By Angie Bicker
STERLING, Ill. —
With the help of CGH Medical Center doctors, nurses and Leanne Blase, congestive heart failure program coordinator, Ed Mulderink, of Fulton, Ill., is one of many heart patients who is getting his life back on track.
When patients are hospitalized and diagnosed with congestive heart failure, CGH Medical Center springs into action with educational tools and preventative measures to help its patients live independently on their own at home. The hospital’s goal, according to Blase, is to reduce the number of readmissions to the hospital. By equipping patients with the proper tools and knowledge, Blase said the program has produced many success stories.
“It’s very encouraging. The successes outnumber those who continue to come back,” she said.
Mulderink is one of those success stories. When it came down to learning about his condition and ways to improve his life, he took everything the doctors, nurses and Blase had to say to heart.
“They are a dedicated bunch. Thank you doesn’t seem like enough for what they did for me. The knowledge they give people is power whether they choose to use it or not,” he said.
Contrary to common belief, congestive heart failure can happen at any age; it is not a disease just for the elderly. Blase has seen patients from one age spectrum to the other. She has seen patients with congestive heart failure in their 20s and 30s to the oldest at age 100.
“Shortness of breath over a long period of time can be hard to diagnose with the young. Any strain or stress on the heart can cause heart failure to develop,” she said.
However a patient’s success hinges on their ability to follow through with the program, which instructs a patient on following through with the proper medication, diet, activity and exercise and living a lifestyle filled with healthy habits.
Blase said changing one’s lifestyle can be difficult if they have never been one to read food labels. Through follow-up phone calls, Blase offers encouragement to patients.
“They have to think about everything they put in their mouth,” she said.
For congestive heart failure patients, it is important to decrease the amount of sodium they consume daily. According to CGH Medical Center literature concerning congestive heart failure, sodium attracts water and makes the body hold fluid so that the heart works harder to pump the added fluid. So, it is pertinent that individuals with heart failure limit their sodium intake to no more than 2,000 milligrams of sodium per day, which translates into 1 teaspoon of salt.
The amount of sodium added to foods Blase said is “shocking” and that is why reading labels is so important. Even if a package says its healthy, it may really not be. Blase has to remind patients to check everything — even condiments, which are especially high sodium. By reading the fine print, individuals can find what is really hidden inside their food. One way to add taste instead of unneeded amounts of sodium is to use pure herbs and spices.
“The eating aspect (of the limited sodium diet) is the hardest thing and looking at the labels. I’ve met and seen people who season their food before they taste it. It is the hardest lifestyle change for them. (Limiting sodium) Prevents swelling in the feet and eases breathing — it makes the attempt worthwhile. I try to inspire them to follow a low-sodium diet,” she said.
Mulderink can attest to the fact that eating differently can be very challenging at first, but is doable. Reading food labels has been an important key to keeping off unneeded fluid in his body. One of the changes Mulderink and his wife, Phyllis, made was switching from canned vegetables to frozen ones. And at first it took a while for his pallette to adjust.
“I’m more sensitive to processed foods than I used to be. I can taste the salt,” he said.
As Mulderink continues to watch what he eats, he also keeps a daily diary documenting how he feels, his weight and what he eats. With each passing day, he is learning what works and what doesn’t.
“Once you know your habits, you can pretty much self-regulate yourself. If you’re going to cheat on things, you’re only cheating yourself,” he said.
Even though Mulderink isn’t back to feeling 100 percent, he has seen a lot of improvement with his change of diet, pacemaker and medications.
“I don’t have the balance and stamina that I had prior to this, but I feel like a plastic curtain has been lifted. I feel more encouraged to try things and my balance is coming back,”
For Mulderink, the information CGH provided to him through the program has been invaluable.
“You take little steps and hopefully you are successful and get stronger. The success of the program depends on you,” he said.
One key factor in making CGH’s program a success, is the regular contact Blase keeps with patients.
“People are very appreciative of the phone calls. The majority of people are more than willing to learn if its going to make them feel better. Education is key. It is a nationwide effort when it comes reducing readmissions with congestive heart failure,” Blase said.