Written by Amy Andrews
Each year, cardiovascular disease kills more citizens in North Carolina than cancer, AIDS, accidents, violence and alcohol abuse combined, and it accounts for one out of every four deaths in our area.
The HeartBright Foundation was created to address this issue and help those, particularly in under-served and at-risk populations, who are dealing with heart disease, diabetes and hypertension.
HeartBright’s free programming includes an expansive community outreach program that focuses on education, nutrition and fitness as well as a free clinic that provides treatment, access and support for patients.
Patients can self-refer to HeartBright, but most come through the hospital or doctor referrals. A typical scenario for a patient is someone who has high blood pressure, doesn’t have insurance and doesn’t know what to do to improve their health. HeartBright sets up a free doctor visit with one of the 33 clinicians who serve there, assigns them an advocate and customizes a program based on their needs.
Some patients just take part in outreach programs and some participate in the clinic as well. “We really want to get to the root of the problem and help our patients make lifestyle changes,” shared Nicole Bonesteel, Program and Services Director for HeartBright. She added, “We refocus as we go. Our patient’s circumstances are continually changing, whether it is a loss of job, a car that breaks down or a death in the family. We help them adjust and create sustainability to keep going with a plan that works for them.”
HeartBright was established by Claire Blocker who began suffering from profound heart disease related issues starting at age 47. Once her health stabilized, Blocker realized she wanted to help those without access to support or financial resources to reclaim their health and recognize that their diagnosis is not a death sentence. Added Bonesteel, “We are here so that people don’t get as sick as Claire did. We are staying true to our core mission of creating tailored programs that our patients can sustain and live a quality life.”
Nutrition is key to HeartBright’s outreach program. “Protein is a huge emphasis for us. We are always in need of donations of protein-based food pantry of shelf stable items, such as seeds, nut butters, canned tuna, chicken and salmon and protein shakes.” She added, “We are focused on the nutritional content of food items and also do farm gleaning to get fresh vegetables and fruits to our patients.” Gift cards to Amazon, Walmart and Food Lion are also in high demand for patients to purchase essentials.
HeartBright also provides patients with items they can use at home to monitor their health and improve fitness. A donation of $25 will allow them to purchase an arm cuff for monitoring blood pressure at home. They are also supplying clients with items such as dynabands and yoga mats to do their stretching and exercises at home, especially since they aren’t able to hold community classes at the moment.
Bonesteel emphasized the pride that patients feel through their rewards system. Patients accrue points for things like leading walks or stopping smoking. They can then use those points to buy household goods such as bedding and pillows. “It’s an acknowledgement of how hard they are working and it makes it fun,” she added.
Readers who would like to get more involved are welcome to volunteer at the clinic doing jobs such as welcoming patients, light cleaning and IT support, particularly sorting through and helping integrate donated items. “We are always in need of an extra set of helping hands,” said Bonesteel. “There is also opportunity to help remotely by joining a funding committee, organizing a research team or updating resources such as food pantry and bus pass availability.”