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The ‘Me, Too’ Mission of Mended Hearts

Like patients everywhere, local heart-attack victims are stricken with fear and confusion. And that’s when the members of Chapter 235, many of whom are heart-attack survivors, come to the rescue.

Bob Johnson, chairman of the first Mended Hearts Chapter 235 visitation program, whose initial heart procedure was performed in 1994, with Lillian Distasio McNaught, a long-time supporter of the nonprofit organization.

Bob Johnson, chairman of the first Mended Hearts Chapter 235 visitation program, whose initial heart procedure was performed in 1994, with Lillian Distasio McNaught, a long-time supporter of the nonprofit organization.

Fourteen years ago Ed Fitzgerald was feeling on top of the world thanks to exercising regularly and watching what he ate. In his early 40’s, working in the brokerage business and living in New Jersey, he was the perfect picture of health. In fact he had just run into an old friend who said he had never seen him looking better.

The next day Ed suffered a major heart attack. “I almost checked out,” he says. “After what was a very invasive surgery – they crack open your chest! – I was afraid to close my eyes thinking that I might never open them again. I was confused and scared.”

After being shuffled through the hospital system with a million questions left unanswered, Ed realized there had to be some kind of support system in place to help those who had been through a similar experience. He found it when he moved to Vero Beach and a client told him about Mended Hearts, an international nonprofit self-help organization dedicated to the needs of cardiac patients, their families and friends.

For 60 years Mended Hearts has been offering the gift of hope and encouragement through members of its accredited visitation program. Their very presence, sharing experiences and answering questions, demonstrates to those with heart disease and defects that people can survive and continue to live full, happy and healthy lives. Today, as second vice president and visitation chair of Mended Hearts Vero Beach/Indian River County Chapter 235, Ed Fitzgerald is a big part of that support system he had longed for.

“The thing about visiting is that when you stand in front of them and tell them you’ve been where they are they open up and start asking questions like crazy,” he says. “I can relate to what they’re going through. It’s personally very rewarding.”

Since Indian River Medical Center became affiliated with the Duke University Health System and opened a state-of-the-art Heart Center five years ago, the reward for individuals like Fitzgerald has been even greater. Last year, Mended Hearts volunteers visited close to 300 cardiac patients at IRMC. For them to see and talk to someone who has been there can give them the added strength they need to overcome their doubts and fears.

Read the entire article in the February 2012 issue