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Tuesday, April 20, 1999
Page:F1 Section:HEALTH/SCIENCE Edition: STATEWIDE Type: Illustration: PHOTO: (color), PATRICK RAYCRAFT / THE HARTFORD COURANT
Source:SUSAN CAMPBELL; Courant Staff Writer
TO BE ALIVE, TO HELP OTHERS
When Roger Crevier steps into a hospital room, he could be embraced or thrown
out. If his pre-op visits to cardiac patients were sales calls, says the
former Fuller Brush employee, they would be considered ``cold calls.''
A few times, the Wethersfield assistant regional director of Mended Hearts
Inc. has been turned away. Once, a patient chatting into her bedside phone
looked at a waiting Crevier and his wife, Annette, and said into the receiver,
``Oh, wait. There are a couple of clowns here to sell me Jesus Christ by the
When she found out the Creviers were, in fact, there to answer questions
and listen to her fears about her upcoming surgery, she hung up and chatted
with them for an hour.
Mended Hearts volunteers like Crevier have had heart surgery, and so they
are a part of what they laughingly call the zipper club. Crevier, 75, had
aortic valve replacement surgery in 1990. After training (by Crevier), people
in the zipper club can visit pre-op and post-op patients undergoing the same
Cardiac patients often are scared about the surgical procedures they face,
and it helps to talk to someone who's gone through it. Mended Hearts
volunteers can answer questions and assuage fears. And by visiting, volunteers
fulfill their club motto, ``It's great to be alive and to help others.''
Crevier, a retired engineer and college professor, is one of 176 Hartford
area members of a national club that started in 1951, when four patients of
noted cardiologist Dwight E. Harken met by chance in a waiting room and talked
about their surgeries. As they chatted, the four told a passing Harken that it
was ``great to be alive.'' He suggested, instead, that it was great to be
alive ``and to help others.'' The club -- which is affiliated with the
American Heart Association -- has grown to include 25,000 members in the
United States, Canada and New Zealand. The members' finest work, says Harken,
is participating in the ``actual, positive metabolic effect of caring.''
Besides making 1,763 visits to patients last year, the Hartford chapter
helped fund a two-week summer camp in Massachusetts for children with heart
problems. Campers can stay free at the camp for two weeks each summer.
The guidelines for their visits include listening more than talking, and
looking healthy so that the patient has some faith that life goes on after
surgery. The don'ts include discussing medical costs or forcing religious
beliefs on patients.
Some of the volunteers are better than others at listening. The retired
psychiatrist is particularly good; so is the bank loan officer. Both men and
women participate, ranging in age from their 40s to their 80s. Some have
survived their surgery by decades, including one woman who had her operation
Crevier joined Mended Hearts soon after his own surgery, when he was
visited by a co-worker, Sam Hong, himself a former cardiac patient. Even with
good medical care, Crevier wanted to hear from a person who had experienced
the surgery and the recovery. Now, he and Annette go to Hartford Hospital to
hold the hands of patients who remind them of themselves.
Annette is on hand to talk about what a family might experience, and to
trade pretend-barbs with Roger.
``I had a pig valve put in,'' Roger says, ``but you're supposed to call it