In a little more than a year, the central Ohio chapter of Mended Hearts has grown from seven to 87 members.

In a little more than a year, the central Ohio chapter of Mended Hearts has grown from seven to 87 members.

Dublin resident Jeff Davidson started the group in early 2011 with members from Grove City, Hilliard, Lewis Center and other central Ohio communities, visiting coronary and adult congenital-heart disease patients to offer support.

"There wasn't a chapter here," Davidson said. "There are 300 chapters all over the country and 18,000 members."

Davidson himself was diagnosed with a congenital-heart defect at age 9. His first surgery was 14 years ago, and a man who went through a similar situation stopped by to offer words of encouragement.

"Phil (Bowen) visited me in the hospital 14 years ago," Davidson said. "He had five open-heart surgeries for one valve."

The encouragement from a survivor "did more for me than my wife saying, 'Honey, it'll be OK,'" Davidson said.

About a year ago Davidson said he met up with Bowen again and started a Mended Hearts chapter in central Ohio.

"I had a lot of success in the business world," the retired accountant said. "I wanted to give back, and what better way to give back than through something you know?"

Davidson and other members of Mended Hearts have visited 500 heart patients at the Ross Heart Hospital in Columbus.

"Basically you walk in and say you've been in that bed. You're a heart survivor. There can be a good life after heart surgery," he said.

Speaking to heart patients at other hospitals is one of Davidson's many goals. He's working to get into Nationwide Hospital and Mt. Carmel to spread his positive outlook to patients there.

"Ross was the one to say, 'We believe this support is a big part of patient care,'" he said.

While the group works to offer encouragement at the hospital after surgery, they also meet monthly to offer support once individuals leave the hospital.

"When you leave the hospital, that's when you have the questions," Davidson said.

The meetings feature support, speakers and advice on healthy living.

At a meeting to be held April 11, clinical health psychology researcher Jamie Jackson will speak about maintaining a positive outlook with heart disease.

Although some Mended Heart chapters focus on coronary patients and tend toward an older demographic, Davidson said he works hard to recruit congenital-heart disease patients to get younger adults to participate.

"We've got to bring in the dynamics of the young," he said. "We've had some incredible meetings because of the youth."

Davidson is doing more than offering emotional support to heart patients, however, and has established the Cardiac Rehabilitation Access Fund at the OSU College of Medicine.

Davidson pledged to donate $50,000 over the next five years and OSU has pledged to match that. Work also is ongoing to get other donations for the fund.

The fund will help heart patients recovering from surgery cover the costs of rehabilitation.

"Patients shouldn't have to miss rehab just because they can't pay their co-pay," he said, noting it is a current-use fund that can be utilized by qualifying patients now.

"Think about the people who live in poverty and don't have health insurance," Davidson said. "They can't pay for rehab."

For more information on the central Ohio chapter of Mended Hearts, look online at mendedheartscentralohio.org.