- Associated Press - Saturday, January 7, 2017

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) - There are some dates that you just can’t forget.

For Joel Vogel that day was May 9, 2004, the St. Cloud Times (https://on.sctimes.com/2iTSLIB ) reported.

Vogel describes that day - Mother’s Day - as a relatively low key, uneventful day.

His daughter Kayla had come home from college to visit his wife, Laurie. They were doing yard work together. And as the family was preparing to sit down and watch a spring thunderstorm roll in from the safety of their garage, the unthinkable happened.

Vogel’s arms started going numb. His fingers were tingling. He was having trouble breathing. He felt sick to his stomach.

Vogel was having a heart attack.

“I was 46,” he said.

A short and scary ambulance ride to St. Cloud Hospital - Vogel went into cardiac arrest - ended with Vogel being rushed into surgery to have six stents implanted.

And he was mad.

“Why me?” Vogel remembers asking. “I’m too young. This shouldn’t be me. I was playing full-court basketball with guys half my age on Wednesday nights. And I had a heart attack. Like, are you kidding me?”

Twelve years later, Vogel has learned to channel that frustration over his unexpected brush with death to help others in a similar situation through Mended Hearts.

Founded in 1951 by Massachusetts heart surgeon Dr. Dwight Harken, Mended Hearts connects heart disease patients to create a network of support and hope. Volunteers with the organization share their stories of what the procedure feels like and the recovery process. They do not provide medical advice. Their goal is to add a human dimension and perspective to a very scary situation.

The national organization has more than 300 local chapters, including Mended Hearts Chapter 10 in Central Minnesota, founded in 1985. Chapter 10 works in conjunction with St. Cloud Hospital and has provided counseling services in 2016 to 419 patients through November.

It is an organization that has played a key role in Mended Hearts Chapter 10 President Pete Olson’s life.

Three years ago, Olson, 60, recalled laying awake in bed, unable to fall asleep. He knew something was wrong, so he drove himself to the hospital. It was a Wednesday night. He was prepped for a quintuple bypass surgery that Friday.

The night before surgery, Olson had a visitor.

“That night I was laying there, contemplating my future, when a Mended Hearts guy came in,” Olson said. “The whole focus of Mended Hearts is to give that hope. Because when you go in for open heart surgery, you’re not optimistic.”

It’s that hope that comforts patients like Olson when they feel no one else understands what they are going through.

“The doctor can’t talk about what it’s like having a heart attack,” Vogel said. “Unless they’ve had one themselves.”

Mended Hearts visiting volunteers are required to be trained through both the Mended Hearts national program and the affiliated hospital.

“You have to go through training like you are a St. Cloud Hospital employee to be a Mended Hearts volunteer,” Vogel said.

Volunteers also have to abide by privacy rules and other provisions of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) requirements.

The St. Cloud chapter has seven active volunteers. All have had some type of heart incident. They visit with patients Sunday through Friday.

Early in the week, Olson said a majority of patients he sees are getting prepped for surgery.

“I can tell you what it’s going to be like when they take you down in the morning,” Olson said. “(I can talk about) from the time when they start looking for the IV to when they roll you into the room. And from that point, your day is just about over.”

Meeting with patients later in the week, Vogel’s discussions center around aftercare, including rehabilitation programs and recovery.

“I explain the experience in rehab and I also spend time with the caregivers,” Vogel said. “I want the patient to know that they shouldn’t be afraid to tell people they need help.”

In addition to its work at the hospital, the local Mended Hearts chapter also does various fundraising events, like the annual Mended Hearts Golf Tournament - appropriately dubbed the “Zipper Open” after the common zipper-like surgery scar - to raise funds for automated external defibrillators to be placed around the community. So far, Mended Hearts has placed 14 AED units throughout the community.

But the most important part of their mission is to share their stories and provide proof that life can go on after a heart incident.

“We all have a story,” Olson said. “And that’s part of what we share during our visitation. We share that story. Mine of going to bed and laying there for a couple of hours knowing something’s wrong and then driving myself to the hospital. Joel’s having a heart attack and taking the ambulance in. Everybody’s got their story and that’s how we connect with the patients that we are visiting with.”

___

Information from: St. Cloud Times, https://www.sctimes.com

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