"We call ourselves the zipper club..."

zipper club

Intermountain Medical Center heart failure patients form a community that lasts long after they leave the hospital

When a patient at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute is diagnosed with heart failure, their family gets a lot bigger. “We call ourselves the zipper club,” says heart patient Brent Haupt. “Some of us have had our chests opened more than once.”

Ten years after Intermountain Medical Center opened in the heart of the Salt Lake Valley, a community of heart failure patients from across the Intermountain West is thriving. Some discharged patients return to the hospital three or four times a week in addition to attending a bi-monthly support group meeting, which 50-60 former patients now attend.

Brent’s household has grown literally since he was diagnosed with heart failure. Fellow patient Jake Gilbert was discharged from the hospital but couldn’t return home to Idaho because he needed to remain close to Intermountain Medical Center during the months after his heart transplant.

Jake, a husband and 37-year-old father of four, suffered a stroke and was diagnosed with heart failure in 2015. He’d stayed in an apartment close to Intermountain Medical Center during his treatment and his family visited him on the weekends. During the week, he’d spend most of his time visiting with other heart failure patients.

When it came time for Jake’s discharge, Brent convinced caregivers at Intermountain Medical Center to release Jake to him. “They were skeptical at first about releasing a critically-ill patient to a former critically-ill patient,” Brent says. “But I’m there to care for him and I know exactly what he’s supposed to do to stay on the program.”

So Jake moved into Brent’s house, worked at his company, and will soon be strong enough to return to his home in Idaho. In the meanwhile, the two still return to the hospital for support group meetings and throughout the week to help comfort other heart failure patients.

"This group helps people stay healthy because health goes beyond physical. It goes into emotional and psychological health as well," said Kismet Rasmusson, DNP, FNP, a nurse practitioner at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute.

“I remember what it was like to be in bed,” Jake says. “Every day is a gift. Before this, I had no real purpose. It was like I was going through the motions. Now I ask God to show me the way to be of service to others.”

Brent says heart failure patients need someone who’s already gone through it to converse with. “You want to give them hope,” he says. “I show up with my motorcycle clothes and helmet and they’re shocked, ‘You ride a motorcycle?’ I do all the things I did before I had heart failure. I assure them they’re going to return to a normal life.”

Now after living in the Salt Lake Valley for 20 months, Jake will return to be with his family in Idaho Falls. “Excited doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel,” he says. “And there are no words to explain how grateful I am for everyone — the caregivers, Brent, and the group."