When Brigham patient Kerry Bergeron received an invitation from a member of her care team to attend a get-together with other patients last month, her eyes lit up. Having been hospitalized in the Shapiro building for more than 60 days following surgery, Bergeron said this gathering was just what she needed to help lift her spirits.
“It made my day,” said Bergeron, who has been recovering from heart valve replacement surgery followed by a procedure to implant a pacemaker. “I appreciated being able to talk with other cardiac patients and hear their stories.”
Since 2016, physician assistant Erin Lyons Matiello, PA-C, of the Heart Transplant and Mechanical Circulatory Support Program, has run the Boston Athletic Association’s (B.A.A.) 10K each June with the Brigham LVAD Warriors. The team’s fundraising efforts support patients who have a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) implanted as a result of heart failure.
Three years ago, Lyons Matiello used some of the donations to create personalized luggage tags for patients’ “VAD bags.” The VAD, a mechanical pump that supports heart function and blood flow in patients with heart failure, has both internal and external components. LVAD patients must carry a backup controller and batteries in these bags at all times.
In advance of this year’s 10K on June 23, Lyons Matiello launched a new project, VADFest, to lift the spirits of VAD patients hospitalized during year-round holidays. She hosts small celebrations in the Shapiro Cardiovascular Center for patients and their families and recently kicked off the series with an Easter gathering. She uses the Brigham LVAD Warrior funds to purchase food and decorations for the informal socials, which will also include secular holidays, such as Memorial Day and Fourth of July.
Working at the Brigham since 2015, Lyons Matiello said she wanted to create these events to bring together VAD patients who are currently staying in the hospital for care. She said each of her patients are like “family” to her, so to do something special for them means everything.
“I love all of my patients, and I want to be there for them and make their lives better,” she said. “I hope these small but meaningful celebrations help to brighten their days.”
Lyons Matiello thanked her multidisciplinary colleagues in the Advanced Heart Failure program for being a source of both inspiration and encouragement with hosting VADFest celebrations, and she greatly values their ongoing support of the LVAD Warriors team and the projects its fundraising sustains.
Come race day, Lyons Matiello said she’ll be thinking of all her patients, including those who are no longer with us.
“They’re the reason why I wanted to create this team,” she said. “I know they would be out on the course running beside me if they could, so this race is dedicated to them.”
David Bell, an admitting officer in Patient Access Services, is participating in the B.A.A. 10K this year as a member of the LVAD Warriors. After receiving an email about the team from a colleague, Bell instantly knew that he wanted to participate.
“I want to do everything I can to help our patients,” Bell said. “Erin is a fantastic person, and her efforts to go the distance for her patients touch my heart.”
Bergeron, who had an LVAD implanted in 2014, praised Lyons Matiello for “going above and beyond” to bring a smile to her patients’ faces. A Brigham patient for many years, Bergeron has enjoyed getting to know Lyons Matiello and appreciates her thoughtful care.
“Erin is a sweetheart,” Bergeron said. “I’m proud of her and what she’s doing to help her patients. I absolutely love the Brigham. It’s my most favorite place to be aside from being home.”
If you or someone you know would be interested in running the B.A.A. 10K to support the Brigham, visit give.brighamandwomens.org/events/baa-10k.