Whatcom View: Volunteers offer support to heart patients, families

Marilynn Huffman is president of Mended Hearts Chapter 382 in Bellingham.
Marilynn Huffman is president of Mended Hearts Chapter 382 in Bellingham. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

The day the cardiologist told me I needed open heart surgery was, no doubt, the most frightening day of my life. What do you do with that type of diagnosis?

Mended Hearts is a support group here in Whatcom County that helps patients who receive that type of news. A-fib, other electrical issues, blocked arteries, valves that have developed stenosis, heart failure are all issues that can affect aging hearts. Add to that the effects of this disease on young adult survivors of congenital heart defects.

Mended Hearts volunteers have experienced many of these issues. Three years ago a group of professionals at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center sent letters to recent heart patients and suggested forming a Mended Hearts Chapter. The invitation was well received and on, Oct. 1, 2012, Chapter 382, Bellingham, with 34 members, received its charter from Mended Hearts National.

Now, three years later, this group of volunteers numbers 105. Of that, more than 50 percent have taken the required training to visit patients in the hospital; those undergoing pre-op teaching by the surgeons’ office staff and those undergoing procedures and diagnostic exams. In addition they are qualified to talk with patients and family members in the hospital to offer encouragement. While volunteers never give medical advice, they can give hope to others experiencing the uncertainty of heart issues.

There is an added bonus for these specially trained volunteers. After visiting with a patient and their loved ones, giving encouragement and being a “walking” example of what can be, the feeling of giving from our hearts while volunteering is immeasurable!

Not all members can or want to be involved in the visiting program in the hospital. There are plenty of other ways to participate in the program. Answering inquiries by telephone and e-mail is another way.

Helping with meetings and planning and making presentations to educate the community are all ways to assist patients.

Because so many patients come to Bellingham from Anacortes, Whidbey Island and the San Juan Islands, a “satellite” group has formed in Anacortes. They meet once a month to support patients in that area. A smaller group meets in Friday Harbor for the purpose of providing support to island dwellers who are heart patients.

On June 27, at the Mended Hearts National Conference in Orlando, Florida, during the national awards ceremony it was announced that the Bellingham chapter was being awarded the “Presidents Cup” for chapters with over 100 members. With 300 chapters nationwide, the award is given to the chapter based on their level of membership growth, meeting attendance, number of patient visits conducted as well as hospital support and community education support.

A special celebration will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3, at St. Luke’s Health Education Center where the presentation of this prestigious award will be made to our chapter.

On hand, representing Mended Hearts National staff will be Marcia Baker, national field services director. In addition the western regional director, Ron Manriquez, Bellflower, California, and assistant regional director, Marlyn Taylor, Grants Pass, Oregon, will join the festivities.

A program will follow with remarks by the visitors as well as member of the hospital’s executive staff and cardiologists. Refreshments, door prizes and the opportunity to meet these heart care professionals will be available after the program.

Everyone in our community, heart patients and their caregivers, as well as interested health care professional, are encouraged to attend.

For more information about any of these events, call 360-933-1282.


Marilynn Huffman is president of Mended Hearts Chapter 382 in Bellingham.