ALBANY — Mended Hearts, the world’s largest heart patient support network, made the presence of its national resource center in Albany official with a ribbon-cutting on Tuesday.

The Albany Area Chamber of Commerce and officials from Mended Hearts representing all 50 states were at the ribbon-cutting, held at the Merry Acres Executive Building at 1500 Dawson Road.

Formerly located in Dallas, Mended Hearts has relocated to Albany to be closer to the patients and families it serves daily.

Mended Hearts President Donnette Smith said the organization was previously located in a high-rise while in Dallas, making its personnel less accessible. She expressed gratitude for the support the organization has gotten from the Albany area during the transition.

“This (moving here) is the best thing we ever did,” she said. “I can’t tell you how excited we are. The support you give to Mended Hearts, we can’t do it without you.”

The nonprofit, which has more than 18,000 members and 300 chapters across the nation, has been supporting, educating and advocating for heart patients and their families since 1961. Peer-to-peer hospital visits, the Bravery Bag program, educational items like the Mended Hearts and Mended Little Hearts HeartGuides — and campaigns like Rock Your Scar and Roar ‘N Run — are among the ways the organization impacts patients in need.

Smith said membership was actually dropping until recently, and Mended Hearts recognized a need to seek more diversity while also reaching out more to the underserved — so a leap of faith was taken when the organization established a presence in a rural area.

“It’s been an incredible move,” she said. “It’s been a labor of love; members of the community have come in to help us (move into the Albany office).”

The role of the center will be to support the organization’s local chapters, including the one based in southwest Georgia, while educating the public on what Mended Hearts does.

Mended Hearts and Mended Little Hearts offer support through visiting programs, group meetings and educational forums. Mended Hearts and Mended Little Hearts are meant to inspire hope and improve quality of life for heart patients and their families through ongoing peer-to-peer support.

The move to Albany, Smith said, ought to serve as an opportunity to expand the nonprofit’s services.

“We are branching out to heart patients of all kinds,” she said.

Al Voss, a member of Mended Hearts’ board of directors and president of the organization’s southwest Georgia chapter, said the move reflects a new direction and vision to supply education and support for heart disease patients and their families.

Starting in one hospital with four patients, Mended Hearts is now accessible throughout the United States and Canada.

“Our volunteers visit hospitals every day of the week,” Voss said. “They are heart patients themselves, so they are able to relate. We give them hope that there is life after they get out of the hospital.

“It is an absolute dream to be in this city.”

Mended Hearts did a demographic study to determine what areas would suit its needs going forward, and Voss said the determination was that Albany was a perfect fit due to the presence of a stable health system, a college and medical school, a strong transportation system and the quality of people who could be hired to work in the office.

“Albany was the only city that met every one of those categories,” he said.

Voss made note of the support Phoebe Putney Health System has provided.

“Their support of Mended Hearts locally and nationally is outstanding,” he said.

Voss said the emphasis on the underserved will be implemented while continuing a commitment to large metropolitan areas.

“We are expecting our membership to double this year from 20,000 to 40,000,” he said. “By moving to Albany and having the national resource center located here, we expect to be on the cutting edge of community peer-to-peer support and be able to roll this model out to other communities throughout the nation.

“We are really elated to come here. The community has been outstanding to receive us.”

The southwest Georgia chapter of Mended Hearts has been in existence for 35 years.

For more information or to locate a Mended Hearts chapter, visit www.mendedhearts.org, call 888-HEART-99 or email info@mendedhearts.org.

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Staff Writer

I'm a 2007 graduate of Georgia Southern University, and I've been a reporter for The Albany Herald since 2008. I cover news related to health care, Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany, SOWEGA Council on Aging and other areas as assigned.

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