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'Ambassadors of hope' offer encouragement to new heart patients

Longtime Patient Ambassadors

♥ your heart – join us for Heart & Sole

Gather your family and friends and meet us Saturday, March 21 for a new event that has a little something for everyone. Participate in the Run for Wellness through Bidwell Park, followed by a Wellness Expo. Proceeds support the Enloe Heart Program.

Learn more and register online

As a self-described “country boy,” Jeff Elvis’ lifestyle once included smoking cigarettes and eating lots of Southern-style biscuits and gravy. But successful quadruple coronary bypass surgery 11 years ago, along with cardiac rehabilitation, has transformed the longtime Chico resident into a champion of heart-healthy ways who feels compelled to share his experience with others at Enloe Medical Center.  

As a Heart Ambassador, Elvis is one of a group of trained volunteers – all former heart patients themselves – participating in Enloe’s Healthy Hearts program. Heart Ambassadors visit new heart patients after cardiac surgery, spreading hope and discussing lifestyle changes patients may need to make such as modifying diet and activity levels. Healthy Hearts was created about 10 years ago by a patient, Ken Henkel, and nurses Cathy Nagy and Robin St. Clare after Henkel’s own triple coronary bypass surgery at Enloe. The program also includes a monthly support group.

“I’m kind of a hard-headed guy, and when they first mentioned cardiac rehab for me, I said no. But I’m so glad I did it,” says Elvis, 73, a father of five grown children and native of Casa Grande, Arizona. “Some patients I visit think rehab will be too much for them, but I explain that they work you up gradually at Enloe and it’s really helpful.”

Elvis and Henkel both credit Enloe’s 12-week cardiac rehabilitation program, which includes education on diet and stress management as well as closely monitored exercise, with being key to their recovery.

Actionable advice for heart-healthy living

But Elvis and his fellow Heart Ambassadors don’t preach. Instead, each offers a different style, sharing his own path.

“If you tell someone to quit smoking, they won’t do it until they decide to do it themselves,” explains Henkel, who had no typical risk factors for the heart attack he suffered at age 61 in 2004. “A large percentage of the patients really enjoy that you’ve come by to share your experience with them and they can see someone who is walking around and feeling a lot better after the operation. We are ambassadors of hope.”

Heart-healthy eating and regular exercise can be a big change for heart patients. Henkel has embraced the Forks Over Knives diet – a whole-food, plant-based regimen that excludes or minimizes meat, dairy products and eggs – but tells heart patients to check with their doctors to determine if the difficult-but-effective diet could work well for them, too.

Elvis says he has cut way back on the fatty foods he ate before his heart surgery and saves biscuits and gravy for an occasional treat. “I’ve been surprised at how many vegetables and greens I’ve found that I really like,” he adds.   

Open to everyone

The Healthy Hearts support group meets the second Monday of each month at Enloe Cardiac Rehabilitation, located in Building C of the Enloe Outpatient Center. Anyone may attend, even if they don’t have a heart condition. Upcoming spring topics will include happiness, gardening and "ask a pharmacist". Visit for details. Enloe Medical Center’s heart services include cardiac diagnostics, catheterization lab, surgery, a cardiac care unit, anticoagulation clinic, cardiac rehabilitation, and STEMI receiving center. For more information visit

Introducing Enloe's online Heart Health Center

Find heart-related news, quizzes, assessments and other interactive tools, videos, and information on cholesterol screening, medications, prevention – and so much more on Enloe’s new online Heart Health Center. Here’s to your health!

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This publication does not constitute professional medical advice. Although it is intended to be accurate, neither the publisher nor any other party assumes liability for loss or damage due to reliance on this material. If you have medical questions, consult your medical professional. Images may be from one or more of these sources: ©Thinkstock, ©iStock, ©Fotolia, Mark Thau. ©2014 BlueSpire Strategic Marketing I

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