Need someone to talk to before heart surgery?
When Tim Crane, 78, of Brewster faced open heart surgery a little more than 13 years ago, he couldn’t have foreseen that it would set him on a journey of helping others going through the same experience.
Crane is the visiting program coordinator of the Mended Hearts, a national organization of volunteers who provide support, encouragement, hope and education to patients going through cardiac procedures and surgery. It is the largest cardiovascular peer-to-peer support network in the world, according to information in the group’s HeartGuide publication.
Volunteer visitors of the Cape Cod-Hyannis chapter have made more than 3,000 patient visits at Cape Cod and Falmouth hospitals since its inception in 2002.
Crane learned about the Mended Hearts program while he was going through cardiac rehab and heard the founder of the chapter give a talk.
“I was thinking that I wished I could have had somebody to talk to who had been through it either before or immediately after my surgery,” said Crane. “That’s what really got me started doing this.”
He became a member and six months later he was asked to be the visiting program coordinator.
His own journey began when he suffered a heart attack 15 years ago. He had an angioplasty, a surgical procedure to unblock his arteries. Stents, which are small wire mesh tubes, were placed in his blocked coronary arteries to open them up. About one year later, the stents became blocked and could not be re-opened, leaving coronary bypass graft surgery (CABG) as his next option.
This surgery involves taking grafts from healthy arteries or veins and grafting them to the blocked arteries in the heart. The graft bypasses the blockage in the artery and allows oxygen-rich blood flow to the heart, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
The angioplasty was done on a Friday and Crane’s surgery at Cape Cod Hospital was scheduled for the following Monday.
“It was one of the longest weekends in my life,” he said. “Here I am lying in a hospital bed knowing that my chest was going to be split open. I remember it being pretty terrifying.”
Of the approximately 50 members of the local Mended Hearts organization, 14 are active volunteers in the visitor program. They work in pairs because it often helps start the dialogue when there are two people talking to the patient, said Crane.
“We usually start our conversation with the patient by saying we have been there, done that, so that they are comfortable seeing somebody who has gone through what they have been through or will be going through,” he said. “This is especially important when we are standing at the bottom of their bed talking with them about recovery. We offer them support, encouragement and hope.”
On a recent Thursday, Crane and Bob Silverberg stopped by to see Terry Rioux, 69, of Falmouth, to encourage him and tell him about Mended Hearts. Rioux had a CABG procedure three days before their visit.
“The ticker is good, the plumbing was rusty,” said Rioux.
He was an avid walker and usually did about two miles every morning. In the summer, he would bike 10 miles. He began to notice that about a half mile into his walks, he would feel a heaviness in his chest, although he didn’t experience any shortness of breath or neurological symptoms.
“It hurt and felt like indigestion,” said Rioux.
He would stop walking until the symptoms subsided.
At his next annual physical, he discussed his symptoms with his primary care physician, Karen Von Hamm, MD, in Falmouth and she arranged for a stress test that would record his heart activity during exercise. His symptoms returned during the test and David Rancourt, DO, a cardiologist at Falmouth Hospital, told Rioux he needed a cardiac catheterization, a test visualizing the heart that would find the reasons for his symptoms.
The cardiac catheterization showed significant arterial disease, and he was told he needed bypass surgery. Four days later, Dr. Pirundini performed the surgery, with three bypasses.
“It’s good to hear about the Mended Hearts and it’s nice to have support services,” said Rioux.
Crane gave him the HeartGuide entitled, “The “Journey to a Healthy Heart Starts Here,” that contains information about everything related to heart disease including tests, therapies, medicines, tools, lifestyle and risk factors of coronary heart disease.
Further information about the Mended Hearts program is available at: www.capecodmendedhearts.com