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It's A Gray Area: Braving heart problems together

September 18, 2010|By James P. Gray

The Braveheart Project was started in Scotland during the middle 1990s by a group of coronary heart disease health-care professionals who were concerned that their patients were losing valuable information as they were being referred from one expert in the field to another. Once they focused upon their patients' situation, the reason was quite plain: Their patients were not experts in the field, were in a foreign and stressful environment, and were almost always scared. So all of these conditions tended to result in a lack of attention and loss of memory.

To counteract this problem, these caring professionals formed a mentoring program led by non-professional, volunteer lay people, and preferably ones who had a history of coronary heart disease. Then they set up group sessions with the current coronary patients in non-clinical environments, with the added provision that health professionals would never be invited. The purpose was to see if this approach would result in the valuable information being better retained, and more motivation being generated for the patients to take control and do what was needed to improve their overall quality of life.

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Two pilot programs were set up, each with a fully-trained but non-professional health mentor, and 10 to 12 cardiac patients were referred to each program. The groups determined their own agenda and met for two-hour sessions, three times per week, in non-clinical locations like community halls or schools. But the core of each program included a discussion about the basic nature of coronary disease, various risk factors, and the importance of medications, exercise and diet. Each program also drew up a code of conduct that would govern each person's behavior during the meetings.

The results of each of these two programs were dramatic. Almost without exception, each patient became part of a support group for every other patient, and each also tried to live up to the positive expectations of the group. Thus each patient became much more motivated to learn about the disease and possible remedies, and many were amazed to learn first hand how much personal control they actually had over their own situation.

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