CARIBOU, Maine — Valentine’s Day was the perfect forum for officials at Cary Medical Center to announce news of a significant grant designed to help Aroostook County residents live healthier lives.
During a press conference Tuesday afternoon at the Caribou hospital, Cary officials, physicians, health educators and others announced that the hospital had secured a $276,212 grant from the AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation in support of the center’s Healthy Hearts-Healthy Community Program.
The money comes from the foundation’s Connections for Cardiovascular Health program.
This is the second year that the foundation has awarded the hospital funding under that program. Last February, Cary was awarded a $187,000 grant to address cardiovascular disease in The County.
Healthy Hearts-Healthy Community is designed to encourage healthy lifestyle choices in northern Maine and works to improve access to health care for low income families. The overall goal is to reduce incidences of cardiovascular disease and related mortality and to reduce the cost burden on individuals and health care systems as a whole.
Staff from Cary and from The Aroostook Mental Health Center worked together to create initiatives and counsel patients interested in preventing and reversing heart disease.
Last year, grant money was used to produce and air a half-hour television program titled “Let’s Talk Health” on WAGM-TV and Fox 8. The show focused on risk factors involved in heart disease and educates the public about the benefits of healthful nutrition. A Healthy Heart Club was created for people who wanted to learn more about heart health through online programs, contests and incentives. The hospital held several healthy heart buffets and also hosted physical fitness challenges.
Kris Doody, chief executive officer of the Caribou hospital, said that the hospital plans to expand on the programs already in place during the next grant year with a TV/DVD series, community educational events and clinical nutrition counseling of patients who already have cardiovascular disease. Children and families will be targeted, as will diabetes patients. The hospital also plans to provide more opportunities for low-income populations to learn how to improve their nutrition and physical activity.
“Educating people about healthy nutrition, working with families to increase physical activity and informing patients in financial hardship that they have options for health care are all important efforts in creating a healthier community,” she said.
Joe Thibodeau of Stockholm was one of the 10 patients who benefited from the Healthy Heart Club during the first grant year. Thibodeau’s family has a history of heart disease. His mother died at age 62 of heart disease, and an aunt died of heart disease when she was just 29 years old.
His 61-year-old brother had a heart transplant last week in Louisiana.
In 2006, at age 49, Thibodeau had a heart attack. He said Tuesday that he thought he was healthy at the time and was active through swimming and other activities.
While at an event, he exhibited symptoms such as shortness of breath and chest pain. Even though he teaches CPR, Thibodeau said that he was “right in denial” and resisted going to the hospital. Once he went to Cary, they told him that he had had a heart attack and took him to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, where he ended up having triple bypass surgery. One of his arteries was 99 percent blocked.
“I was thinking at the time, someone pinch me and wake me up, because this is a nightmare,” he said.
After he returned home, he enrolled in the club and learned how to eat better and exercise more. He told the crowd Tuesday that he lost 30 pounds and is off most of the drugs he needed to take after his heart attack. He weighs less than he did when he graduated high school in 1975. He hopes to be off all medications by this summer.
He credited the hospital for teaching him and his family, including two young daughters, how to live healthier lifestyles.
The hospital wants to triple the number of people in the club over the next year.
Bill Flagg, director of community relations and development at Cary, spoke about two significant fitness challenges that will be held this summer.
Last July, the hospital sponsored the first annual Ride Aroostook event, a 135-mile cycling tour that raised more than $18,000 for Camp Adventure, a Caribou-based residential summer camp for children ages 12-17 with diabetes. That event will be held again this year, as will Tri-Aroostook, the first of what is hoped to be an annual nationally sanctioned triathlon open to families.