Patients undergoing open heart surgery get an extra dose of care and support from Mended Hearts Chapter 119 at Riverside Regional Medical Center.
The volunteer group offers patient visits before and after surgery to answer questions and allay concerns for patients and their families. Most Mended Hearts volunteers have been through heart surgery, which gives them experience and perspective.
Support for caregivers as well as patients is also a point of emphasis.
"It's a very rewarding endeavor," said volunteer Mike Gwinn, 68, who lives in Hampton and underwent heart valve replacement in 2008. "You do feel rewarded when you talk to patients and their families before surgery and certainly after surgery. A lot of them are really scared because it's a pretty major event, but we try to reassure them it's a new lease on life so to speak."
Approximately 180 volunteers from the greater Peninsula keep the organization very active at Riverside. Many of them, like Gwinn, were visited by Mended Hearts while hospitalized and went back to volunteer after their recoveries.
The chapter meets each month and produces a monthly newsletter, along with maintaining a website. The group also organizes the cardiac unit's supply of heart pillows, which are given to patients to ease pain from post-surgical coughing.
Mended Hearts volunteers are trained by both the national nonprofit organization they are part of and Riverside's volunteer operation.
York County resident Libby Crossland had two stents inserted in 2001, and then bypass surgery in 2004. She was so impressed by her contact with Mended Hearts volunteers Stu and Judy Lund that she and her husband became Mended Hearts volunteers.
"They weren't pushy or anything, just saying that they understood what I was going through," Crossland said.
Crossland, 70, currently works with patients who are in rehab, while constantly reminding herself to watch her own health habits.
"A couple of months after you've had the surgery, we just have to try to remind them whether we like it or not we have heart disease, and it's better to work with it than against it because we're the ones that are going to suffer," Crossland said.
"We talk a lot about how we feel and also ways to go about eating the right foods. We do work together, support one another, understand the lows and the highs of heart disease. We work on a floor where you really do appreciate feeling good."
Heart surgeries are on the decline across the country because of more effective medications, the use of stents and better lifestyle choices for some, said volunteer Polly Clodfelter, a Newport News resident who had an aortic valve replacement 15 years ago. Mended Hearts has extended its program to visiting patients receiving stents and although some slip through the cracks the group tries to get to all of them, she said.
Smithfield resident David Williams, 70, underwent a three-way bypass surgery in 1998 in Norfolk. Though he wasn't visited by that chapter of Mended Hearts after emergency surgery, he lived in Newport News at the time and Chapter 119 started sending him newsletters.
He started working with Mended Hearts in 2000, and thinks it's very beneficial for patients.
"I know when I had my surgery, I was 56 years old and of course I thought it was the end of the world," Williams said. "When you visit somebody and let them know I had this surgery or something like it some years back and I've returned to normal, can do just about everything I used to do.
"You don't have to lay in bed all day and thinking about you're going to die because what they do to you brings you back to normal."