What if you were told you had a condition that required you to have a device implanted in your body to save your life? It would be a hard reality to accept — one filled with uncertainty and fear. But if you met someone who was living with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) and had a full, happy life, that person might alleviate some of your fears by sharing their story and proving that life isn’t over — just changing to adapt to a new reality.
This is the concept for a unique peer-mentoring program at the University of Michigan Health System designed to help those facing life-changing procedures, such as an ICD.
The University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center has paired up with the Patient and Family Centered Care (PFCC) Program to pilot peer-mentoring initiatives aimed at helping patients with specific health challenges. The U-M outpatient implantable cardioverter defibrillator clinic has been selected as one of the first five sites to pilot such a program.
“Sound evidence supports the benefits of peer mentoring, which is the practice of pairing patients who have shared common health experiences in order to offer one another support, resources, education, encouragement and camaraderie,” says Leah Brock, LMSW, clinical social worker at the U-M Frankel CVC outpatient clinic.
A human bond
U-M patient Jeanette McDonald knows exactly what it feels like to face the reality of life with an ICD due to her cardiomyopathy diagnosis more than three years ago. When she found it overwhelming to cope with the thought of living with an ICD, she was introduced to another ICD patient, Erika Laszlo, who was living a full life as a wife, mother and Senior physician liaison with U-M.
“Introducing me to Erika Laszlo prior to my surgery was the best thing U-M could have done for me,” says Jeanette, who is now a volunteer in the peer-mentoring program. “It helped so much just to have someone to talk with.”
According to Brock, “Typically, the ‘mentor’ is a more experienced patient who is then paired up with a ‘mentee’ who is at a place where he or she may benefit from connecting with someone who has had a common experience.”
Ready to reach out
After three years of living with an ICD, Jeanette is ready to reach out to other patients. “I know the importance of being a volunteer with this program,” she says. “I might not have been capable of talking about my experience in the past, but today I’m much more able to talk about it.”
U-M’s ICD peer program mentors receive formal training on best peer-mentoring practices and become certified system and PFCC volunteers. Mentors volunteer in the ICD device clinic at various pre-arranged times. Referrals to the mentors come from the clinic staff. Each patient pairing is voluntary and unique, with variations in the amount of contact, type of contact and longevity of the relationship, which are all under the control of the pair.
For Jeanette, a financial coach for Habitat for Humanity of Monroe County, the peer-mentoring program is her way of helping others with the same type of anxiety and fear she once faced. “I’ll never forget what Erika did for me.”
Take the next step:
- For more information about peer mentoring in the CVC, contact Leah Brock, LMSW, at 734-232-1559.
- Read Erika Laszlo’s story about living with an ICD.
The University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is a top-ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit our website at umcvc.org.