Elva and Bill Holland: Local Couple Honoured for their Years of Service to Heart Institute Patients and their Families

Bill and Elva Holland were recently honoured for their volunteer work with the Ottawa Heart Support Group (OHSG) at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. The OHSG provides education and support to help patients and their families reduce fear, anxiety, and emotional distress.

When the Hollands found out that part of the Cardiac Rehabilitation area was being named in their honour, they were both humbled and excited. “It was a shock”, said Elva. “I think it’s fantastic”, Bill added. “It all started there, in the rehab and to all of a sudden have your name up there…”, Bill was speechless.

Not only was the Ottawa Heart Support Group born out of the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, Bill and Elva’s involvement in the group started there too.

Now Chair of the OHSG, Bill Holland was once a patient himself. After his first open heart surgery, Bill was enrolled in what was at the time called a “stress course”. Since he experienced thinning blood, he was unable to go to cardiac rehab right away. The course was held one day per week for seven weeks, and its intent was to decrease patients’ stress through education. This course was a precursor to what is now known as the Ottawa Heart Support Group.

University of Ottawa Heart Institute Foundation Board Member David Rattray had heart surgery in August of 2003 and then took the 13 week rehab program. Soon after graduation he met a previous fellow cub leader Hugh McDowell for coffee in their community of Barrhaven. They discussed the need for ongoing support that they and others needed in order to maintain a healthy heart lifestyle. They agreed to start the Ottawa Heart Support Group.

In early 2004, Bill and Elva attended a meeting that celebrated his and other patients’ graduation from cardiac rehab. At the meeting, Hugh asked others to join a new support group by adding their name to a signup sheet. “I wasn’t going to sign the paper, but Elva kicked me, so that started it”, Bill laughed. Thus, the OHSG was formed, at the time led by David Rattray and Hugh McDowell.

While David and Hugh have stepped back from the day to day matters they continue to work with Bill and Elva whenever asked for assistance. “The OHSG would never have grown to the size it has and served so many as it does, without the continued dedication and leadership of Bill and Elva” says David. “They are a tremendous couple and happy to consider them as dear friends.”

13 years later, the OHSG now has over 200 members, and Bill and Elva are at the helm. There are 6 committee members who meet monthly to plan the meetings, and 6 “phoners” who volunteer their time to remind members of meetings.

Education is the main focus of the OHSG. Doctors discuss topics such as the Hybrid Operating Rooms, Imaging, Electrocardiograms, and other pertinent topics for patients and their families. “We encourage members to bring spouses because they’re the ones who took us through the difficult periods”, said Bill.

“The speakers that we enlist are exceptional”, said Bill. The lectures increase the ability for patients to communicate more freely with the professionals. “The Doctors like it because they’re not in a clinic when they’re talking to the patients. With the Q & A period after the lecture, they can have a dialogue with the patients”, said Bill. Although the lecture ends at 8:30 p.m., “Some of the doctors stay until 10:00”, he added.

With regard to education, Bill noted, “we’ve had some great one liners from Doctors. For example, Dr. Higginson, who said, ‘When you are a patient, you’re part of a team. Anybody that has to cure you is part of your team.’ He was encouraging patients to be their own advocates and remember to have their cholesterol checked.”

Bill and Elva never expected to take on the task of organizing the OHSG. “It started when he had his operations”, said Elva. It took a while for the group to grow. Elva and Bill used a tried and true technique of “phoning” to increase attendance. “We phoned everybody 3 nights before to remind them of the meetings. We also started a one page newsletter”, said Elva. “Now it’s a two-pager”, added Bill. “I [write it] and she checks it”, said Bill, referring to Elva.

The success of the group is not only shown in its growth to over 200 members, but also in the feedback Bill and Elva receive. Members often send emails to Bill and Elva showing their appreciation of the speakers and the topics presented, “The members are very interested in the speakers”, said Bill.

The Hollands give much credit the other members of the OHSG when it comes to its success. For example, the Vice President of the OHSG, Michael Pinfold, a retired Naval Commander and maritime aviator brings his experience and unique skills to the group. “He adds credibility to the group”, said Bill. “He comes all the way from Kemptville for meetings, and never misses one”, Bill adds. Volunteer Roy Cameron takes care of volunteer recruitment  room set up for each meeting while  OHSG’s Treasurer, Mary Cameron, retired from Bell Canada, keeps track of the books while also taking the lead on the groups two big annual events; the Summer Picnic and the Christmas Party.

Bill adds. Our Treasurer is Mary Cameron, retired from Bell Canada who does an outstanding job of keeping us in excellent financial shape.  She along with her husband Roy, also coordinate our two main social events, a picnic in the summer and our Christmas party in December.

In addition to the work they do for the OHSG, Bill and Elva are also loyal donors to the Hearts of Gold program. This program honours staff at the Heart Institute and recipients receive a gold pin in recognition. The Hollands personally give to 5 or 6 doctors each year, most of whom were speakers at meetings of the Ottawa Heart Support Group, including Dr. Mesana and Dr. Ruel.

Elva and Bill love supporting the Heart Institute through their volunteer work. “We really enjoy it”, said Elva. Bill added, “To me, it’s the knowledge you gain.” “To me, it’s the people…”, added Elva, “…every patient and every doctor (at The Heart Institute) you really can’t believe this place.” “Also, Mary Sue Evans, from the Foundation, is wonderful”, she added.

When asked about any goals they might be working towards with the OHSG, Bill answered with a wink, “87.” After a brief chuckle he explained that he’ll only stop volunteering his time when he reaches age 87. He just turned 78. A former Marine Systems Engineer in the Navy, Bill understands what it means to work hard and be part of a team. He was in the service for 30 years, and the reserves for 7. Elva brings her own expertise to the table having worked in the accounting department for Bell Canada for 33 years.

The Hollands enjoy volunteering together, and they are also on the Patient Engagement Program  Advisory Board for Research. “We’re always together”, said Bill. “My father always stressed staying with your spouse by doing things you both like to do together.”

“We both really enjoy it, and it keeps us out of mischief”, Elva added.

Their commitment to helping the Heart Institute is motivated by their personal experience; however, they also hold the Heart Institute and its staff in high esteem. “The Doctors, the Foundation they’re all so good to us. They’re just so open”, said Elva.

The Hollands encourage patients and their families to join the Ottawa Heart Support Group, and they credit its success to the idea of opening it up to family members and spouses. “We encourage them to join the group. It’s open to all”, said Elva. Some members drive from as far as Hudson, QC and Cornwall to attend meetings.

Bill recalled a significant moment from the first meeting he attended. When he was listening to the Doctor who was speaking, and he had a thought, “All that stuff is behind that little scar”, he realized. This moment further emboldened Bill and Elva to continue doing their part to provide this same kind of education to other patients and their families.

Approximately 160 people showed up for the unveiling of the naming ceremony in the Hollands’ honour. Bill and Elva were especially touched that Dr. Chamoun and Dr. Mesana were in attendance. “It all started with a small room”, said Elva. From a small room to a large auditorium, it was the Hollands’ hard work and commitment to helping others that allowed the OHSG to grow to over 200 members and counting. Although they are too humble to admit it, Bill and Elva Holland truly have hearts of gold.

For more information about the Ottawa Heart Support Group, please visit http://www.ottawaheartsupportgroup.com