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Feeding hearts and healing lives at Park Nicollet

An innovative pilot program shows one heart attack survivor how food can be a powerful medicine

Alex wasn’t expecting to have a heart attack at 45. So when he ended up in the emergency room with a blood clot and clogged artery on Thanksgiving, he knew he needed to make some changes. His cholesterol and blood pressure were fine. But he was stressed out. He was overweight. And he was running on just a few hours of sleep each night.

Alex, far right, with his son (Logan), wife (Jenn) and daughter (Maddie)Alex, far right, with his son (Logan), wife (Jenn) and daughter (Maddie).


“After my heart attack, I was very concerned with trying to eat the right things and make good choices. But I didn’t know what that looked like beyond baked chicken and steamed vegetables,” Alex says.

That’s where a pilot program called Feeding Hearts has come in to help.

Each week at his cardiac rehabilitation at Park Nicollet Heart and Vascular Center, Alex picks up a bag of fresh and frozen meals. Each meal is heart-healthy and nutritionally complete. And while they taste good and make life more convenient, they’re also an important part of his recovery.

“Lifestyle modification is one of the biggest drivers of health,” says Andrew Smith, MD, a Park Nicollet cardiologist. “We do a great job of educating our patients on the importance of a heart-healthy diet. But when people are in the early stages of recovery, big lifestyle changes are hard. This makes it doable.”

Dr. Smith had heard of a food shelf that Hennepin County Medical Center runs. They call it a community “food pharmacy.” And that's where the idea for the Feeding Hearts pilot started. He connected with Park Nicollet Foundation and Open Arms of Minnesota to make his idea a reality.

Open Arms is a nonprofit that cooks and delivers free meals to people with serious illnesses. Chefs and registered dietitians design menus for specific medical conditions – including heart disease.

“We believe food is an important part of the healing process,” says Leah Hebert Welles, executive director of Open Arms. “We were very excited that Park Nicollet was interested in helping prove that food can be good medicine. This kind of partnership is what creates lasting change in the community.”

Alex goes to cardiac rehab twice a week at Park NicolletAlex goes to cardiac rehab twice a week at Park Nicollet.


The pilot program kicked off in late 2017. It provides 12 meals each week for three months to a select group of patients enrolled in Park Nicollet’s cardiac rehabilitation program. During that time, our care teams keep a close eye on participants’ blood pressure, weight and cholesterol levels to see if they improve throughout the course of the program. Participants also fill out weekly surveys, and that gives real-time insight into how the pilot program is working for each person.

Another exciting aspect of the pilot program is that participants are not charged for the meals. Park Nicollet Foundation has provided funding.

"We look for partnerships that can create change in our community," says Beth Warner, executive director of Park Nicollet Foundation. "Food can be a barrier to well-being for cardiac patients. This pilot program offers a simple but innovative solution."

Dr. Smith sees it as a key step in delivering on our organization’s goal of the Triple Aim: health, experience and affordability.

“This is part of our vision for improving health in a new way,” Dr. Smith says. “The cost of medical care is a burden on our patients and our community. If we can help support lifestyle changes that improve health, it can have a big impact on affordability.”

For Alex, the pilot program is a godsend. He’s lost more than 40 pounds. And it’s helped him to further reduce his cholesterol levels.

“I really believed I was eating healthy before. But I’ve realized my meals weren’t quite as healthy as I’d thought,” he says. “I used to snack a lot and eat out often. Now, most everything I eat is fruits and vegetables, nuts and lean protein. This program is teaching me and my family that we can make food that tastes good and is healthy.”

Want to help support Feeding Hearts? Donations to Park Nicollet Foundation support this innovative program as well as many others.

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