Hearing you need open heart surgery can be frightening. Often, it comes as a surprise – a visit to the Emergency Department with chest pain can reveal advanced heart complications. Even more routine cardiac procedures like angioplasty, where blocked heart vessels are cleared to help the heart function better, can be daunting for a patient. Trillium Health Partners has a unique peer mentorship program to help see patients and families through these challenging times.
Started in 2000, Healing Hearts is a volunteer-based support program at Trillium Health Partners that acts as a complement to cardiac care, providing emotional support and practical advice for patients undergoing a cardiac procedure or cardiac surgery. Volunteers in the program have all undergone and recovered from cardiac catheterization or cardiac surgery.
“When I was 56, I had a heart attack at work, but didn’t know it. When I came home, I still wasn’t feeling well. My wife and I decided to go to Trillium Health Centre at the time to check things out,” says Dave Burns, volunteer Team Leader with the Healing Hearts program, one of 13 individuals who currently volunteer. “I ended up having four cardiac arrests that night. I spent three weeks in the hospital, four days of it in a medically induced coma to help my heart rest. All in all, this hospital has saved my life three times, including a quintuple bypass in 2004. In 2002, I decided to give back by becoming a volunteer. Since then, I’ve helped over 7000 families through Healing Hearts.”
Healing Hearts volunteers have a first-hand understanding of what patients can expect before and after procedures and are able to be there to provide support while they are on their journey. Often, fear of the unknown is what can contribute most to emotional distress, and having the mystery removed by being walked through what can be expected every step of the way helps patients prepare and heal faster.
Healing Hearts volunteers visit Trillium Health Partners’ Cardiology, Cardiac Surgery Unit and Cath Lab Short Stay Unit patients before and after procedures. Others partner with Occupational Therapists and Social Workers on the unit to run discharge classes for patients and families. During these classes, Healing Hearts volunteers talk about their own cardiac journey, recovery, what to expect, what sort of activities they can do and when, and important lifestyle and rehabilitation choices.
The impact on patients is significant. This past June, quadruple bypass patient Mr. Robert Leonard got some tips from Mr. Burns before going home to recover: “Dave is very up-beat, the kind of person you want to talk to in a situation like this,” he says. “He’s just got that look about him that makes you want to listen and take in what he’s got to say, because he’s been there and done that. He told me what worked for him, and what didn’t. I’m one of those hands-on people that just keeps on going and doesn’t stop, I’m always active. He told me not to overdo it, and I will be listening to him because I know that if I push it, I’ll end up back in the hospital.”
Healing Hearts volunteers like Dave are in a unique position to build credibility and trust with patients. According to Brenda Diduck, Clinical Leader on Trillium Health Partners’ Cardiac Surgery Unit, they are often able to have conversations with patients that can help the clinical team tremendously. They play a major role in lowering anxiety levels and providing hope and support to patients and their families. “For many patients, the news that they need heart surgery often comes as a complete shock. Healing Hearts volunteers really help ease their anxiety,” says Ghita Beswick, Social Worker on Trillium Health Partners’ Cardiac Care Unit. “It’s very reaffirming. They help patients feel it’s not the end of the world.”
Part of Trillium Health Partners’ commitment to deliver exceptional quality healthcare in the Mississauga and West Toronto community means always looking at the full picture of what our patients and families need to heal as well as possible – Healing Hearts is a testament of how the hospital fulfills its mission to create a new kind of healthcare for a healthier community, one patient and family at a time.