When Ian Heap was diagnosed with coronary heart disease and underwent a stent procedure at Brisbane’s Wesley Hospital eight years ago, a visit from one of the hospital’s BraveHearts had an enormous impact on him – so much so, that Mr Heap is now a BraveHeart himself.
BraveHearts are volunteers who have experienced a cardiac event, gone through The Wesley Hospital’s cardiac rehabilitation program HeartWise, then received special training to visit and offer support and encouragement to cardiac patients in the hospital’s wards. The BraveHearts cardiac patient peer support program began in 1999, and since then volunteers have made more than 12,000 visits to patients.
“The visit I had from Ron was the beginning of the healing process for me,” Mr Heap said. “No matter what people might say, a cardiac event is a frightening experience and thoughts like ‘this is the end of my life’ run through your head. I felt very lonely. “Ron said to me, ‘Look, this happened to me. I understand how you are feeling, but there is life after this’. Talking to him was a great benefit to me.”
Mr Heap became a BraveHeart volunteer about five years ago and visits patients at The Wesley Hospital one day per week. “I visit people usually after they have had their stent procedures, and would normally see about four patients in a day,” Mr Heap said. “The first thing is to listen, to gauge how someone is feeling, if they want to chat or not. We respect a patient’s privacy and dignity. I come with a cheery attitude and I am happy to share my experience, talk about the lifestyle changes I had to make after finding out I had heart disease. “It is very rewarding for me to be involved as a BraveHeart. Knowing that you have helped somebody, that’s the first and foremost thing.”
HeartWise Health Services Clinical Nurse Manager, Sandy McKellar, said the BraveHeart volunteers provided an invaluable peer support service to patients admitted for a range of acute cardiac events including bypass and valve surgery and angioplasty.
“The BraveHearts program is an adjunct of HeartWise and is designed to meet the needs of a patient as an individual,” Ms McKellar said. “BraveHearts volunteers are in a unique position to provide understanding and empathy for patients, their partners and families because they have been there, they have gone through it.
“Research has shown that social isolation and social stresses can have a negative impact on cardiovascular outcomes, whereas social support has been associated with improved quality of life for cardiac patients. “Partnering with past HeartWise participants who can share personal experiences, provide compassion, support and motivation to patients enhances our cardiac services.”