to offer encouragement. Sometimes, when a person is really down, you need to kind of just be there for them, and lift them up a little bit. We let them know that we are here for them, and there are Mended Hearts resources out there for them.” 

 

Michele speaks to patients from across the country, and makes sure to refer the patient to a Mended Hearts chapter or group near them for additional support and opportunities for involvement. The Mended Hearts, Inc. has hundreds of chapters and groups that are organized to serve the organization and their local communities. 

 

The Power of Connection

For someone who describes herself as an introvert, Michele appreciates that volunteering with Mended Hearts gave her a reason and a push to connect with others in an authentic, caring way.

 

“I don’t really like to go out and tell my story because I’m very quiet and very shy, and I don’t want to go around saying, ‘I’m a heart patient! Want to listen to my story?’” she joked. But the power of that connection with the right audience is something that will get even this introvert out of her shell.

 

“I remember this one person – back when we did in-person visits – I walked into the room and the patient said, ‘Oh, thank God you’re here!’ Michele said. “When I started encouraging her husband, her caretaker, the patient started crying!” It’s that same sense of relief that she feels from patients who benefit from the virtual visits.

 

“I want as many people to be visited as possible,” Michele said, “Patients, yes, but also caregivers, husbands, sisters-in-law, cousins – whoever is around the patient, too. It’s important for them to receive support, also, because they will see things in a different light than the patient, sometimes even than the caregiver.” A slight change in the person’s walk, perhaps, or noticing that the patient is not moving enough to keep good blood flow are things that people in the person’s life may pick up first. “If someone around the patient recognizes something, it’s imperative to let the doctor or nurse know so the patient can be checked,” Michele advised.

 

A Heart for Service

When not volunteering with Mended Hearts, Michele enjoys reading and spending quiet time with her husband Dennis and their three dogs at their home in Olympia, Washington.

 

And, her volunteer positions with Mended Hearts are certainly close to her heart: “It gives me a sense of accomplishment to have helped someone. Hopefully, they will get to the point where they feel comfortable coming to a meeting. I always encourage them to do that. 

 

“I think it is important for people to know that we are here for them, as visitors and volunteers. We offer the support and the encouragement,” Michele said, emphasizing that whether it’s in-person or virtual, the support is the main thing. “I think our motto says it: It’s great to be alive … and to help others.”

 

To learn more about the MyHeartVisit® Accredited Visiting Program, please visit www.myheartvisit.org.