Mended Hearts
Chapter 9 - Greater Hartford, CT
It's Great to be Alive - and to help Others


MENDED HEARTS: 'It's great to be alive and to help others'
By Phyllis Royx and appearing in Journal Inquirer, Tuesday, December 19, 2000

Marvin Keyser, right, and Mark Stuart, left, listen to Dr. Robert Schweizer, director of transplant research at Hartford Hospital.
Our family met Marvin Keyser when my husband was admitted to St. Francis Hospital for open-heart surgery. Keyser, age 56, is a visiting member of The Mended Hearts, Inc. He came to Neil's bedside to offer encouragement and moral support at a time when we were facing a commonplace, yet frightening experience.

Because Keyser had undergone open-heart surgery in 1996, he understood the fear and reluctance my husband was feeling as he faced so dramatic an operation. He knew, too, that patients are apprehensive about the post-surgical recuperative period. He came prepared to answer questions that Neil, myself, and our grown children cared to address to a survivor of open heart surgery. The flyer Keyser handed us briefly summarized The Mended Hearts' purpose for existing: To cooperate with other organizations in education and research activities pertaining to heart disease, and to assist established rehabilitation programs.

Keyser invited our family to attend a Mended Hearts meeting. He suggested Neil might want to consider joining the organization when he recovered. Marvin Keyser's name and telephone number was printed in boldface type at the bottom of the flyer. "Call me at any time," he told us as he left the room.

Keyser works full-time in commission sales. With physician approval he visits hospitalized pre-op and post-op cardiac patients, demonstrating by example that it's possible for patients who are otherwise in good health, to lead active lives after open-heart surgery. In addition to his hospital schedule, he does Internet visitation.

Keyser candidly admits that smoking more than four packs of cigarettes a day undoubtedly contributed to his December 1996 heart attack. After recovery he made a video to encourage nonsmoking for St. Francis Hospital.

Marvin Keyser lost his wife to lung cancer a few months ago. She had been dead for only a month when we met him at the beginning of August. We marveled that he had promptly resumed volunteer duties after sustaining so great a loss. "Because I find it helps," he said, illustrating the theory that the best way to deal with adversity is to be of service to others.

Families of open-heart survivors often need support and reassurance as much or more than the patient does, Keyser told us at St. Francis. His success is apparent. Eli Hoffman, the teenage son of one of Keyser's contacts, had an assignment to write an essay on the topic of good citizenship for a class in government. He chose to write about the care and compassion Keyser displayed when his father was facing open-heart surgery. The boy's father, Bob Hoffman, later joined the organization and is now a visiting member.

Dr. Robert Schweizer was guest speaker at the Mended Hearts Inc. Greater Hartford Chapter 9 meeting at the South Congregational Church in Hartford.

Mended Hearts is a separate organization affiliated with the American Heart Association with chapters throughout the United States and Canada. The membership is comprised of people who have experienced heart attacks and/or heart disease that has been treated surgically or with methods such as angioplasty or pacemakers. Their motto is stated on the application form: "It's great to be alive and to help others."

In year 2002 The Mended Hearts, Inc. national organization, created in 1952, will celebrate its 50th Anniversary. According to Priscilla Soucy, president of Chapter 9 of Greater Hartford (chartered in 1977), Mended Hearts has the distinction of being among the oldest support groups in the United States.

Soucy said that more than 30 Chapter 9 Mended Hearts' members currently visit pre-op and post-op cardiac patients at St. Francis Hospital, Hartford Hospital, and the University of Connecticut Medical Center. Because of their generosity five days of the week are covered. In 1999, a total of 1,344 visits were made. Soucy said all cardiac surgeons support the organization's mission.

Mended Hearts is a nonprofit organization. Revenue is raised from membership dues and an annual Bowl-a-Thon fund-raiser. Proceeds support causes compatible with the organization's mission. For example, Mended Hearts has made contributions to Lifestar and to Camp Madden, an open-hearts camp for children.

Pat Beaudry of East Hartford asks Schweizer a question at the meeting.
From September through May (excluding December), on the third Wednesday of the month, Greater Hartford Chapter 9 of Mended Hearts, holds an evening meeting at the South Congregational Church, located at 277 Main Street (corner of Buckingham Street), in Hartford. Meetings feature guest speakers, refreshments and fellowship.

At the January 2000 meeting Dr. Howard Oakes, a Neuropsychologist, stated that 40-65 percent of post-op cardiac patients experience a brief period of depression, but that prolonged depression can have an adverse effect on recovery and must be treated. Dr. Oakes also defined and discussed anxiety and stress.

In February Sherry Stohler, chief flight nurse and program director of Life Star, was guest speaker. In March Paul Stoddard conducted a defribrillator demonstration. The April meeting featured Christine Lynch, representing Hartford Hospital's cardiac cath lab. Hiroyoski Takata, MD, a cardiac surgeon, spoke at the May meeting. Mended Hearts also publishes the "Hartford Heartline," an informational newsletter for members edited by Priscilla Soucy.

The members

I was impressed by the dedication and enthusiasm the Mended Hearts members demonstrated. Glastonbury resident Alan Miner, an ex-banker and 12-year-survivor of open-heart surgery now in his 70s, has played a significant role in Chapter 9 of the Mended Hearts organization. Miner became a member after retiring at age 65, the year of his surgery. He has served as co-chairman of visitors at Hartford Hospital and is now Chapter 9 treasurer. He is presently on the executive committee comprised of members from various Mended Hearts chapters.

Miner said it's encouraging for people he visits to learn that he had open-heart surgery involving four bypasses 12 years ago and is still doing well. He recalled that a Mended Hearts volunteer visited him when he was hospitalized to explain what to expect. The visit had been especially reassuring to his wife.

Various problems can trigger a need for open-heart surgery. In 1976 Ruth Michaels of Unionville experienced back pain, breathlessness, and fluid buildup in her legs. She sought medical attention thinking she might be having a gall bladder attack and was surprised to learn that a hole in her heart, stemming from an inherited condition, had to be patched. Her surgeon also created a new heart chamber. The surgery was successful and she hasn't had any further problems. (Michaels' experience lends credence to recent studies revealing that women often exhibit cardiac symptoms other than the crushing chest pain men commonly complain of.)

Despite the high survivor rate, not all open-heart surgeries performed will have a positive outcome. My husband did not survive. His heart had been badly damaged from heart attacks sustained prior to undergoing the procedure. Nevertheless, on the morning I walked beside the gurney carrying him to the surgical floor, Neil was calm and facing surgery with optimism. He knew it was his only hope for sustaining life. The surgeon told me later that Neil joked with the nurses as they prepared him for surgery. No small part of that positive attitude was because of a pre-op visit from Mended Hearts' member Marvin Keyser, and that is my reason for writing this article.

For further information about the Mended Hearts organization, readers are invited to contact member Saul Reichlin at (860) 232-5078.

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