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Everyday Heroes: Former heart patient is a 'Pathfinder' for fellow patients on the mend

Harper with heart patient Sheryl Sodorf. (KATU)

We reintroduce you to Charlie Harper -- he's a former heart patient who, as he says, was dead when he hit the ground while exercising at the gym three years ago.

Thanks to his own heroes and triple bypass surgery -- he's giving back to heart surgery patients going through what he went through.

Following his recovery from triple bypass heart surgery, Charlie volunteered for the Pathfinder program at Providence St. Vincent Hospital.

“Our patients over the years have really been asking for more support,” said Shannon Sherry, a physician’s assistant. “As a clinician I am able to provide diagnosis and treatment, but one of the things that I lack is the true understanding of having one of these conditions or going through that experience. When you have a patient providing that to another patient, that's a deeper connection.”

That deeper connection shows during Charlie’s rounds with heart patient Sheryl Sodorff.

“I have been down a similar path that you're walking down now,” Charlie told Sodorff. “I am familiar with what you are going through and I too have the identifying zipper scar.”

Sodorff said she was skeptical when her caregivers said her heart surgery wouldn't be that bad.

“Well, people always tell you that's an easy procedure now,” Sodorff said. “That it's a piece of cake. That they're so much better than it used to be and those kind of things. But I don't think until you go through it you can wear that badge to say that it's a simple procedure.”

For Charlie, it's about knowing what to expect during what can be a tough recovery.

“The analogy I always use is if you're wanting to learn to swim, do you want to talk to a swimmer or somebody that's only read about it?” he said.

“A swimmer,” Sodorff said without hesitation.

And there is no sugarcoating the difficulties heart patients go through.

“There's no two ways about it -- life is going to be different for you and you're going to have good days and you're gonna have some down days,” Charlie said, repeating what he tells most patients he comes in contact with during his rounds. “The best part of having a down day is you know that there's a good day coming.”

Heart patient Dennis Hooper had a heart valve replaced. Charlie cautioned him to just take it easy on the road to recovery.

“Had I just gone home and started back my normal activities, I would have overdone it. Too much, too soon,” he said.

As a survivor -- and a supporter -- the Pathfinder program means a lot to Charlie.

“I like to think that they can look at me and think that this guy doesn't look too bad and maybe, although the hurt will seem pretty high and the distance pretty far, maybe we can make the rebound as well,” he said. “I get a great deal of satisfaction from it. There's no two ways about it. This is payback. And I'm happy to be here to do it.”

The Pathfinder program is part of the Base-Camp Cardiac Prevention and Wellness Center at Providence St. Vincent.

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