Cardiac volunteers work and walk with heart

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Ken Scullion volunteers with the Regional Cardiovascular Rehabilitation and Secondary Prevention Service (CRSP) at the Rouge Valley Centenary (RVC) site in Scarborough, Ontario.

RVC is one of several CRSP sites, which includes locations throughout the Central East Local Health Integration Network.  Cardiac patients, and those at risk of a cardiac event, can choose a service site which is close-to-home.  The service relies on a multidisciplinary team of health professionals (see sidebar), including volunteers like Ken Scullion.

Scullion is one of approximately 80 volunteers working with CRSP services, and he draws on a wealth of experience; after his heart event in 2011, he too was a cardiac patient. This is a part of the requirement to be a volunteer here. “All volunteers have had a cardiac event or procedure and have been past program participants,” says Lynn Scholey, an exercise therapist. “We are grateful for the unique and significant role that our volunteers play. As past patients supporting our current patients, they play a key role that staff cannot.”

Brian Kelly, a former patient and now the volunteer convenor for the service, agrees. “When patients realize we’ve all had heart struggles, it gives us credibility with them,” he says. “Each volunteer has faced their own cardiac health challenge and anxiety.  We are all living proof that you can channel that anxiety into an exciting recovery.”

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The volunteers support the program, by greeting patients, orienting them to the track, answering questions, and doing set up and take down for the exercise classes. Most significantly, they provide support to these patients that are often anxious about exercising in light of their cardiac history. Volunteers spend time walking and talking with patients and follow up with their progress weekly during the six-month patient program. They each contribute 2.5 hours a week, and there are three volunteers present at most classes.

A high percentage of these volunteers are also involved with an innovative fundraiser for the rehab service. Called Walk with Heart, the event raises money for purchases such as exercise equipment, educational resources, a rubberized track and metabolic testing equipment. Entering its 18th year, Walk with Heart will host four different walk times on event day to accommodate the 800 participants they are expecting at RVC. Walkers choose to walk whatever distance is comfortable for them and can collect donations through various methods.

Maureen Dowhaniuk, from the RVHS Foundation, and a member of the walk planning committee, says that the event is “one of the most successful walks in Canada of its kind.”  With grants and support from the Cardiac Health Foundation of Canada (CHFC), last year’s walk raised more than $110,000. The CHFC gives money back to the cause based on the amount of money raised and the numbers of walkers that participate. The amount of money raised has almost tripled in the last three years, thanks to streamlined donation processes, including the addition of online donation capability through a peer-to-peer fundraising site. This year’s fundraising goal is $125,000.

The event is going regional for the first time this year, with a second walk site in Durham Region.  “We serve a large community extending from Scarborough to Durham to Lindsay and soon to the Peterborough region,” says Scullion, who also volunteers on the walk planning committee. “We looked for walk sites that would be more accessible to more of our supporters,” he adds. The organizing committee is hoping for more than 200 walkers at the Durham Region event, to be held in Oshawa.

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There is a tremendous amount of support for the walk among staff members, cardiologists, patients, and family members. Staff and doctors talk up the event to patients and participate on event day in many ways, such as in cardiologist and therapist exercise contests. Scullion points out that many families happily show up to support both the individual who is walking and the service itself, as a thank you for saving a loved one.  The event is therefore welcoming to families (see sidebar).

The volunteers promote the walk, encourage donations, participate on walk day, and work at the event. The level of commitment seen by the volunteers in the service is rare, says Scullion. “I have volunteered for 45 years with many community groups, and I’ve never seen such a dedicated group of volunteers anywhere else,” he says. The program and the team made such an impact on him that he decided to give back by becoming a volunteer himself. “I came in as a patient and I never left,” he laughs.

About CRSP

The Central East Regional Cardiovascular Rehabilitation and Secondary Prevention Service (CRSP) includes education, exercise testing, exercise classes, a personalized “exercise prescription” (exercise plan), counseling and support. The care team consists of exercise therapists, dieticians, pharmacists, counsellors, cardiologists and cardiac diagnostics technologists, administrative support, and volunteers. There are several cardiovascular rehab sites throughout the region in Scarborough, Ajax, Whitby, Oshawa, Bowmanville, Cobourg, Port Perry, and Lindsay.

Walk with Heart takes place on Saturday, April 25 at Rouge Valley Centenary and on Sunday, May 3 at the Oshawa Civic Dome. Walkers are treated to free t-shirts; metabolic exercise stress test demonstrations; games; music and entertainment; prizes; food; and lots of fun and camaraderie. For more information, go to www.walkwithheart.ca.