Reflecting on the Her Heart Program (and taking applications)

Last Modified: 5/11/2022


This year, the Her Heart Challenge will welcome its sixth class of participants. We invited Jill Zahm, MSN, RN, AHN-BC, program coordinator, Parkview Heart Institute, to share more about this special opportunity, and the support group, that’s changing lives.

What is the Her Heart Program?  

TheHer Heart Program of Parkview Heart Institute, which exists to inspire women to live heart-healthy lifestyles and to empower women to live well with heart disease through awareness, education, prevention and support.

We do this by offering the Her Heart Challenge, a 12-week wellness initiative completely free of charge to the participants; the Her Heart Support Network, which serves those women desiring to live well with heart disease; the Love Your Heart Expo, an annual event providing education and screening opportunities for women to bring awareness of women’s unique cardiovascular risk factors; and the Her Heart Ambassador program, where newly diagnosed women are provided with encouragement and support through ambassadors for Her Heart while still in the hospital. These champions strive to inspire and educate the women of our community about living well with heart disease by visiting patients within Parkview Heart Institute.

The mission for the challenge is to, “Inspire women to love themselves through self-care, empowering women to live heart-healthy lives through education and awareness, encouraging women to share the mission through telling their story.”

What makes the Her Heart Program unique?

We focus on well-being first and foremost, understanding that one must learn to love themselves and find themselves worthy of self-care before any lasting change can occur, whether that desired change is weight, blood pressure or lab values. We focus on multi-disciplinary education with learning opportunities for stress management, self-image, goal setting, better sleep, movement, medication management, diet and exercise.

How do the Her Heart Challenge and the Her Heart support group work?

The Her Heart Challenge is a 12-week wellness initiative completely free of charge to the participants. The women benefit from a personalized approach in a group setting to decrease their own risk of heart disease and overcome barriers to make lasting lifestyle changes. We  connect them to resources and professionals. It begins with an overnight retreat called Refresh, Reset, Renew, where the women share their stories, develop relationships and open their hearts to the possibility of lasting change.

The Her Heart Support Network serves those women desiring to live well with heart disease. It is designed to assist women to live well through encouragement, education, and connection through shared experiences.

The beauty of offering these two groups, is that one focuses on prevention of heart disease and the other focuses on living well with heart disease, so we can serve all women in our community, regardless of their health status. Both groups provide shared experiences, friendships and support in the common desire to live heart healthy.


What is the most important thing a person can learn from the Her Heart Challenge?

Learning to love themselves and understand that they are worthy of self-care! We as women have an inherent drive to care for others first. In doing this, we often lose sight of caring for ourselves. Then it becomes a trickle down of things such as weight gain, health issues, etc., that then cause us to diminish our self-worth. It becomes a vicious cycle that leads to lack of self-care which in the end robs us of that very foundation of good health.

What makes the Her Heart Support Network so beneficial for women?

A heart disease diagnosis can be a lonely place for a woman for several reasons. First, it is thought of as a man’s disease, which is not true, but that myth leads to women with heart disease not seeking out the support of other women with heart disease. Second even if we have men in our lives with heart disease, they may not understand the intricacies that a woman with heart disease feels. Third, women tend to wear many hats, and often put self-care at the end of our to-do lists.

The support network provides a safe place with women who understand what it feels like to be a woman living with heart disease. The network also provides education on topics that are not offered other places. Everything from what to expect when you call 911, to how to plant a container garden so you can still garden without bending over or being in the hot sun, and every topic in between.

What are five reasons a woman should make time to take care of her heart?
  1. You are worth it!
  2. You have things you want to do in life, whether it be golfing on the great courses of the world or playing with great grandchildren.
  3. You have others who need you. It’s not about putting their needs first, but rather, understanding that you can’t take care of others if you are not well yourself. In fact, we end every support network meeting in our superwoman pose and remind ourselves we are superwomen, not because we save the world but because we first care for ourselves through support, awareness and education.
  4. You want to set a good example for all the women in your life.
  5. You will feel better.
How has the Her Heart program changed your life?

I am amazed every day by the women who are in this program! They inspire me as I see them strive for better health, even though they encounter many barriers. They don’t let anything stop them. If I catch myself having a day where I am just not feeling my own worth, all I need to do is look at the pictures on my desk of all the Her Heart Challenge graduates and I refocus on my own refresh, reset, renew!

I have also learned so much about living life through watching these women persevere in the face of what sometimes seemed like insurmountable obstacles. I am a better person for it, and for knowing them.

