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Heart failure patients form community that lasts long after they leave

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MURRAY, Utah (ABC4 Utah) – When a patient at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Murray is diagnosed with heart failure, their family gets a lot bigger.
 
“We call ourselves the zipper club,” says heart patient Brent Haupt. “Some of us have had our chests opened more than once.”
 
Ten years after Intermountain Medical Center opened in the heart of the Salt Lake Valley, a community of heart failure patients from across the Intermountain West is thriving. Some discharged patients return to the hospital three or four times a week in addition to attending a bi-monthly support group meeting that 50-60 former patients now attend.
 
Haupt’s household has literally grown since he was diagnosed with heart failure. Fellow patient Jake Gilbert was discharged from the hospital, but couldn’t return home to Idaho because he needed to remain close to the hospital during the months after his heart transplant.
 
Gilbert, a husband and 36-year-old father of four, suffered a stroke and was diagnosed with heart failure in 2015. He stayed in an apartment close to Intermountain Medical Center during his treatment, and his family visited him on the weekends. During the week, he’d spend most of his time visiting with other heart failure patients.
When it came time for Gilbert’s discharge, Haupt convinced caregivers at Intermountain Medical Center to release Gilbert to him.
 
“They were skeptical at first about releasing a critically-ill patient to a former critically-ill patient,” Haupt said. “But I’m there to care for him and I know exactly what he’s supposed to do to stay on the program.”
 
Gilbert moved into Haupt’s house, worked at his company and will soon be strong enough to return to his home in Idaho.
 
In the meanwhile, the two still return to the hospital for support group meetings and throughout the week to help comfort other heart failure patients.
 
 “I remember what it was like to be in bed,” Gilbert said. “Every day is a gift. Before this, I had no real purpose. It was like I was going through the motions. Now, I ask God to show me the way to be of service to others.”
 
Haupt says heart failure patients need someone who has already gone through it to converse with.
 
“You want to give them hope,” he said. “I show up with my motorcycle clothes and helmet and they’re shocked, ‘You ride a motorcycle?’ I do all the things I did before I had heart failure. I assure them that they’re going to return to a normal life.”
 
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