Support Group Shows Hearts

For the members of the Heart to Heart Support society, heart disease is sometimes a new beginning. Just ask the society's president, C.J. Callaway.  Now 70, he is marking the 20th anniversary of his own heart attack, which led him to become one of the group's earliest members.  "We're all survivors," he says.  "After I had my heart attack, I felt my world was at an end, but a man from Heart to Heart came and visited me...and put me amongst the living again.  That's the way it affected me." Jack Hasick passed away on November 7/2008.


Officially incorporated in 1985, Heart to Heart currently has about 180 members, including a core group of volunteers who meet monthly and make regular visits to Calgary Hospitals.  "Our main objective is visitations, and we have a team that visits the cardiovascular wards at the three hospitals," says past -president, treasurer, and newsletter editor Jack Hasick.  Hasick, now 82, experienced this heart attack in 1990.  


"It's important these people to have this support, and that we have people (specific to) the situation.  If someone is going in for open heart surgery, we match them with a member who has had the same.  Same with angioplasty, valve replacement... we try to cover all the areas, letting our members share their experiences and reassuring (the patients) that they still have a great life ahead.  


Calloway says he often finds himself being called in to offer support.  "About two years ago, there was a fellow with two teenage sons who'd had a massive heart attack," he recalls.  "They had to do a bypass right away, but he didn't want any part of it; he was 52 years old.  I spent two hours with him and said you've got a family to think about... we talked him into it.  The doctor came in and the patient said, 'I'm ready to go."  


Later Callaway made sure he was at the bedside when he woke up.  "You often lose your courage after a heart attack because most of us are taken by surprise - we didn't know we were vulnerable," says Jean de Bruyn, who heads the Woman to Woman Cardiac Support Group.  A special interest group under Heart to Heart's umbrella, which focuses on the specific concerns of women with heart disease.  De Bruyn says she was taken by surprise when she suffered a heart attack in 2000, but recovered and continues to provide support to men and women who are going through the same thing.


"We speak at the Cardiac Wellness Institute at the Talisman Centre, and we often receive referrals from there or from friends and family.  We've got people who come in so fragile, anxious and will weep through the whole first meeting, but in a few months they're one of your greatest helpers to pass on the message of support."  


The Woman to Woman group includes a registered nurse, Heather Russell, who helps women better understand the symptoms of and aftermath of heart disease.  "Women have our own set of symptoms... not all of us had the crushing chest pain or 'elephant on the chest' which most men experience," says de Bruyn.


Besides visitations, Heart to Heart does a fundraising Christmas wrap at Sundridge Mall.  In support of the Calgary Health Trust (which in turn provides Heart to Heart with some of the proceeds), and publishes a newsletter.  At its monthly meetings, guest speakers provide health tips and information, and the group also has its own dietician, Marie Toone.  Heart to Heart is very much a social club, says Clarence Callaway, hosting events like summer barbecues, Christmas luncheons, and informal morning coffee get-togethers at Chinook Centre.  "You can drop into depression pretty easy," he says.  "But socializing really gets you out of the depressed mood."  This socializing is invaluable in helping people reclaim their lives from heart disease, says vice-president Bob Rivard, who had his first heart attack in 1988 and has since undergone six bypasses.


"Our job is to make people realize they are not alone, that's what it's all about," he says.  "It's not easy, but there is support for anybody that wants it."  Many of Heart to Heart members are in the 50-plus age range, but men and women as young as their 30's have also been involved.  Another special support group under the society's umbrella is the Phoenix Club, which is aimed at younger men.  They meet twice a week at the Inglewood Pool for deep-water running sessions.  The society has expanded over the years to include branches in Brooks, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat.

- Calgary Herald: Mature Living Thursday, July 13, 2006.