Getting Personal: How a Nurse Uses His Own Story to Inspire Others to Care for their Hearts

John Knowles, RN, RHIA, is passionate about helping people acquire the information, skills and confidence they need to manage their health and healthcare. As a Health Information Technology Specialist for atom Alliance in Indiana, he shares his personal story of overcoming heart disease to raise awareness about the Cardiac ABCS and deliver useful resources to patients and families.

Prior to becoming a nurse, Knowles worked as a professional photographer running his own business.

“I was constantly working long hours, getting very little sleep and no exercise, grabbing meals on the road, and under a lot of stress trying to balance the demands of the business and my family. Combine that with a history of heart disease, including hypertension and high cholesterol that our family NEVER discussed, and I was a ticking time-bomb for heart troubles,” he said.

In the spring of 2006, he started feeling under the weather and saw a doctor who told him it was probably a late-season flu, and that he should feel better soon.

“I kept telling myself that same story over the next six months as I continued to get weaker, I experienced shortness of breath and developed edema in my legs,” said Knowles.

In mid-October on a brisk Saturday morning, he unloaded photography gear out of his car for a family photo shoot in a local park.

“I took a deep breath of the cold, crisp air and felt a tremendous pain in the middle of my chest. I knew something was wrong, so I promised myself I would go to the doctor on Monday. I certainly didn’t share with my wife how I felt. I didn’t want her to worry. I had been hiding how miserable I was feeling from her, but she knew something was happening,” he explained.

Fortunately, he didn’t have a heart attack. He did go to the doctor that Monday and by the end of the week, he had undergone triple-bypass surgery.

“After my recovery period, I felt better than I had in years. Soon after, I gave up the business and decided to become a nurse so I could care for folks like me,” Knowles said. “Now I can share my personal story and tell people how important it is to take care of themselves, to be honest with themselves and their loved ones, and to make changes that may seem scary because the outcomes can be life-changing”

Last February, during Heart Health Month, the Indianapolis resident worked with four local organizations to provide more than 130 Medicare beneficiaries and caregivers with 11 convenient locations where they could learn how to manage chronic cardiac health conditions.

He partnered with Thrive Alliance, Anderson Public Library, Pendleton Community Library and Faith Church to offer an engaging program centered around his story and a robust discussion about the Cardiac ABCS – the use of Aspirin when appropriate, Blood pressure control, Cholesterol control, and Smoking cessation. Knowles gave out patient education materials from atom Alliance, the American Heart Association and the Indiana Tobacco Quitline. Many of those in attendance asked specific questions about cardiovascular health concerns they had about themselves or loved ones.

“Hearing my story made them realize that there were real and achievable goals that they could set to prevent or reduce the effects of heart disease,” he explained.

Knowles, who is now a registered nurse with experience in quality improvement, cardiac health, critical care, and peritoneal dialysis, is already planning more beneficiary outreach for February 2019. In the spirit of continuous quality improvement, he is developing a participant questionnaire to gauge knowledge before and after the presentation to solicit direct feedback on the presentation and materials provided.

The atom Alliance is working with healthcare providers and patients to implement evidence-based practices to support the Million Hearts® initiative goal to prevent one million heart attacks and strokes.

Visit our website to learn more at http://atomalliance.org/initiatives/improving-cardiac-health-reducing-disparities/cardiac-abcs/.