Finish this sentence: “You might be a good candidate for the Her Heart Challenge if ...”
  • You have forgotten about you in the midst of life.
  • You need to get back on track to a healthier you.
  • You realize you have things you want to do in life but your health will stop you if you don’t make some changes.


What past Her Heart Challenge participants have to say …

For Diane Gialamas, who was part of the 2021 class, the resources she acquired through the Challenge made all the difference in creating lasting change. “The Challenge helped me long term by giving me an awareness and better understanding of the lessons we covered each of the 12 weeks with experts in their fields. We received an organized binder that included these weekly lessons, recipes and booklets that I use for reference now It all helps me make better choices.”

But perhaps it’s the relationships that meant to the most to Diane. “The best way that the Challenge has helped me is making friends with women who are concerned about their health, and the camaraderie and support we give each other.”

As for recommending the program to others … “I absolutely loved every moment with the team, leadership, and participants. I would happily encourage women to sign up and apply for a spot in an upcoming Her Heart Challenge. We know and feel our story. Life is busy with everything we do, and the last thing we want to do is add one more thing to our plate. But we need to add ourselves to that list.”

Chris Brinneman found the cheering squad she didn’t know she needed. “As I worked my way through the application and interview process, and then finding out that I was accepted into the Her Heart Challenge class of 2019, I had no idea how life-changing this would be for me,” she shared. “Completing both a pre- and post-challenge health assessment allowed me to see tangible numbers related to my progress toward improving my health. The access to free or reduced-cost medical tests, medical professionals who shared their knowledge, programs and a short-term gym membership seemed too good to be true, but allowed me to know the reality of my health situation and to take steps toward improvement. The dieticians and Jill were excellent leaders, guiding us in so many ways on our heart health journey.”

“By starting with a retreat, we had a chance to begin to get to know the others who were in our class and that class became my ‘tribe.’ Surrounded by a variety of women, who were supportive, caring and open, I made a new group of friends who also took on the roles of accountability partners and cheerleaders. Before COVID-19 changed our ability to be out socializing, the HHC class of 2019 still met, even though the program was over.” 

“I learned a lot. I made positive steps toward improving my health. I developed new friendships. And, ultimately, became a better me in a way I could not have done without the support of the Her Hearth Challenge team and my tribe.”

And it was that knowledge and support that motivated Chris to explore new challenges. “I have made and maintained lifestyle adjustments that I started as part of Her Heart Challenge. The biggest thing that I learned through HHC was to get up and move. I started walking and then started running. I began participating in local races; not with the intent to win but to keep myself motivated. During COVID, I was able to participate in virtual races. For the last three years, I have participated in Run the Year, which is a self-challenge to run the miles that equal the year. So, I am working on running/walking 2022 miles in 2022. Several members of my HHC tribe also participate in races and in Run the Year. We even have collectively achieved Run the Year mile goals as teams.” 

“The other thing that happened was that I found a way of eating that was healthier than what I had been doing. I call myself a ‘flexitarian.’ I am not on a diet – I have a lifestyle eating plan. I eat mostly vegetarian, but flex in a piece of chicken now and then. I do not eat red meat but get most of my protein from plant-based sources. This is how I will eat for the rest of my life. I do not feel like I am giving up anything. In fact, I feel that my world has opened up related to options and trying new things.” 

For those considering applying for the next Her Heart Challenge, “I’d say, ‘Just do it.’ There is so much value to the education, the sisterhood, the support and accountability that make up the Her Heart Challenge. And, I would be remiss in not mentioning how incredible Jill is in keeping people motivated and invested. As women, we often put ourselves at the bottom of our to-do lists. We cannot do that. Jill provides that reminder throughout the program and even after, via email. We need to prioritize our health and mental health and HHC helps you get started, providing you with all of the right tools.”

Want to join the Her Heart Program?

Organizers are currently taking applications for the next Her Heart Challenge class. Learn more about the 12-week program and how you can apply here. The Her Heart Support Network is for any woman who has a heart-related diagnosis. To learn more, please call 260-266-2444.

Support the Her Heart Program

By giving to Parkview Foundations, you can help women working to prevent or navigate a heart diagnosis. Through a fund specifically for the Her Heart Program, donors have helped Parkview Foundations raise more than $353k for the Parkview Heart Institute program since 2018. If you wish to contribute to the Her Heart Program, or other patient- and community-focused initiatives like it, you can become a donor here.

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