ST. CLOUD – There are some dates you just can't forget. For Joel Vogel, it's May 9, 2004.
Vogel describes that day — Mother's Day — as low key and uneventful. His daughter Kayla had come home from college to visit his wife, Laurie. They were working in the yard. And as the family prepared to sit and watch a spring thunderstorm roll in from the safety of their garage, the unthinkable happened — Vogel's arms started going numb. His fingers were tingling. He was having trouble breathing. He felt sick to his stomach.
He was having a heart attack.
"I was 46," he said.
A short and scary ambulance ride to St. Cloud Hospital — Vogel went into cardiac arrest — ended with Vogel being rushed into surgery to have six stents implanted.
And he was angry.
"Why me?" he remembers asking. "I'm too young. This shouldn't be me. I was playing full-court basketball with guys half my age on Wednesday nights. And I had a heart attack. Like, are you kidding me?"
Twelve years later, Vogel has learned to channel that frustration over his unexpected brush with death to help others in a similar situation through Mended Hearts. Founded in 1951 by Massachusetts heart surgeon Dr. Dwight Harken, the organization connects heart disease patients to create a network of support and hope. Volunteers share stories of what surgery and recovery feel like. The goal is to add a human dimension and perspective to a very scary situation.
The national organization has more than 300 local chapters, including Mended Hearts Chapter 10 in central Minnesota, founded in 1985. Chapter 10, which works in conjunction with St. Cloud Hospital, had provided counseling services in 2016 to 419 patients through November.
Mended Hearts volunteers are required to be trained through both the Mended Hearts national program and the affiliated hospital. Volunteers also have to abide by privacy rules and other provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA).
The St. Cloud chapter has seven active volunteers, who visit patients Sunday through Friday. All have had some type of heart incident.
Mended Hearts Chapter 10 President Pete Olson said that early in the week, a majority of patients he sees are getting prepped for surgery.
"I can tell you what it's going to be like when they take you down in the morning," he said. "[I can talk about] from the time when they start looking for the IV to when they roll you into the room. And from that point, your day is just about over."
Meeting with patients later in the week, Vogel's discussions center on aftercare, including rehabilitation programs and recovery.
"I explain the experience in rehab and I also spend time with the caregivers," Vogel said. "I want the patient to know that they shouldn't be afraid to tell people they need help."
The local Mended Hearts chapter also raises money for automated external defibrillators to be placed around the community. But the most important part of its mission is to share stories and provide proof that life can go on after a heart incident.
"Everybody's got their story and that's how we connect with the patients that we are visiting with," Olson said.
Information from: St. Cloud Times, www.sctimes.com