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

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Tuesday, April 20, 1999

Page:F1 Section:HEALTH/SCIENCE Edition: STATEWIDE Type: Illustration: PHOTO: (color), PATRICK RAYCRAFT / THE HARTFORD COURANT Source:SUSAN CAMPBELL; Courant Staff Writer


When Roger Crevier steps into a hospital room, he could be embraced or thrown out. If his pre-op visits to cardiac patients were sales calls, says the former Fuller Brush employee, they would be considered ``cold calls.''

A few times, the Wethersfield assistant regional director of Mended Hearts Inc. has been turned away. Once, a patient chatting into her bedside phone looked at a waiting Crevier and his wife, Annette, and said into the receiver, ``Oh, wait. There are a couple of clowns here to sell me Jesus Christ by the pound.''

When she found out the Creviers were, in fact, there to answer questions and listen to her fears about her upcoming surgery, she hung up and chatted with them for an hour.

Mended Hearts volunteers like Crevier have had heart surgery, and so they are a part of what they laughingly call the zipper club. Crevier, 75, had aortic valve replacement surgery in 1990. After training (by Crevier), people in the zipper club can visit pre-op and post-op patients undergoing the same surgery.

Cardiac patients often are scared about the surgical procedures they face, and it helps to talk to someone who's gone through it. Mended Hearts volunteers can answer questions and assuage fears. And by visiting, volunteers fulfill their club motto, ``It's great to be alive and to help others.''

Crevier, a retired engineer and college professor, is one of 176 Hartford area members of a national club that started in 1951, when four patients of noted cardiologist Dwight E. Harken met by chance in a waiting room and talked about their surgeries. As they chatted, the four told a passing Harken that it was ``great to be alive.'' He suggested, instead, that it was great to be alive ``and to help others.'' The club -- which is affiliated with the American Heart Association -- has grown to include 25,000 members in the United States, Canada and New Zealand. The members' finest work, says Harken, is participating in the ``actual, positive metabolic effect of caring.''

Besides making 1,763 visits to patients last year, the Hartford chapter helped fund a two-week summer camp in Massachusetts for children with heart problems. Campers can stay free at the camp for two weeks each summer.

The guidelines for their visits include listening more than talking, and looking healthy so that the patient has some faith that life goes on after surgery. The don'ts include discussing medical costs or forcing religious beliefs on patients.

Some of the volunteers are better than others at listening. The retired psychiatrist is particularly good; so is the bank loan officer. Both men and women participate, ranging in age from their 40s to their 80s. Some have survived their surgery by decades, including one woman who had her operation in 1960.

Crevier joined Mended Hearts soon after his own surgery, when he was visited by a co-worker, Sam Hong, himself a former cardiac patient. Even with good medical care, Crevier wanted to hear from a person who had experienced the surgery and the recovery. Now, he and Annette go to Hartford Hospital to hold the hands of patients who remind them of themselves.

Annette is on hand to talk about what a family might experience, and to trade pretend-barbs with Roger.

``I had a pig valve put in,'' Roger says, ``but you're supposed to call it `porcine.'''

``Oink, oink,'' says Annette.

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