Mercy Heart Smart program used as model for others

by Patrick J. Buechi
Wed, Jun 19th 2019 11:00 am

 Mary Dunbar made her doctor very happy. At the age of 62, she was able to lose 35 pounds, lower her blood pressure and cholesterol by taking health classes at Mercy Comprehensive Care Center in Buffalo.

"My doctor is so thrilled," she said after class.

Her doctor is not the only one excited by the program. The AstraZeneca Health Care Foundation has called Mercy's Heart Smart for Life classes a "model program."

On April 30, Mercy Hospital Foundation hosted a forum that gathered several AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation grant awardees to discuss what works in their cardiovacular health programs.

"The Heart Smart for Life program is an excellent program. We, at the AstraZenca HealthCare Foundation's Connections for Cardiovascular Health program, try to fund the best programs out there that are making an impact on the community, and it's clear that this program is making a tremendous impact. They're doing everything right," explained AstraZenca HealthCare Foundation board chairman Dr. James W. Blasetto.

Mercy's Heart Smart for Life Program mixes health advice, cooking tips and some exercise to help people live longer and live better.

"'Heart Smart for Life' is a community-based wellness program," said program director Jeanne O'Hara. "We say we treat the mind, heart, body and soul of everyone who participates."

The free program is open to everyone. It's based on education for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and stroke awareness. About 40 people attend a typical class, which may include learning the signs of a stroke, chair yoga, and the dangers of smoking and vaping.

"It's very interesting because we have mostly a senior community in our classrooms, but they're actually bringing that information home to their children, their grandchildren. It's really a trickle effect to make that better," said O'Hara.
Participants come in for a three-month cycle and take at least two classes a month. Vital signs are taken when they start and when they end to see what affect the classes have. "Our members have really changed their behaviors and many of them have improved their health," O'Hara said.

Beyond health, speakers come in from a variety of local organizations to help the participants navigate the maze of tax forms and insurance issues.

"Because it's a community wellness program, we're actually extending the work the Sisters of Mercy did years ago. They branched out of their convents and they cared for the community. 'Heart Smart for Life' is extending this many years later," explained O'Hara.

Mary Dunbar finished her three-month trial and has been coming back for a year and a half.

"I've learned a lot," she said cheerfully. "I've lost weight, lowered my blood pressure, my cholesterol. I'm not prediabetic anymore because, with the help of the nutritionist, I've learned how to eat healthy. These people are wonderful here. They really help you."

Approximately every 40 seconds someone in the United States dies of cardiovascular disease. This alarming statistic from the American Heart Association highlights the importance of finding innovative ways to address this devastating disease. The AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation is committed to doing just that through its Connections for Cardiovascular Health program. Since 2010, the AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation has awarded nearly $23 million in grant funding to 52 non-profit organizations in the United States to help improve cardiovascular health in their communities.

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