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February 4, 2011 > Have a Heart, Become a Volunteer

Have a Heart, Become a Volunteer

Local Mended Hearts Chapter Seeking Volunteers to Support Cardiac Patients

Valentine's Day, with its romance and red hearts, is a time to express your love to others. But all of February is American Heart Month, a time to recognize and support advances in heart research and remember heart patients, says Regina Weir, president of Mended Hearts for Southern Alameda (Chapter 110).

For 60 years, the members of Mended Hearts, a national volunteer, community-based organization, have offered hope, encouragement and support to heart patients. As these volunteers know from the experience - which scientific studies confirm - a patient-to-patient visiting program is often a critical component in a patient's recovery and return to a fulfilling life.

Weir can attest to this firsthand.

"Speaking from my own experience back in 1985, when I had to have my first angioplasty, I was petrified," she relates. "It was a fairly new procedure and I had to go to Mount Diablo hospital to have it done because Washington Hospital was not doing them at that time. Shortly afterward, while in Cardiac Rehab, I was sharing this with the other rehab patients and they all felt the same way when they faced their first MRI or procedure."

As luck would have it, the Director of Cardiac Rehab, knew about Mended Hearts, and asked Weir and her fellow patients if they would be interested in launching a local chapter. With a resounding yes, the group applied, wrote by-laws, paid chapter dues to become Mended Hearts Chapter 110.

"All of us were told what to expect from the doctors and nurses before our procedures, but to talk to someone who had actually been through it sounded great to us," she says.

Today, local cardiac patients and their family members have a built-in support network in the community, and Weir hopes that cardiac patients who have undergone surgery will return the favor by becoming Mended Hearts members themselves.

"To be able to support another community member who is about to undergo the same procedure you had is a wonderful feeling," she says. "When the patient and family members see another cardiac patient walk into the room, looking great, feeling great and living a full life-well, what more can you say?

"We give no medical advice, but we do calm their fears about returning to the life they had before their procedure. Plus, it makes the trained visitor fell great knowing how much they helped that person and their family."

Within Washington Township, Mended Hearts chapter 110 conducts an accredited visiting program at Washington Hospital, pairing volunteers with heart patients and their families in the hospital when they need it most.

Members also make follow-up visits and telephone calls; answer lifestyle questions; and write letters and e-mails to offer emotional support and encouragement. Weir says taking the time to just listen to patients goes a long way, but it also helps to hear from someone who has been through the same experience and gone on to thrive post-surgery.

"If I had a visit from someone who had already gone through an angioplasty walk into my room and tell me that they were back to work, bowling, taking dance lessons and thoroughly enjoying a very full life, I could have relaxed a lot more then I did before my procedure," Weir says. "Back then all I could do was lie there thinking about this procedure and whether I would survive it or not. I was 41 years old and all I could think of was would I live to see my children grow up, marry and have children of their own.

"Now, all I can say 25 years later is 'It's great to be alive and help others!' And, yes, I have four beautiful grandchildren and a wonderful family."


Get involved

If you are a current heart patient at Washington Hospital, Weir encourages you to request a hospital visit from a Mended Hearts volunteer. And for cardiac patients who have recovered, it's easy to get involved and become a volunteer.

To learn more about the services and outreach Mended Hearts offers to heart patients, contact the local chapter at (510) 494-7022. (Leave a message, and a member will return the call as soon as possible.) To reach the organization's national office, call 1-888-HEART99 (1-888-432-7899) or visit www.mendedhearts.org.

Mended Hearts Chapter 110 has been visiting heart patients since 1987 and marks its 24th anniversary this month. Heart patients, their family members and friends are invited to join the group's next meeting on Tuesday, March 1, at 6 p.m. in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, Room B of Washington West, located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont. During the meeting, Weir hopes to host a Washington Hospital medical staff cardiologist who will speak about the latest in cardiac procedures.

To RSVP, call (510) 494-7022.

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