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Like patients everywhere, local heart-attack victims are stricken with fear and confusion. And that’s when the members of Chapter 235, many of whom are heart-attack survivors, come to the rescue.

The ‘me, too’ Mission of Mended Hearts by ann taylor

Nancy Husbands, past president of Mended Hearts, presents Jim McCabe, another past president, with a plaque honoring his long-time commitment to Camp Boggy Creek, a service project of the local chapter. The year-round camp outside Orlando provides memorable and medically sound experiences for children ages 7-16 who have chronic or life-threatening illnesses.

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ourteen years ago Ed Fitzgerald was feeling on top of the world thanks to exercising regularly and watching what he ate. In his early 40’s, working in the brokerage business and living in New Jersey, he was the perfect picture of health. In fact he had just run into an old friend who said he had never seen him looking better. The next day Ed suffered a major heart attack. “I almost checked out,” he says. “After what was a very invasive surgery – they crack open your

chest! – I was afraid to close my eyes thinking that I might never open them again. I was confused and scared.” After being shuffled through the hospital system with a million questions left unanswered, Ed realized there had to be some kind of support system in place to help those who had been through a similar experience. He found it when he moved to Vero Beach and a client told him about Mended Hearts, an international nonprofit self-help organization

dedicated to the needs of cardiac patients, their families and friends. For 60 years Mended Hearts has been offering the gift of hope and encouragement through members of its accredited visitation program. Their very presence, sharing experiences and answering questions, demonstrates to those with heart disease and defects that people can survive and continue to live full, happy and healthy lives. Today, as second vice president and visitation chair of Mended Hearts Vero Beach/ Indian River County Chapter 235, Ed Fitzgerald is a big part of that support system he had longed for. “The thing about visiting is that when you stand in front of them and tell them you’ve been where they are they open up and start asking questions like crazy,” he says. “I can relate to what they’re going through. It’s personally very rewarding.” Since Indian River Medical Center became affiliated with the Duke University Health System and opened a state-of-the-art Heart Center five years ago, the reward for individuals like Fitzgerald has been even greater. Last year, Mended Hearts volunteers visited close to 300 cardiac patients at IRMC. For them to see and talk to someone who has been there can give them the added strength they need to overcome their doubts and fears. “Fear is a big thing,” says Ed, leaning forward to emphasize his point. “When you’re recovering you wonder

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Mended Hearts goals • With a physician’s approval, visiting and encouraging individuals with heart disease. • Distributing information of specific educational value to members and those with heart disease. • Providing advice and services, when and where possible, to families of patients experiencing heart problems. • Establishing a program of assistance to surgeons, physicians and hospital staff in their work with heart patients. • Cooperating with other organizations in educational and research activities pertaining to heart disease. Bob Johnson, chairman of the first Mended Hearts Chapter 235 visitation program, whose initial heart procedure was performed in 1994, with Lillian Distasio McNaught, a long-time supporter of the nonprofit organization.

• Establishing rehabilitation programs and introducing them to Mended Hearts members and their families.

if you’re really going to make it.”

• Planning and conducting suitable education programs and social events at monthly meetings.

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ancy Husbands knows just what Ed means. The year was 1998, she was 64 years old, and one morning she woke up feeling as though an elephant was sitting on her chest. The former physical education teacher had been active her entire life so the thought that she could be having a heart attack never crossed her mind. Yet thinking back, Nancy, a past president of Mended Hearts’ local chapter and the current membership chair, realizes that the signs of potential heart trouble were there. “I remember being at a party where there was square dancing and I could hardly finish the set I was so out of breath. I just thought I was out of shape but it was a precursor of what was to come.” People who experience shortness of breath, a reduced capacity for exercise, feelings of pounding in their chest like rumbling thunder,

drums pounding, fish flopping and dizziness may suffer from the common but potentially dangerous heart arrhythmia known as atrial fibrillation. According to the Heart Rhythm Society more than two million Americans are already living with the condition.

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eart disease, the No. 1 killer of men and women of all ages, ethnicities and social backgrounds, doesn’t discriminate – a fact that cardiac nurse Pam Flanner was well aware of. She just didn’t expect it to happen to her. “I was 58 and living in North Carolina’s Outer Banks when I had my heart attack. I was in three different hospitals. I was very fortunate that we have a wonderful one (IRMC) with a follow-up rehab program right here,” says Pam, who became involved with Mended Hearts when a member invited her to a party. “They were having a 50/50 raffle and I won. I gave the money back and

February is American Heart Month and February 3 is National Wear Red Day in celebration of women’s heart health. To learn more about Vero Beach/Indian River County Chapter 235 contact Alice Conkey at conkeyalice@gmail or 562-3996.

they asked me if I would become a member.” Pam didn’t hesitate to say yes and has since been spreading the word about the organization. “We have educational and support programs such as in-person visits, Internet visiting and patient-to-patient connections online, as well as workshops where health-care professionals provide valuable information and answer questions.” As president of the local chapter, Alice Conkey believes in learning as much as you can about heart disease, listening to what your body is telling


