Heart disease is widespread in Georgia and across the U.S. People who have undergone treatment for heart issues are helping new patients navigate a scary path.

In 2017 more than 18,300 deaths in Georgia were linked to heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mended Hearts support group helps patients in need by offering support and care through the organization’s many chapters scattered throughout the United States, including Chapter 420 in Cherokee County.

“Chapter 420 Cherokee was founded in 2017 and has really taken off,” said Eileen Reynolds, volunteer and vice president of the local group. “In three years we have gone from just six people talking and meeting, to averaging 25 to 30 members a month at our meetings.”

The increase in volunteers has allowed for more hospital and patient visits from volunteers from Chapter 420 Cherokee, visits that Reynolds did not have the luxury of receiving during her health scare regarding her heart 11 years ago.

“When I went in for the interview with Lori Campbell, who is in charge of interviewing potential volunteers at Northside Cherokee Hospital, I mentioned to her that I had open heart surgery in 2008 and that there was no such thing as Mended Hearts,” Reynolds said. “I told her that I wished there was at that time. She then brought up to me that a Mended Hearts Chapter was coming to Cherokee County and would be meeting at Northside Cherokee Hospital. She told me that I would be a great fit because I had been there and done that.”

Reynolds had a severe heart condition and was in need of a valve or she could have died at any moment. Her experience with her previous heart condition has made it easy to talk to other heart patients, which is the main focus of this chapter, Reynolds said.

“We want to empathize with the patients and people we visit and talk to, as well as educate and offer words of encouragement,” Reynolds said. “Some of the volunteers are retired nurses, but a lot of us aren’t. We just want to lend support and empathize.”

While not affiliated with Northside Hospital Cherokee, the chapter often visits with heart patients there.

In addition to patient visits, the local chapter meets for social and educational purposes. The organization serves as a support group and the members learn about heart health and hospital resources. Speakers at their monthly meetings have included dieticians, doctors, nurses and other health experts.

Volunteers with Mended Hearts Chapter 420 Cherokee have to be officially accredited, Reynolds said.

“On Jan. 18 anyone who is in Mended Hearts as a member who visits patients has to go to Atlanta to have a training session to be accredited. We have to be trained as volunteers in order to visit hospitals. We have to be trained to visit and talk with heart patients and trained as representatives of Mended Hearts,” she said.

Mended Hearts was founded by Dr. Dwight E. Harken in 1951.

It started with Harken asking Doris Silliman, one of the first 50 patients to ever have heart surgery, as well as three other post-surgery heart patients, Keith Otto, Alphonse Santomassimo, and Elizabeth Wilkinson, to meet at the hospital.

The patients discussed with Harken their feelings and future plans. The patients realized how helpful it would be to provide support and help others facing the same experience. With the assistance of Dr. Harken, they formed Mended Hearts.

The organization is recognized for its role in facilitating a positive patient-care experience. Mended Hearts has hundreds of local chapters and satellites nationwide and partners with over 460 hospitals and rehabilitation clinics. Mended Hearts offers services to heart patients through visiting programs, support group meetings and educational forums.

Since 2004, Mended Little Hearts has provided patients and families of children with congenital heart disease many services that directly improve their quality of life. Mended Little Hearts provides educational resources and information to families and patients to help them care for their child in the hospital and at home.

Both Mended Hearts and Mended Little Hearts offer plenty of tips, blogs, videos, discussions, programs, informative articles and other resources on many different topics including: angina, cholesterol, heart attack, valve disease and defects, congenital heart defects, chronic heart failure and much more. There are also many topics that talk about healthy living such as lifestyle, health and fitness.

This information can be found through their resource guide “HeartGuides Patient and Family Education”, online go-to guides, their national bi-monthly magazine “Heartbeat” and at mendedhearts.org.

Ethan is a reporter covering the cities of Holly Springs & Canton. He also covers city governments and lifestyle. He is a graduate of Kennesaw State University.

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