Published on February 10, 2021

The Smart Heart Meal Program Made a Difference in Jeff’s Life

Jeff Johns

Jeff Johns of Webster, NH

Last spring, Jeff Johns of Webster was rushed to Concord Hospital after he awoke one morning and could barely breathe.

He was diagnosed with congestive heart failure (CHF). His body was filled with extra fluid that was clogging his lungs and his heart was pumping at only a third of its capacity —dramatically lowering the amount of oxygen being circulated to his organs.

“I had a couple of bouts where I would wake up and couldn’t breathe,” Jeff said. “I was drowning in fluid.”

During a week of Hospital care, Jeff shed 35 pounds of excess fluid with medication, a low-sodium diet and fluid restrictions. Jeff’s care didn’t stop when he was discharged. Through Concord Hospital’s SMART Heart Meals program, he received helpful information about his condition and diet as well as a supply of healthy meals.

He was sent home with three days of low-sodium meals and received deliveries of 30 days of meals at no cost as part of SMART Heart’s goal of reducing the number of CHF patients readmitted to the Hospital within 30 days of discharge.

Pre-COVID-19, Meals on Wheels drivers and Concord Regional Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) nurses helped monitor SMART Heart patient conditions in person, to help them stick with their diet and keep them at home — not in the Hospital. Under COVID-19 safety protocol, Jeff’s meals were delivered with no in-person contact and the VNA appointments switched to phone sessions. But the program worked. Jeff stayed well enough to avoid another Hospital visit.

“They got me on the right track,” he said.

The SMART Heart Meals program is an important way Concord Hospital responded to a Community Health Needs Assessment in which community members pointed to a need to focus on healthy behaviors.

The program, funded through charitable grants, educates all CHF patients about low-sodium food options and provides a cookbook of recipes that can help avoid the fluid buildup (congestion) that occurs when the heart is not pumping as well as it should. Jeff said the education, healthy food options and his own determination to stick with the recommendations have kept him healthy.

“It has been effective in helping me maintain my weight, and I haven’t had any heart or breathing issues,” Jeff said. “Once they saw it was working, it was up to me to maintain it and that’s what I have been doing.”