Over the years Sue Hicks (center) has made numerous afghans that are given to chronically sick children at Camp Foggy Creek. Helping her show off one of her latest creations is (left to right) Lidia and Jack Johns, retired executive from Aircraft Dynamics Inc., long-time Mended Hearts corporate sponsors, and Jim McCabe.

you and the importance of annual physicals. “Cardiovascular disease runs in my family and I had a heart murmur. When I saw my internist for a regular checkup I didn’t have any chest pains, but he said he didn’t like the way my heart was sounding so I immediately had a stress test that showed my aortic valve was blocked,” recalls Alice, who lived in Maryland and had open-heart surgery at the Washington Hospital Center seven years ago before moving to Vero Beach. “I was 59 and remember being visited in the hospital by someone from Mended Hearts who brought me the red heart pillow. You have a lot of pain and the first week or two you have to have the pillow in front of you; it depends on where the ‘zipper’ is,” she says, referring to the area where the surgeon opened the chest to perform the operation, then stitched it closed. “Vero Beach is very lucky to have the Heart Center and so many good cardiologists and health care providers, as well as IRMC and its cardiac rehab department, to support what Mended Hearts does. It’s really important to us.”

Alice Conkey, Ed Fitzgerald, Pam Flanner and Nancy Husbands all survived heart attacks and celebrate every minute of every day by supporting others through the Mended Hearts accredited visitation program. The local chapter and Indian River Medical Center co-purchase the large red hearts that are given to patients after surgery.

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uch of a patient’s successful recovery can be attributed to a nursesupervised monitored cardiac rehabilitation program that helps them understand the risk factors and reduce the potential for a recurring attack. On a physician’s referral the program includes exercise, education about cardiac medication and nutrition as well as physical activity – all designed to lead to a speedier recovery and improve the patient’s quality of life. “I’m a big believer in rehab followup at the hospital as very few people are strong enough to do it on their own,” Nancy Husbands emphasizes. “I went for two years and didn’t realize how secure it makes you feel. During the first three rehab sessions I did just a few minutes of biking and could hardly make it. That was a real

shock as I used to lead biking groups all over Europe.” “You have to continue with the rehab,” Ed Fitzgerald adds. “It’s a progressive thing and unless you change the things you did before, like not exercising, eating the wrong things or smoking, you’re still at risk. You can’t change your genes or your gender, but you can change the things that are under your control.” Some of those changes are included in Cardiac Chronicles of the Treasure Coast, the local chapter’s monthly newsletter The latest issue details a scientific report regarding the benefit derived from eating fish as often as twice weekly.

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ended Hearts members look forward to meeting regularly, where they encourage one another

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photo courtesy of IRMC

Heart attack survivor Pam Flanner and her husband Robert Culpepper know how blessed they are to still be able to spend time together. Denise Ritchie

Cardiac patient Bob Gregory gets a big boost from Mended Hearts visitor Nancy Husbands, who brought him a red pillow, a copy of the local chapter’s newsletter and a heart-healthy brochure.

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and share an informative program. “January, February and March are what we call ‘mega meetings,’ ” says Alice Conkey. “We have speakers who make a presentation and then we open it up to Q & A. Sometimes members even follow the speakers out to the parking lot to continue asking questions! “Cardiac patients often experience depression, so we try to provide as much emotional and informational support as we can.” The local chapter of Mended Hearts also sponsors an annual scholarship to a nursing student at Indian River State College. “It’s administered through the college, and the stipulation is the student must stay in Indian River County for a year,” explains nurse Pam Flanner. Jared Smith received the 2011 award and couldn’t have been more grateful. “It’s not easy to juggle a family, job and school. With your help you have lightened my financial burden … I promise to work very hard and

try to give back to the community as much as I can as a nurse.” Alice Conkey has confidence he will. And she offers this advice: “Ask questions of your doctor and encourage others to do the same. If you have any pain or just don’t feel right don’t pass it off as stress. Once you turn 40 or 50, ask for an echocardiogram.” Ed Fitzgerald wishes he had, as the signs were there. “I remember having one of those burping sessions that kept reoccurring and I would have shrugged it off if my wife hadn’t been home. She said, we’re going to call 911 and get to the hospital right away.” As one of the “lucky ones” who survived a heart attack, Ed believes in giving back through Mended Hearts. “I remember visiting a 50-year-old businessman in the hospital and we talked. A year or two later I saw him on the street and he said I know you, you visited me and it meant a lot. The fact is, Mended Hearts does make a difference.” `

Loretta Davies and Sharon Tar enjoy Mended Hearts’ monthly meetings, this one held last December.

RESOURCES Heart disease doesn’t discriminate. It’s the #1 killer of men and women, of all ages, of all ethnicities and social backgrounds. For 60 years, Mended Hearts has been offering the gift of hope and encouragement to heart patients, families and caregivers, bringing local patients together to form a network of caring individuals. Its mission is to “inspire hope in heart disease patients and their families.” Mended Hearts Contact Info: To learn more about Vero Beach/ Indian River County Chapter 235 contact Alice Conkey at conkeyalice@gmail or 562-3996.


The ‘Me, Too’ Mission of Mended Hearts