Mended Hearts Offers Compassion to Cardiac Patients
Support Group Meets Monthly to Share Information and Learn
When Randy Catalano watched his wife Diane go through triple bypass surgery in 2009, he had no idea that a year later - almost to the day - he would undergo the same surgical procedure. It was a difficult ordeal for the Catalanos, but they are grateful for the care they received at Washington Hospital. Now they want to give back.
"Neither one of us had any major precursors to heart disease before this," Randy said. "But now Diane and I have both experienced being the cardiac patient and the caregiver, so we know how hard it can be. Having major heart surgery is a life-altering event."
Randy is now president of the local chapter of Mended Hearts, a national nonprofit organization that provides support and education to heart disease patients and their loved ones. Diane is one of four certified Mended Hearts visitors at Washington Hospital.
"The hospital saved my life," Diane said. "So if I can help just one person, I've done what I was meant to do."
Visitors like Diane are specially trained to talk with heart disease patients who are undergoing heart surgery or receiving angioplasty, as well as their families, friends, and caregivers. Diane visits patients before and after their procedures.
"I didn't get a visit until after my surgery, so when I became a visitor I asked if I could do pre-surgery visits," she said. "It would have helped me because I was scared. I think it eases your mind to talk with someone who has been through it. I'm proof there is life after heart surgery.'
Diane goes to Washington Hospital three times a week to visit with cardiac patients and their loved ones. Because she spent hours waiting while Randy was in open heart surgery, she knows what family and friends are going through.
"I try to tell them not to watch the clock," she said. "The time goes slow when you're waiting."
While the accredited visiting program is at the core of Mended Hearts, it also serves as a support group for people with heart disease and their caregivers. Mended Hearts usually meets at 5 p.m. on the first Tuesday of the month. Meetings are held at the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium at 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West) in Fremont.
Sharing Common Issues
The support group gives people a chance to share their struggles and successes with others who understand their situation as well as learn how to lead a more heart healthy lifestyle. Each meeting includes an educational component and often features a guest speaker who talks about some aspect of heart disease, from healthy eating to the proper use of medications. The next meeting is scheduled for January 15.
"Just knowing that others have had the same thoughts, pains, and complications can be therapeutic," Randy wrote in the monthly newsletter that is distributed to members. "As I've said before, having heart-related issues is a shock to most of us, a life-changing event and it shakes you to the core. I personally have received great comfort just being around others who share common concerns. It's also exciting to see others who have suffered with serious health issues recover and live normal lives again."
In addition to the monthly meetings and the local newsletter, members receive a subscription to Heartbeat Magazine, published quarterly by the national organization. The local Mended Hearts chapter has more than 70 members and is looking to increase its membership and the number of certified visitors.
"The truth is I think I get more out of the visits than the patients do," Diane said. "It feels good to be there for people in their hour of need, especially since I know what they are going through. I was right there where they are."
Randy and Diane said they are glad to be able to devote their time to Mended Hearts. Randy recently retired from his job as a senior network engineer and Diane was a stay-at-home mom. Now their daughter is grown and has a daughter of her own.
"We feel so lucky we were able to live to see our daughter get married and now we have our granddaughter," Diane said. "We have a lot to live for, so we do everything we can to stay here. Every day counts."
Randy said while he and Diane ate a healthy diet and exercised before their heart problems, making a transition to a healthier lifestyle can be very difficult for some people.
"It's a new way of living for many heart disease patients," Randy said. "Mended Hearts offers support with that as well. It's just a great group of people who are all struggling with many of the same issues."
To get involved with the local chapter of Mended Hearts, call (510) 494-7022. For information about the national Mended Hearts, visit www.mendedhearts.org. To learn about the Heart Program at Washington Hospital, visit www.whhs.com/heart.