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Work of Heart

Foundation News |
Woman holding piece of art

There is a special work of art hanging on the wall in the Della Penna Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit/Interventional Unit (CVICU/IVU) at Doylestown Hospital. Tucked away at the end of the hall, out of the way of bustling care staff and visiting loved ones, is a framed mosaic that is partially filled in. To those in the know—the nurses, the physicians, the many clinical and non-clinical team members working on the cardiac unit, and above all the patients—it is a touchpoint, a milestone at the end of a life-changing journey. It is also the start of another one.

The tile wall is a literal goal as well as a figurative one. On discharge day, patients recovering from open-heart surgery such as a bypass or valve replacement make the short walk to the wall and place a single glass tile in the framework, revealing a small portion of the pattern. Patients are invited to personalize the tile with a brief message, or just to sign their name, and are offered a Polaroid snapshot of the moment. Christine Passarelli, BSN, RN, HN-BC, knows firsthand the emotional significance of that experience. “Getting to place a tile on the wall means you’re going home,” she says. “It’s one part of your journey—your journey to healing—that’s been completed.”

Passarelli is a cardiac rehabilitation nurse. She works with heart patients as they complete the recommended three-month outpatient rehabilitation program after they’ve begun recovering from surgery. “Cardiac rehab is a holistic approach to cardiac wellness. It’s not just about the exercise, although that’s a big part of it,” says Passarelli, who is also a certified holistic nurse, and brings her training to every aspect of her work.

"Exercise is about strengthening your heart and your body, but it also has a positive effect on your mind and spirit through the release of endorphins, reducing every risk factor for further cardiac issues. Our goal is to reduce that risk."

How Passarelli and her team work towards that goal with the patient is not just through the exercise of the rehab program, but through getting to know them and their lives intimately as caregivers, strengthened by weeks of routine, hour-long sessions. “We’re looking at the big picture for the patient,” she says. “What’s their stress like? What’s going on in their lives? That impacts how they feel overall which impacts their overall progress."

In talking about the healing journey, Passarelli hits on something more than what can be measured by the EKG monitor. She references a quote by John Holmes that hangs above the tile wall on the second floor: “There is no exercise better for the heart than lifting people up.” All of the caregivers and Associates who come into contact with the patient make an impact on their wellbeing. “There’s the literal exercise, but there’s also what the care team does,” says Passarelli. “Every nurse and physician, the housekeepers and everyone else, they really lift people up.”

Doylestown Health brings something unique to the table. Even as a nationally recognized and award-winning hospital for heart care and other services, it remains one of the few independent community hospitals in the region. This is a point of pride for staff, including Passarelli. “People that live here in this community work here,” she points out. “We’re doing so much of what big hospitals in the city are doing and we’re on the cutting edge—especially in cardiac care—because what we do, we do well. And because we’re working alongside our neighbors, it’s like a family.”

Among other achievements, Doylestown Health has been repeatedly ranked a 50 Top Cardiovascular Hospital by IBM Watson Health (the only community hospital in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, and Connecticut on the list), and appears in national lists of best hospitals by U.S. News & World Report. When it comes to those things that set Doylestown apart, Passarelli can tick them off without missing a beat: beating national averages on door-to-balloon time, top-tier patient outcomes, cutting-edge programs piloted in far larger hospitals…and the list goes on.

Like many of her colleagues, Passarelli is a local, living within a five-minute drive of the hospital. Her kids attended preschool at Children’s Village on the hospital campus. Doylestown Health is at the heart of her community. "The doctors, the nurses, the lab tech, the patients...they're my neighbors," she says. "There's a friendly feeling that patients get when they're here. Every patient that comes into cardiac rehab says how impressed they've been with their care and the kindness of everyone during their hospitalization. That all continues during their time in cardiac rehab. People here care about other people."

That sense of community involvement and support permeates every facet of Doylestown Health. From Heart to Heart volunteers, who talk to open-heart patients before and after surgery, to the volunteers in the cardiovascular ICU and cardiac rehab itself, there are always people looking for ways to help and show support. “Our volunteers really are the heart of the hospital,” Passarelli says. “We are so lucky to have them.”

Forty years ago, Herman Silverman and a group of community volunteers formed the Heart Club to support cardiac care at Doylestown Hospital; it grew to become Friends of the Heart Institute, a 400-member volunteer organization committed to raising funds for heart and vascular care at Doylestown Health. Their philanthropic support has made a marked impact on the cardiac rehab program.

“They’ve been wonderful to us,” says Passarelli. In addition to supporting multiple cardiac-related projects across the health system for decades, Friends has also funded the purchase of most of the cardiac rehab equipment used by patients today.

Thanks in part to community and Friends contributions to ONE VISION: The Campaign for Doylestown Health, plans are now underway to complete the first floor of the Cardiovascular and Critical Care Pavilion which will house the cardiac rehab unit in a much larger space, including offices and treatment areas commensurate with the growing needs of the program. It also brings the signature cardiac program at the hospital—comprising the Woodall Center for Heart and Vascular Care—under one roof.

Passarelli says she’s looking forward to the new opportunities the move will create. As always, her focus is on the patients and the impact she and the program will have on them. “They’re my inspiration,” she says, “and their ability to overcome with grace and dignity and humor. We are learning from them every day.” Now with a third cardiothoracic surgeon joining the staff, and the increased capacity to treat more patients, the tiles on the wall at the end of the hallway will begin to fill in, one after the other, as more patients begin their journey to healing.

For more information on Friends of the Heart Institute, and how to support life-changing cardiac care at Doylestown Health, visit and make your best gift today.

About the Doylestown Health Cardiovascular and Critical Care Pavilion

Patient care, quality and comfort are the driving forces behind the design of Doylestown Health's Cardiovascular and Critical Care Pavilion, a top priority of a comprehensive $75 million campaign, ONE VISION: The Campaign for Doylestown Health. Future home of the new Center for Heart and Vascular Care and the Clark Center for Critical Care Medicine, this new Pavilion will incorporate features and amenities that seamlessly integrate the highest levels of clinical care and patient privacy, with special focus on wellness and comfort. We invite you to join us as we create the life-changing healthcare of tomorrow. Philanthropic support will fund transformational renovation and expansion across the Doylestown Hospital and Pine Run campuses and will help chart the course for the next generation of patients, providers, and technology.

For more information, visit the Doylestown Health Foundation website or call 215.345.2009.

About Doylestown Health's Heart & Vascular Services

Expert cardiologists and cardiac surgeons assist patients and physicians with managing risk factors for heart disease, offer advanced treatment options and provide outstanding emergency cardiac care. Doylestown Hospital’s accredited Chest Pain Center is fully prepared to treat cardiac emergencies around the clock, focusing on rapid diagnosis and effective treatment. The multidisciplinary team at the Woodall Center for Heart and Vascular Care is dedicated to providing the highest level of quality care and patient safety.

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