The Heart Valve Disease Awareness Day Fifth Anniversary Celebration will celebrate a heart valve patient and visionary, a leading cardiologist and champion of health equity, a dedicated partner, a heart valve institute that is leading the charge in innovation, and all of the partners and advocates that have helped the Heart Valve Disease Awareness Day Campaign reach hundreds of millions of people over the past 5 years. Get to know Andrea Baer, the Valve Disease Day Partner with Heart Awardee:
You are the Executive Director of Mended Hearts and Mended Little Hearts. How did you become involved in the organization?
I became involved in the organization in March 2009, after the birth of my third child. He was born with a congenital heart defect and Down syndrome. He needed open-heart surgery at 11 weeks. As I struggled through that crisis, another heart mom reached out to me from Mended Little Hearts. She walked with me and supported me through those dark times, and I was determined to give back to the community. My husband and I decided to start the Mended Little Hearts of Southwestern Pennsylvania chapter that same year. I have been with the organization ever since and volunteered in a variety of roles for seven years prior to becoming the first Director of Patient Advocacy for Mended Hearts® in 2016.
Can you explain the mission of Mended Hearts and Mended Little Hearts, and how they support patients with heart valve disease?
The mission of Mended Hearts® and Mended Little Hearts is to inspire hope and improve the quality of life for heart patients and their families through ongoing peer-to-peer support, education, and advocacy. We support patients with valve disease in a variety of ways – from education and awareness of valve disease to peer-to-peer support for patients. We have a specific transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) visiting program that is designed to connect TAVR patients (or patients who may need a TAVR) with others who have experienced this procedure. We believe that education and awareness bring empowerment, and empowerment allows for better health care choices, and that improves the quality of life for patients.
February 22 is Heart Valve Disease Awareness Day. How is Mended Hearts participating, and how can others help raise awareness on Heart Valve Disease Awareness Day and throughout the entire year?
Mended Hearts® has an exciting line up for Heart Valve Disease Awareness Day. We will be showcasing a valve patient on our blog, hosting a watch party on Facebook for the Listen to your Heart Event, and will be hosting a live Facebook chat at 7:00 PM ET on that day focused on valve disease awareness. Mended Hearts will participate in the Twitter chat as well. We will be using social media throughout the day and people can follow us @MendedHearts on both Facebook and Twitter.
When and why did Mended Hearts become a Heart Valve Disease Awareness Day partner?
Mended Hearts® has been a partner in the Alliance for Aging Research’s Heart Valve Disease Awareness Day since the first year. We believe that valve disease awareness is so vital to improving outcomes for patients who are living with valve disease, and having a unified message each year helps to improve awareness and educates more individuals about valve disease. Every year we try to find new and innovative ways to raise awareness and educate new people.
You are the recipient of the Heart Valve Disease Day “Partner with Heart Award.” How do you feel about receiving this award?
I am so honored and humbled to accept this award. I am grateful for the opportunity to truly live and work my passion. For the past 12 years, what started as a personal goal has led me to lead this amazing organization and touch the lives of so many patients and families. I am blessed to be able to do what I love each day and call it work. Being recognized for that work is an incredible honor.
Why do you think awareness of heart valve disease is low?
I think that heart valve disease presents itself in a way that may be missed or attributed to getting older, so therefore people do not understand the danger of valve disease until it has progressed. Symptoms are easy to miss if you are not aware of them, and many people do not recognize the symptoms as being a heart valve issue, so they are less likely to ask their doctor about it.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted heart valve disease patients?
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted heart valve disease patients in a lot of worrisome ways. We have noted that individuals are less likely to receive care and this causes a huge gap in care. We are also concerned that with individuals being home and less active in their communities, that symptoms may not be presenting themselves as severe as they might be otherwise. Those two issues are a concern because undiagnosed valve disease can be serious and lead to death. We want people to continue to stay in care and launched a Stay in Care campaign in 2020 to encourage patients to continue to keep up with their heart care throughout the pandemic. We continue to address the fears, barriers, and urgency of staying in care for heart patients.
How do you keep your heart healthy?
I have to admit I was not the best at taking care of my heart health previously. Being a mom of four, plus a caregiver to a medically complex child can be overwhelming. But, over the past year, I really have dedicated my time and energy to taking care of myself as well as I take care of my children’s health. I have lost 40 lbs. this past year. I make sure to eat a heart-healthy diet (most of the time) and have created exercise and stress relief plans that can work into my extremely busy life with four kids. I take time each day to focus and destress and make sure I am drinking enough water. I also make sure to see my doctor and was recently given two thumbs up on my heart health from a stress test and echo.
What is one thing that not many people know about you?
I have dragons! Real-life ones. I own a Bearded Dragon and a Chinese Water Dragon (along with four cats and a dog). The dragons are so much fun and honestly have brilliant personalities. They are both very different (one is a desert dragon and one a rainforest dragon) and I spend a lot of time raising them happily.