Mavis Spann of Jackson was recovering in St. Dominic’s Cardiac Care Unit when she received a visit from Carol Dendy and Sadie Jones, members of the Bradford/St. Dominic’s Heart Support Group for Women. The ladies came to Spann’s room to offer words of encouragement and drop off a new accessory. It wasn’t a purse or a belt, but instead a soft red scarf created with patients like Spann in mind.
Teresa Nelson, a clinical therapist with St. Dominic’s Behavioral Health Services, is coordinating the local effort of the HeartScarves program, sponsored by the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease. The red scarves are worn by heart disease survivors to promote awareness of women’s heart health. A handmade red scarf is also given to female patients like Spann who are recovering from cardiac procedures, Nelson said.
As Dendy gently wrapped the soft wool around Spann’s neck and offered words of support, the first recipient of a red scarf was moved to tears.
“Wear this scarf and know you’re not alone on your heart journey,” said Dendy. “Feel the love and comfort that went into the making of this scarf. A red heart is the symbol of love. This scarf, with the little heart embedded in the design, will remind you we are here for you at any time.”
Spann said she felt comforted by the scarf and the knowledge a support group exists to aid in her recovery following discharge from St. Dominic’s.
“I was so scared when I found out I had to have heart surgery,” she said. “My cardiologist, Dr. Myrna Alexander, told me I would have a great surgeon. Then, I met Dr. Gerhard Mundinger and he told me he would take good care of me. I feel so blessed to have been under their care. Now, it’s a relief to know these other ladies have been through a similar experience as me.”
Wendy Johnson, cardiac nurse educator, and other staff members will now distribute red scarves to female cardiac patients on a daily basis. Johnson said she is honored to participate in a project that is vitally needed.
“Through my work with female cardiac patients, I know the fear and anxiety they experience, especially during recovery,” said Johnson. “I am so pleased to see the focus of this initiative is women, who for too long did not have adequate support. Providing this extra care will do so much to alleviate many of the fears inherent to our female cardiac patients.”
Johnson said while she and other St. Dominic employees can offer compassionate medical care before and after cardiac procedures, they can’t always answer the questions many women have following heart surgery or a heart attack. A support group of women who have faced the same questions plays a vital role in helping women regain the confidence necessary for a complete recovery, she said.
The Bradford/St. Dominic’s support group is named for founder Tina Bradford, who lost her battle with heart disease May 1, 2008. The group was one of the first in the nation to formally organize and implement the scarves project in February, which is National Heart Month. Several dozen handcrafted scarves were collected from area volunteers, Dendy said. Members of the group said they felt Bradford’s presence and her drive as they organized this important project.
“We knew if Tina had been here, she would have made sure we got the scarves and distributed them during this special month,” said Dendy. “Since this is our first February without her, we had even more reason to make this project a success.”
Nelson, the group’s facilitator, said donations of the red scarves are needed so female patients can receive them all year long. Knitters and crocheters who wish to make scarves can use any type of yarn as long as it is red, she said. Most scarves are three to four inches wide and 48-54 inches long, a length that enables the wearer to wrap the scarf around her neck. Since the scarves represent comfort, yarn soft to the touch is recommended.
The HeartScarves project does not require any specific knitting or crochet pattern be used, but instead encourages individual creativity, Nelson said. Volunteers can sew "Handmade with Love" or place other heart emblems on each one.
Once they are delivered, volunteers package the scarves in gift bags and add cards about St. Dominic’s heart support group and information about living with heart disease. Nelson said any and all donations of handmade scarves would be appreciated. Also, any businesses that would like to donate yarn are also encouraged to participate in the worthwhile project, she said.
"We hope as we distribute and wear these scarves, it will help bring about heart disease awareness to all women,” she said. “Most important, it illustrates to those who wear them they’re not alone. There is support out there from those who have walked in their shoes.”
For more information about the project, go to www.heartscarves.com or call Nelson at (601) 200-3110.