A Woman Following Her Own Heart: Claire Blocker founded HeartBright to offer preventive cardiology programs
May 02, 2014 12:29PM
At 47, Claire Blocker had a stroke and lost the use of her right side for a year. Four years later she had a heart attack in the middle of the night while she was resting in the hospital for an unrelated issue. With 40% of her heart muscle damaged and eight major blockages that were 90-95% blocked, she had quadruple by-pass heart surgery, got five stents in her heart, one stent in her renal artery, three rounds (an hour a day - 5 days a week - for 7 weeks over the next 3 years) of EECP therapy, and needed ongoing chronic care management.
Even though Blocker didn’t fit the typical profile, she had advanced cardiovascular disease. “During my journey I realized that there was no magic pill a doctor could give me to make this go away - it was part of me and I needed to own it, learn about it and work with my medical team to manage it for the rest of my life,” said Blocker. “As I progressed on my wellness path I saw the immense need to help both patients and clinicians stay informed and armed with the tools needed to deal with this largely manageable disease from a preventative stance.”
She started out to reach one person a week because she didn’t want anyone to get as sick as she did. In 2003, Blocker founded HeartBright, a non profit focused on providing education for the community in healthy lifestyles and to fund preventive cardiology programs in economically disadvantaged communities. Today, with the help of countless volunteers and supporters the organization is making a difference in the lives of 4,500 people a week.
HeartBright focuses on the management and prevention of cardiovascular disease and it’s sister diseases of hypertension and diabetes. While education and tools are available to all, HeartBright’s outreach to the uninsured and underinsured is much more extensive. Their approach is to customize a wellness plan in concert with the medical team and patient that is comprehensive, sustainable and realistic given socio-economic barriers and needs.
The programs offered through HeartBright follow an A.M.E.S. approach: Awareness, Measurement, Education and Support and must be implementable in the real world. “For example, early on we were teaching a nutrition class and covering the importance of eating a protein with your carbohydrate for more efficient fuel burning. Our example was having peanut butter with your apple. One patient raised their hand and asked if their cat food was a protein or a carbohydrate. This led us to the understanding that we can not take it for granted that people have access to even the basic food they need on a consistent basis,” Blocker said. That one simple question was the impetus for HeartBright to expand outreach to include a variety of food access programs including a community garden, farm gleanings, coupon and shopping classes, meal plans for different budget levels and a farmers market that excepts food stamps. The goal is to allow people to have access to what they need to take charge of their own wellness. Some of the services offered through HeartBright include a Cardiac Resource Center comprised of both a community wellness center and an interactive online resource. The South Tryon Wellness Program focuses on the African-American community, in particular, because they statistically are at the highest risk for cardiovascular diseases. Risk assessments, education and awareness of heart disease and its prevention, and free doctor visits are available.
Exercise specialists bring exercise programs to area children, seniors, mobility constrained groups and rehabbing individuals. Nutrition services do the meal planning for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg headstart children as well as provide education and meal planning to school aged children in underserved areas of the city.
Blocker said outcomes from HeartBright programs far exceed the national averages for controlling and managing heart disease, diabetes and hypertension. “One example would be our enrollment of 120 new blood pressure patients in a 2013 study with the American Heart Association and Novant Health. All of these patients started with a stage 2 classification for their hypertension. We worked with them weekly as we do all of our patients to provide the access and support they needed to learn to manage their disease and work with their medical team. At the end of the the 16 week study 100% of our enrollees had controlled blood pressure readings. This national study had an average success rate across the US that was closer to 20%. “
HeartBright operates almost entirely on volunteers and community donations. Some offer support by bringing in empty egg cartons and bags for the farmers market to help keep food prices down, providing office supplies, gift cards and clerical support to keep overhead low, and specialty volunteer services such as fundraising support and food pantry drives. Blocker says that needs in the local area have increased dramatically both in size and urgency, putting a strain on HeartBright’s resources.
“We are in need of additional and immediate corporate and private support to help meet this need in our community. We keep our wish list and volunteer opportunities posted on our website, HeartBright.org, and are always open to new ideas and opportunities for helping those we serve.”
For more information call 704-373-3002 or visit HeartBright.org.