​​​​​Picture of Mary-Ann in front of Volunteer sign
Mary-Ann is now a volunteer Cardiac Mentor at Toronto General Hospital. (Photo: Volunteer Resources)​

UHN volunteers fill a vital role. And, they give their time for a variety of reasons. In the lead-up to National Volunteer Week, April 12-18, Mary-Ann explains, in her own words, why she became a Cardiac Mentor and the rewards – to her and to patients – of the work she does.

On June 25th, 2011, my life changed.

As a result of what happened that fateful day, I became a Cardiac Mentor at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre two years later.

My role as a Cardiac Mentor has been rewarding on many levels.

​National Volunteer Week
​April 12-18, 2015

I can relate to patients

On a personal level, I can share my experiences of having had a major heart attack, a second heart attack, and a number of procedures afterwards.

As a result of these experiences, I am able to connect with patients undergoing similar events even if they are undergoing them for different reasons. I can listen, discuss, support and share with patients and their families in a positive way.

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The importance of a healthy diet

On an informative level, I am able to share the importance of healthy diet and exercise which has always been a part of my life -- even before my health challenges began.

After having attended cardiac rehab twice now, with diligence and even perhaps stubbornness, I am now able to lightly jog with confidence on a treadmill, bike up to 30 km, and walk 5 to 8 km a day. It seems unbelievable as it's nowhere near what I could do before, but I've learned to accept the past. 

By making the right food choices, exercising regularly, meditating, and having a positive attitude, I have dedicated myself to getting well. I have worked very hard to not succumb to my illness.

Every day, I work to ready myself physically and psychologically should my Vascular Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, an inheritable genetic disorder affecting connective tissue, choose to strike again. I have learned to make adjustments and recognize that even though my body has limitations, I can still enjoy life and know that I have done everything I can do in terms of prevention.

We are not alone

On a psychological level, I am able to share my coping strategies for the fear of the unknown. It can be a challenge at times and I do cry on occasion, but I have learned it is okay to cry. And, even though others may not share my rare disease, dealing with the difficult reality of accepting a genetic diagnosis is something others may share and relate to.

Knowing we are not alone in any illness is sometimes a feat that can lead to a positive shift.

Helping people helps me

​On a spiritual level, helping people helps me heal too.

I am certain I am breathing now because of my love for life; the love and support I have from family and friends; my cat Vincent whose purrs heal me; and the medical staff at Sunnybrook, Toronto Western and Toronto General Hospital. I am especially grateful to my heart surgeon, Dr. R.J. Cusimano, for whom I will always hold a special place in my heart.

The most rewarding experience of being a Cardiac Mentor is that I am able to help and inspire people with my journey.

By listening to their concerns and answering their questions, I am able to offer them support as they go through their own journeys. There are times when just being there is enough. Each visit is a unique encounter and opportunity to make a difference, and ultimately impact another person in a positive way.​

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