Helping Patients Take Heart

Support group helps people keep ticking after attack

She remembers it as if it just happened yesterday.  On a snowy day last February, Sharon Kurtz, woke up more tired than usual.  Her wrists hurt, and there was pain in the middle of her back.  Not that this was out of the ordinary, since she was working as a rehabilitation worker for adults with disabilities, this often left her spent, and remnants of a car accident would flare up now and then.  But this was different.  After taking a hot shower, she climbed into her bed seeking relief.


She awoke at 3a.m., startled by an intense pain in her leg. "It was a cramp, but I never get them.  The pain in my wrists and back were worse too.  Still thinking it was related to being tired from work, I just took a cab to the hospital.  


Low and behold, within a half hour in the emergency room, I was in the cardiac unit, listening to the doctors tell me I had a heart attack," she says.  For more than 5,000 Calgarians who experience the trauma of heart disease every year, surviving heart attack and surgery usually means dealing with the physical, psychological and emotional scars afterward.


Long after the clinical care is over, there's always help from the Heart to Heart Support Society, to give patients the tools to carry on.  Designed in 1984 by those who've been there, the organization provides support, encouragement, education and comradeship to individuals, their partners, family and friends.  Most members are graduates of the Calgary Health Region's Cardiac Rehabilitation Program.  From there, they are either referred to the society or seek it out themselves.


The group in Calgary meets every third Wednesday, where guest speakers including cardiologists, nursing specialists, fitness experts, nutritionists and etc. offer insight on how to live a healthier life after this deadly experience.  Jack Hasick, former president of the Heart to Heart says his own experience in the cardiac ward and subsequent visit from a society volunteer, triggered his interest in learning more about the condition, and ultimately helping others.


"Heart disease and the treatments that follow are now standard in our society, but it's still a very troubling experience.  I know after my surgery, I didn't enjoy hearing that I had a bad heart.  Your morale is pretty low.  But as you lay there, and someone comes in the room with a smile on their face, it's reassuring that you'll come through this experience and enjoy a normal life," Hasick says.  


Beyond the Calgary city borders, other chapters have also sprung up across southern Alberta, including Red Deer, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Brooks and Drumheller.  The main branch of the society generally deals with patients from 18 and up, but there are two more groups; the Phoenix Club, which includes members under 45 and boasts an exercise component, and the Woman to Woman Cardiac Support Group.  All members participate in social events and fundraisers to elevate awareness in the community.  Jean de Bruyn, co-coordinator for the women's group, says that following her own surgery in 2000, other members helped her admit she was fallible, and that it wasn't shameful to ask for support.  In fact, it gave her freedom to start her life over with renewed vigor.  'Many people are still in the denial stage for a while afterward, so we try to ease it out through the conversations and presentations.  You don't have to be frightened anymore.  It's like you have been given another chance and you want to do it right."


It's also great for family members because they're eager for information.  We've also got a cardiovascular nurse, Heather Russell, who is on hand at every women's meetings to answer questions, which makes the approach much easier," de Bruyn says.  It's this aspect that attracted Kurtz to the group, due mostly to the fact that her family lives in Vancouver, plus, she preferred the company of other women who could share their experiences from a female point of view.


"I've lived by myself for a while, and it was really important to me to connect with a group I could get support from.  The part that keeps me coming back is the educational component.  They usually pick a topic, which covers areas I would never have thought about before my heart attack, In hindsight, I wish I knew then what I know now," Kurtz says.


November11/2004 - Calgary Herald - Donna Gray


- Update to this article- Jack Hasick passed away on Novmeber 7/2008.