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Mended Hearts Testimonial
"...a rich, full life"
With a double cardiac bypass, leaking heart valves and congestive heart failure in his background, Exeter resident James Kennedy knows about heart disease. And he also knows the value of friendly words and the voice of experience.
Which is why the retired contractor-electrician, 64, takes an active role in Mended Hearts, the national organization that lets new heart-attack patients hear about post-heart-attack life from those who have been there before them.
"The folks I visit look at me and say, ‘It's amazing how you've come back,'" Mr. Kennedy notes. "I tell them, ‘In a few months, you're going to look the same way. You can have a rich, full life following a heart attack.'"
PRH's Mended Hearts chapter has three roles - educational seminars on heart-related topics, a support group for heart patients and family members, and the visitation program that leads Mr. Kennedy and others to give new heart patients one-on-one education and emotional support in the hospital.
"Heart patients are naturally stressed and anxious - about the uncertainty of life, the loss of control, the possibility of being a burden on their families," Mr. Kennedy says.
"We tell them about our experiences as a way to show them that life can be good."
Mended Hearts in New Hampshire
Portsmouth Regional Hospital established New Hampshire's first Mended Hearts program in 2006. Mended Hears became an official chapter in 2009. When Mr. Kennedy had his heart attack in 1988, such programs weren't available to him.
"I survived it, went home and resumed working for the next 16 years," he notes. "I coped with the help of my wife, Gail." In 2004, a year after he retired, Mr. Kennedy started having new heart issues. PRH cardiac surgeon Donato Sisto, MD, found that tissue in his heart had died. An implant of bovine tissue saved his life but didn't improve his heart function. He began experiencing problems with valve leakage - and congestive heart failure. At present, he's on the waiting list for a heart transplant at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.
But his current status doesn't stop him from encouraging other patients. "I got so much from the Mended Hearts seminars and support group that I had to give something back in the visitors' program," he says.
At present, he says, there are about 15 volunteer visitors in the PRH chapter and, these days, he visits PRH heart patients one day every other weekend. The number of patients he himself sees in a day varies from as few as three to as many as eight. A visit may last just a few minutes or a long time, depending on the patient.
"I tell them they're in the best place, that the doctors and nurses here are the best there are," Mr. Kennedy says. "I try to reassure them about their future. We have to emphasize the importance of a positive attitude and we have to believe what we say.
"If we do that, and that alone, we're doing our job."
If you would like to be involved in Mended Hearts - as a volunteer, as a recipient of a visit, or as a participant in support or educational programs - call 603-559-4169 for more information.