Heart-felt discussions after heart surgery

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Ian Cruickshank had questions, but no one to give any answers.

Cruickshank had triple bypass surgery in April of last year. At the time, the pandemic was still a serious concern, and getting appointments with doctors to answer questions was a challenge.

Now, he’s gone from having questions to providing answers…and support.

Cruickshank started a post-heart-surgery support group, Heart Buddies, with the goal to let people share their experiences and concerns, and to hear that they aren’t alone in their recovery process.

For Cruickshank, he experienced the realities of surgery during the pandemic. He had his procedure delayed by five days, for starters.

Beyond that, everything went fine. Except for getting answers to how he was feeling and if that was normal.

Cruickshank said he had difficulty getting an appointment with his surgeon for the usual six-week post-operative checkup. He was left wondering if he was healing properly.

Enter Brenda Stevens, a social worker with the Thamesview Family Health Team. Stevens put Cruickshank in touch with a local woman, Jen Padbury, who had open-heart surgery a decade earlier.

“Within 20 minutes of speaking with Jen, a lot of it made sense,” Cruickshank recalled. “What you’re feeling, your chest healing, the crazy little things.”

He said the cardiologist essentially dismissed any concerns about how the wound was healing, and “just said I was okay.

“Jen suggested I try a certain exercise. She had been there. She’s telling me things and I realize it’s not just in my head,” he said. “Talking with someone who’s been there, it helped a lot.”

Cruickshank said there is a cardiac rehabilitation program run locally, and it’s great for retuning one’s body post-surgery. But it does not deal with one’s mental state or all of the questions that follow such serious surgery.

After meeting with Padbury, Cruickshank figured others could benefit from hearing details. With that in mind, he worked with Stevens to start Heart Buddies last November. The group meets monthly.

Cruickshank said people don’t need to speak up. He found it extremely helpful to hear stories of what others went through.

He said the group waxes and wanes, as people come in seeking support and answers, and some leave when they get what they need.

“We have people in the group who have had heart attacks, have stents put in, etc.,” Cruickshank said. “We talk about what we have been through – mentally, physically, the whole thing.”
They have had upwards of a dozen people at Heart Buddies meetings, “just hearing the stories and letting people speak.”

Stevens said Cruickshank has really worked hard to develop the support group.

“I think it’s really, really helpful. Part of the reason we started it was that Ian had all these questions and no one to talk about it,” she said. “We figured there were other people in the same situation.”

The social worker said she’s a firm believer in how support groups can help most everyone, even if they don’t speak up.

“Once people get there and they realize no one will force you to talk, but you might learn things, it’s relieving to hear that other people feel like you do,” she said. “You can see the relief on their faces.”

Cruickshank said hearing initially about Padbury and her experiences was helpful, but he added he continues to benefit from listening to others.

“Just sitting and listening. All of a sudden, you feel for them,” he said. “I thought I had it bad, but then you hear some of the other stories. I just went through surgery. Others have died (and been resuscitated).”

The Heart Buddies meet at Thamesview Family Health Team’s offices on Grand Avenue West.

For more information on the group, contact the family health team at 519-354-0070, or visit thamesviewfht.ca.

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