Mended Hearts: Patients Share Lessons

Joe Shocket knows a lot about recovering from heart surgery. For one thing, patients’ feet tend to swell. That’s why he recommends they bring sandals, slippers or other loose-fitting shoes to change into when they leave the hospital.

Shocket, who underwent a quadruple heart bypass in 2009, “imparts tidbits of information” like this to patients of Pauley. He’s the visiting chairman of Richmond Chapter 28 of Mended Hearts, which runs a hospital visitor’s program and presents speakers at its monthly meetings. Mended Hearts has approximately 200 chapters in the U.S., with over 20,000 members.

“It’s the largest peer-to-peer support group in the country for heart patients and their family members,” he said.

Locally, there are 14 active accredited visitors who have gone through the organization’s training program. In 2016, those visitors met with 1,879 individual patients at five hospitals—the majority at VCU Medical Center because of the size of the program. In terms of cardiac care, “I don’t think you could find a better place than here,” he said.

Wearing a red vest accented by a heart symbol, Shocket is a familiar face around the hospital on Mondays. He usually stops back on Wednesday “to catch any patients that I might have missed.” Another volunteer, Sharon Feldman, comes by on Fridays.

His routine begins with a knock on the patient’s door. He asks for permission to come in, then introduces himself. “I tell them, ‘I’m a former heart patient. I was in a bed like you are about eight years ago, and I know how it feels.’”

In August 2009, Shocket went in for a pre-employment health screening at Chippenham Hospital. “Everything was fine, and then I went on a treadmill to take a stress test. I was able to complete it, but there were obvious issues for my heart.” He went in for an angiogram and discovered he had 95% blockage. Surgery followed at the hospital.

“I think that when a person’s sick, the ability to talk to other people with heart disease makes a huge impact on their health and recovery.” — Dr. Kenneth Ellenbogen

“Open-heart surgery knocks you for a loop,” he said. “You’re really stiff, really sore.” He remembers standing, then gradually beginning to walk down the halls of the hospital. “It’s like scaling a mountain. You begin in very small increments. Each time you walk, you try to go a little further.”

While he was in the hospital, someone from Mended Hearts stopped by. “I really appreciated the visit,” he said. “You know, you can feel kind of down after heart surgery.” He attended his first Mended Hearts meeting that December.

“I think that when a person’s sick, the ability to talk to other people with heart disease makes a huge impact on their health and recovery,” said Dr. Kenneth Ellenbogen.

The visitors help patients understand what to expect before, during and after surgery, and discuss the importance of good nutrition and cardiac rehabilitation. They also leave behind the Mended Hearts HeartGuide with information on heart disease.

Sometimes patients just enjoy having someone to talk with. Shocket recalled one patient from the Northern Neck who loved to talk about fishing and seafood. “We might start talking about heart failure, but it would always end up, `how was that oyster roast you went to the other night?’ Or: ‘This is the way you make oyster stuffing.’

“Part of visiting is to engage the patient and get them to a positive, happy place.”

Mended Hearts Chapter 28 meets the first Tuesday of each month and usually features a speaker in the cardiac field. To learn more about the organization, visit MendedHeartsRichmondVa.org and MendedHearts.org.