Seniors & Aging

Survivors give heart-to-heart support to cardiac patients

As a board member of the Bellingham chapter of Mended Hearts, Dianna Konrad, left, works closely with PeaceHealth cardiovascular physicians, including Dr. Elisa Zaragoza-Macias.
As a board member of the Bellingham chapter of Mended Hearts, Dianna Konrad, left, works closely with PeaceHealth cardiovascular physicians, including Dr. Elisa Zaragoza-Macias. For The Bellingham Herald

There are events that change the course of a person’s life. For Dianna Konrad, it was a heart attack and quadruple bypass surgery 13 years ago. In her early 60s at the time, it caught her off guard.

“I was high-risk for a heart attack but didn’t know it,” she says.

Konrad’s father had died of a heart attack, and her stressful workplace in Silicon Valley didn’t help matters. No sooner had she completed cardiac rehabilitation than she started creating presentations for women’s groups to raise awareness about heart disease among women.

Certified visitors from Mended Hearts visit anxious patients awaiting cardiac surgery.

Then she retired and left California for Whatcom County in 2005. Today, she remains active through Mended Hearts, a nationwide peer-to-peer cardiac support group. Mended Hearts’ Bellingham chapter began in late 2012 and now boasts 125 members, 40 of them trained as certified visitors to people scheduled for heart surgery.

Konrad credits the chapter’s success to what she calls “tremendous support” from PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center, especially its Cardiovascular Center, from senior management to the cardiologists, surgeons, nurses, and the volunteer office.

“Chapters without this support are not as successful,” she says. “When we add our members, who give so much of themselves to heart patients and their caregivers, we have a real recipe for success.”

Konrad, who lives in Bellingham, sits on the board of directors, does public relations, and oversees the chapter’s website and newsletter. She’s also an avid visitor of patients. Last year, she and her team made 3,000 patient and caregiver visits, providing peer support, comfort and encouragement.

Certified visitors at Mended Hearts have themselves faced heart surgery in the past, so the hope they offer to anxious patients in line for similar surgeries is priceless. They are living examples of individuals who are enjoying a new lease on life.

“We talk to them about what it will be like to go through this kind of surgery,” Konrad says.

Many patients ask how long it will be before they feel better. Konrad’s answer is two months, although for some patients the psychological trauma can linger for years.

I plan to stay involved because, honestly, I get so much more back than I give.

Dianna Konrad, Bellingham chapter, Mended Hearts

The patients they visit range in age from their 20s to their 80s, and there’s a special group for the younger ones called Young Mended Hearts. It began in July 2014 in the wake of a presentation that Konrad and Marilynn Huffman, chapter president, delivered to cardiac staff at St. Joseph hospital.

Dr. Elisa Zaragoza-Macias asked us how Mended Hearts could specifically help her group, individuals with congenital heart disease,” Konrad says.

The first meeting of Young Mended Hearts, patients mostly in their 20s and 30s, was held in May 2015. Monthly meetings now draw 19 patients and caregivers.

“These young people are frightened, but strong, and when they see others with heart conditions, it’s like magic,” Konrad says. “If we can help these young folks feel they’re not alone, and that they can talk to others who are going through similar surgeries, it can have a significant impact on their outlook.”

Konrad’s heart surgery propelled her on her current path, one that she feels extremely grateful for.

“I love doing this,” she says. “Especially with the Young Mended Hearts group. Even in just an hour you can see the difference, a light-bulb moment, as they realize there’s so much life left to live.

“I’d like to see more young people aware that Mended Hearts could really help them. And I plan to stay involved because, honestly, I get so much more back than I give.”

Mended Hearts, Bellingham chapter

Online: mendedhearts-bellingham.org

Phone: 360-933-1282 or 360-788-6928

Mended Hearts calendar

Potluck picnic: noon to 3 p.m. July 16, Cornwall Park pavilion.

Monthly meeting: 10 a.m. Aug. 6, St. Luke’s Community Health Education Center, 3333 Squalicum Parkway, with guest speaker Dr. Peter Beglinn on “Can You Lessen Your Risk for Another Heart Issue?”

Bake sale: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 2, St. Joseph hospital, main lobby, 2901 Squalicum Parkway.

Regional gathering: Washington, Oregon, Alaska and California chapters meet 9 a.m. Sept. 10, St. Luke’s Community Health Education Center.

Young Mended Hearts: Informal get-togethers, 6 p.m. July 26 and Aug. 23, St. Joseph hospital physicians’ dining room, next to main cafeteria.

All events open to the public. Details: 360-933-1282.

  Comments