Heart failure recovery means taking care of the whole patient

By Susan Hutcherson, R.N., BSN

As a nurse navigator with the Norton Heart & Vascular Institute Advanced Heart Failure and Recovery Program, I know it truly takes a village to take care of a patient with heart failure.

Our program offers a multidisciplinary approach to give patients the best chance for their highest quality of life. This means education, diet, physical therapy and more. Education is a large part of what I do.

With new and hospitalized patients, I spend about an hour going over diet, especially sodium and fluid intake. I encourage patients with heart failure to make their own meals at home and avoid eating prepared foods, such as frozen dinners.

It’s a new way of eating for a lot of these patients. We try to present the information in a way that helps them realize they have control over what they eat.

I also arrange for home health services, acute rehabilitation services and other assistance for patients so they can be successful at home. The goal is for them to manage their disease and keep them out of the hospital.

As part of their education, patients also learn to monitor their weight at home so they know when they are accumulating fluids. A heart failure patient can gain 5 pounds of fluids in a week. In cases like that, I tell patients to call the clinic to get help managing their diuretic medications.

As the clinic’s nurse navigator, I also schedule patients to come to the clinic seven to 10 days after being released from the hospital, and I’ll make other appointments for patients who need help with them.

Patients with heart failure with preserved ejection fraction also qualify for therapy with Kentucky Orthopedic Rehab Team (KORT), which provides customized cardio fitness workouts. The goal is to improve their quality of life.

The Advanced Heart Failure and Recovery Program also has a full-time social worker. Jonathan Kennedy, LCSW, helps patients with insurance, housing and other needs. Jonathan is knowledgeable about all the different resources out there, and he helps patients find the support they need. His assistance gives patients a huge sense of relief. (If you don’t have a roof over your head, you can’t focus on recovery or anything else.)

Every other month, advanced heart failure nurse practitioners offer free heart failure workshops for patients and their families. The workshops rotate among several Norton Healthcare hospitals and are designed to provide tools, resources and a more in-depth education on how to live fully with heart failure.

The Advanced Heart Failure and Recovery Program also has been working toward providing a simple, user-friendly mobile application that will allow patients to log what they eat and drink so they can more easily monitor their sodium and fluid intake. These are some of the building blocks for helping patients to manage their heart failure through lifestyle changes.

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