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From Cardiac Patients to Cardiac Mentors: A 3-in-1 Testimonial from Peter Munk Mentor Volunteers

Interviews and article composed by Cynthia Black

"Everybody's recovery is different," explains Jim Montgomery of his experience as a Peter Munk Mentor Volunteer. "We don't walk into the room with something we have to say...it's all patient-directed conversation."

That's a common perspective shared among volunteers in the Peter Munk Visiting Program. This one-of-a-kind program was initiated in the 1980's at University Health Network's Toronto Western Hospital to help cardiac patients cope with the stress involved with cardiac surgery and recovery. Today, it is continued at Toronto General Hospital in their Peter Munk Cardiac Centre. Volunteers of this program are required to have undergone and recovered from cardiac surgery and completed cardiac rehabilitation before volunteering, enabling them to offer support to patients and their families as mentors with an experienced perspective. They visit with patients two weeks before surgery, the day of surgery, after surgery all the way to discharge, and encourage cardiac rehabilitation as an important next step on the road to continued cardiac health.

In this testimonial, we hear from three Peter Munk Mentor Volunteers who all went from being cardiac patients to cardiac mentors: Jim Montgomery, Michael Harding, and Bob FeDuke.

Volunteer Testimonial #1: Jim Montgomery

After Jim Montgomery had quadruple bypass surgery at Sunnybrook in 1997 at the age of 54, he took part in cardiac rehabilitation at Toronto Rehabilitation Centre, now a program of Toronto Rehab. During that time, he didn't have a mentor to help him prepare for the experience of surgery and recovery. "I went through two shocks - number one was the heart attack, number two was the surgery." He simply wasn't prepared for either ordeal and had he known about a program such as the Peter Munk Visiting Program, he would have taken advantage of it. "One thing about recovery that I didn't do enough was talk about it...you need to be open and have communication all the time with people who care for you." When asked why he became a volunteer, Montgomery says that cardiac patients "are going through a transformation - it's emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual...I wanted to help people through what I didn't have help for." For him, a big part of the reward for being a volunteer is "knowing that you've had a good interaction with the patient...seeing people coping and being resilient." He also stresses that part of being a good volunteer involves making sure you've overcome your own heart surgery experience well enough to ensure that you can be "available" for the patients. As part of his continued good health, Montgomery continues to practice what he learned from his cardiac rehabilitation program today.

Volunteer Testimonial #2: Michael Harding

Michael Harding had a heart murmur his whole life, but it wasn't until his 40's that he needed to start monitoring it more closely. The problem progressed and by 2005, at the age of 60, he had to have surgery for an aortic aneurism and valve replacement. "Other than my appendix, I hadn't had any real surgery prior to that." To help with his experience, Harding took part as a patient in the Peter Munk Visiting Program, "I had two or three volunteers that visited me. I was impressed with what they told me from their own experiences...they offered a perspective into what I was going through that was different from the doctors' and nurses'." Part of the role of volunteers is also to promote structured rehabilitation and lifestyle changes to patients. Now a volunteer for the program, Harding says the number one question he gets from patients is, "How much pain am I going to be in?" He explains that it differs from person to person, "I see a lot of patients and their families - there are a lot of changes in emotions and in pain throughout the program." Harding says that the most rewarding part about being a volunteer is the appreciation from the families. He acknowledges that the job can sometimes be emotionally difficult, but that "thankfully, the good times outweigh the hard times."

Volunteer Testimonial #3: Bob FeDuke

In 2007, FeDuke underwent quadruple bypass surgery. He took part as a patient in the Peter Munk Visiting Program and in cardiac rehabilitation at Toronto Rehab. When describing the Peter Munk Visiting Program, Bob Feduke uses the word, "remarkable." "My need for cardiac surgery was an unanticipated life event that was handled in such a constructive manner by [Toronto General Hospital's] cardiac program, its cardiac volunteers and Toronto Rehab that upon recovery I wanted to become involved in providing that same positive experience to other people going through the process." FeDuke recalls his post-surgery experience, "the cardiac volunteer's visits allayed my concerns by assessing and addressing the natural emotional and physical post-surgical feelings I was experiencing." In fact, Michael Harding was FeDuke's mentor and the two of them now work as a team of volunteers. "We share a unique approach - he had a valve replacement, I had a bypass." Together, the two of them mentor patients through the process of surgery and recovery, promoting rehabilitation and healthy lifestyle changes as an important part of recovery.

For more information on the Peter Munk Cardiac Health Centre, visit http://www.uhn.ca/Focus_of_Care/Munk_Cardiac/index.asp

For more information on becoming a Peter Munk Volunteer, visit http://www.uhn.ca/Careers_at_UHN/volunteering_at_uhn/PMCC_visiting_program/index.asp

The articles, on the Canadian Cardiac Rehabilitation Foundation website, are presented with the understanding that the Foundation is providing information only and not rendering medical advise. Please check with your family physician, specialist or health care professional before implementing any of the ideas expressed in these articles.

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