Nurse Navigators help heart patients focus on getting well

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The Nurse Navigators program at the Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital helps patients deal with the stress or anxiety of surgery. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The Nurse Navigators program at the Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital helps patients deal with the stress or anxiety of surgery. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Navigators are with the patient right after their procedure, and care continues after leaving the hospital. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Navigators are with the patient right after their procedure, and care continues after leaving the hospital. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
That Navigator service is now a routine part of care at Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) That Navigator service is now a routine part of care at Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

From the golf course where he just scored an 84 to the church choir, nothing slows down 90-year-old Grant Gunnell, including recent surgery to replace a heart valve.

”My cardiac doctor told me that if I didn't get that heart valve taken care of, I was going to die,” Gunnel remembers from his diagnosis. 

Despite that warning, Gunnell was hesitant. He says he felt OK, and the thought of going through surgery seemed a little overwhelming.

"Your head is swimming so upstream so to speak,” he says.

Tammy Querry with Abrazo Centers for Cardiac Excellence says helping patients leave the stress behind is part of the reason they launched a Nurse Navigator program. 

“Stress can be in many forms and you don't necessarily always see it outwardly,” she explains.

Sarah Wilmowski at Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital was Gunnell's navigator. She says for her, it is easy to see when the program is working, 

“My success is, can I keep my patient out of the hospital? Can I make may patient and their family happy? And was it a successful valve experience all together?“ Wilmowski said.

She says it all starts before patients actually come in for surgery.

“We kind of go through it. And I walk them through the day of their procedure. During the first day of your procedure, we are starting in here. Your family will wait here, and just walk step by step through where you are going to be the first 24 hours," Wilmowski said.

Navigators are with the patient right after their procedure, and care continues after leaving the hospital.

“So our nurse navigator always follows up with phone calls, sometimes multiple phone calls, depending on the patient needs," Querry says.

Wilmowski says the most common questions are about medications.

“So making that call and just making sure you are continuing to take what we need you to take, and if not, why, so we can find a solution that is important," Wilmowski said.

She says she also helps patients connect with either their primary care doctor or cardiac surgeon.

“Because I have their cell phones, so the patient can call me and say, 'I have talked to this person and this person,' and I can say, 'I will call you back in half an hour and have answers for you,'" Wilmowski said.

Querry says they even handle follow-up appointments.

“They can just know that their appointment is scheduled and they just need to show up,” Querry said.

Gunnell is now back on top of his game, something he says wouldn't have happened without a Navigator to guide him through.

”I just felt very comfortable and at ease, all throughout,” Gunnell said.

That Navigator service is now a routine part of care at Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital.

Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


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