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Matters of the Heart

Generous donor seeks others to help extend heart care beyond the hospital

Local philanthropist Martha Atherton witnessed the challenges of heart failure firsthand. Her husband, Bob, suffered from the disease in his later years. Her wish is to have others in the community with the same condition enjoy an improved quality of life.

Martha is stepping forward to help doctors at Northwest Community Healthcare's Cardiovascular Department make an important vision come true—a new outpatient clinic designed specifically for heart failure patients. It will cost $1.3 million to build and operate over its first three years, and the Northwest Community Hospital Foundation is looking to the generosity and partnership of the community to help raise the necessary funding. In honor of her late husband, Martha has pledged an extraordinary gift of $500,000 to get the project started.

NCH treats more than 1,600 heart failure patients each year, but when patients are discharged from the hospital, they are often overwhelmed by the many challenges ahead—management of dozens of medications, dosage adjustments and adherence to lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise. An outpatient clinic will give patients easier access to the regular and timely support they need to manage their illness and remain healthy in one convenient location.

A Lifelong Journey

Martha's gift is the latest chapter in an amazing story she authored with Bob through their life's journeys and 52-year marriage. Armed with strong faith and indomitable determination, they built their company, RACO Industrial Corporation, into what it is today—a worldwide distributor to the metalworking machinery industry. During that time, they cared for employees as family and gave generously to charities both locally and internationally.

Through his work, Bob traveled the world five times and climbed more than 230 mountains on six continents. Paul Ruzumna, MD, Bob's cardiologist and NCH chief of cardiology, told Martha that in the last five years of Bob's life "he lived above the curve" and was more active and survived longer than expected. He and Martha attributed it to Bob's determination and careful management of his disease. "To be able to improve the lives of others through this clinic by helping them manage their condition is something that would make my husband proud," Martha says.

Bob's active lifestyle illustrates the fact that heart failure doesn't mean the heart fails entirely—it occurs when the heart can't pump enough blood and oxygen to support other organs. Approximately 5.7 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with heart failure and it is the primary cause of more than 55,000 deaths each year.

Healthy Transitions

Due to the chronic nature of the disease, there is an extremely high risk of readmission following a stay in the hospital. Nationally, 25 percent of patients with heart failure are readmitted within 30 days. These frequent readmissions are not only stressful and challenging physically; they can be a financial drain on both patients and healthcare systems. The transition to home after a hospital stay is a critical time for heart failure patients and has a significant impact on their safety, recovery and clinical outcomes.

The goal of the heart failure clinic is to create a consistent, well-orchestrated transition for each patient. It will be housed in the NCH Health Center at 199 W. Rand Road in Mount Prospect, which already includes many of the ancillary services and testing that are required for heart failure patients. According to Dr. Ruzumna, "The location offers easy access and is ideal for patients who may have difficulty or be too ill to navigate the hospital campus."

Supervised by a cardiologist, a team of healthcare professionals—from nurse educators to nutritionists and pharmacists—will see heart failure patients at the clinic within 72 hours of their discharge. The team will provide medical care and one-on-one support, communicating directly with the patient's primary care physician or cardiologist to provide an individualized plan of care. Managing this chronic condition requires ongoing assessment, education and behavior modification, as well as remote monitoring at home for those at higher risk.

The Future of the Clinic

Although the initial focus of the clinic will be dedicated to heart failure patients, NCH's goal will be to broaden the scope of services to provide care management to patients with peripheral vascular disease, cardiac arrhythmias, ventricular assist devices and structural heart disease. Other goals include providing chronic disease management for patients with diabetes, COPD and renal failure.

While studies have shown that these types of clinics significantly improve the health of patients, insurance does not typically cover many of the services that will be provided, making the clinic dependent on NCH resources and charitable support to keep it operational.

NCH is deeply moved by the Athertons' substantial investment in the heart failure clinic that will bear their name. Their support, combined with that of other caring residents, will help enable us to provide a continuum of care for heart failure patients beyond the walls of the hospital and to further strengthen our award-winning cardiovascular program.

"It is our hope that others in the community who have been touched by heart disease will choose to join Mrs. Atherton in helping us make this dream a full reality and improve the lives of thousands," notes Dr. Ruzumna.

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Last Updated 04/10/2009