Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Volunteers help shoulder the burden of broken hearts

It was 10 o’clock on an April night. The 9 p.m. news had just finished, and Andrew Aldrich’s face felt funny. 
He looked in the bathroom mirror and started talking to himself. Aldrich was stumbling, his mouth and tongue not forming the words the way his brain was telling them to. His wife, Patricia, came to the bathroom door and asked him who he was talking to. He told her, the words like mush in his mouth and the dread like ice on his back, that it was time to go to the hospital. 
At Porter Adventist Hospital, just a short distance from his home, doctors told Aldrich he’d suffered a stroke. Four weeks later, he underwent aortic valve replacement.
When he was in the hospital, he was visited by a volunteer for Mended Hearts, an organization that aims to soothe cardiac patients by pairing them with others who have recovered from heart procedures or events. Two years later, he started volunteering with the organization. He began visiting scared patients and their families who, just like he did, need to hear five words:

“It’s going to be alright.”

Aldrich is now the president of the Denver chapter of Mended Hearts. In the Metro Area, about a dozen regular volunteers, all former heart surgery patients, now visit six area hospitals: Porter Adventist Hospital, Saint Joseph Hospital, Medical Center of Aurora, Swedish Medical Center, University of Colorado Medical Center and Lutheran Medical Center. 
There’s no one better for heart patients to hear it from than someone who’s been there, Aldrich said.
 And he’s been the one on the operating table and in the waiting room. His wife, Patricia, had the same aortic procedure done two years earlier.
Both Patricia and Aldrich’s parents had heart trouble, so they chose to live healthy lifestyles. They were active. They ate well. Neither one of them smoked. Patricia’s valve problem was strictly genetic. Aldrich’s was a mystery — he had no blockages, no known damage — until the stroke. 

Non-modifiable risk factors such as age, sex, genetics, race or ethnicity are causes we cannot change. These are also risk factors that determine only about 30 percent of our overall health.
However, modifiable risk factors, such as individual behaviors, our physical environment, our social surroundings and our access to healthcare, determine 70 percent of our health.
Poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking and diabetes are some of the leading risk factors for cardiac problems.
For most suffering from cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke), which is the No. 1 killer in Colorado,  it's these modifiable risk factors that public health focuses on helping people to change.
When Aldrich visits hospitals, he too focuses on something people can do to help prevent heart disease, he gives them the piece of advice that helped him the most during his recovery. 
Walk every day.

“The best thing you can do is walk,” Aldrich said.

Now, both he and Patricia, both seniors, try to stay as active as they can.
Aldrich visits Porter Adventist once a week, where he makes his rounds to meet with patients and their families.

Mended Hearts

To learn more about Mended Hearts, including how to get involved, go to mendedhearts.org.

Tips for healthy hearts

To learn more about how to keep your heart healthy, go to jeffco.us/public-health or click here.

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