When Jeanne Heywood, 72, of Corvallis suffered a heart attack and underwent emergency bypass surgery in the winter of 2020, it was unexpected and frightening.
“The cardiac surgeon, cardiologists and the support team did a great job,” Heywood said. “I’m grateful to be alive.”
When she came home from the hospital, she was faced with a new challenge: living with a chronic condition.
“I felt vulnerable, confused and depressed,” Heywood said.
Then a Home Transition Team nurse from Samaritan made a referral for Heywood to visit with a counselor. That’s how she heard about the Living Well with Chronic Conditions workshop. Heywood joined others who suffer from chronic conditions and discovered they have something in common, regardless of their diagnosis.
“I needed support, advice and a positive direction,” she said. “The workshop leaders and participants helped me to find my own path to living well with chronic illness.”
The free, six-week workshop gave Heywood the tools to manage her situation.
“It felt empowering to meet and talk with other people dealing with chronic illness,” said Heywood.
Living with a chronic condition can be difficult, debilitating and draining. But people experiencing chronic illness are not alone. In the United States, six out of 10 people are living with at least one chronic condition. In Oregon, that’s about 1.8 million people.
Without proper support, people can experience a cycle of worsening symptoms, including fatigue, poor sleep, stress and anxiety, explained Karen Douglas, health education coordinator with Samaritan.
“People with chronic, continuous or persistent physical or mental health issues tend to have a lot of the same symptoms that they have to learn to manage,” Douglas said.
Together with community partners supported by the Regional Health Education Hub in Benton, Lincoln and Linn counties, Samaritan offers quarterly Living Well workshops for people who are ready to gain control, feel better and take charge of their health.
Participants focus on three responsibilities: how to manage their health, continue doing the activities they’ve always done and deal with emotional health issues. Since the start of the pandemic, Douglas has noticed that more people are struggling with mental health issues.
“A lot of the time, when people reach us, they feel like they are at wit’s end,” Douglas said. “The workshop brings hope back to people who feel hopeless.”
Participants gain a sense of accomplishment by setting goals and having someone who cares asking them how they are doing.
Since taking the workshop, Heywood has taken steps to improve her health. She quit smoking and is walking every day. She encourages others who are newly diagnosed or struggling to reach out for help.
“I found strength and hope,” Heywood said. “I can lead a fairly normal life with a condition like heart disease.”
Living Well with Chronic Conditions workshops are being offered online during the pandemic, in both English and Spanish, and will return to an in-person format when it is safe to do so. Register for an upcoming class at samhealth.org/HealthEdHub, or contact SHSHealthEd@samhealth.org or 866-243-7747.