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Healing Hearts With Fresh Staff of Life

The aroma of freshly baked bread fills a hospital corridor and encourages cardiac patients to get up and around after surgery.

May 21, 2006|Darryl E. Owens | Orlando Sentinel

ORLANDO, Fla. — Four women in a hospital conference room are listening to cardiac nurse Karen Bloom explain how to care for a loved one after open-heart surgery.

Suddenly the door swings open. Before anyone knows who is coming in, everyone knows what is coming in -- thanks to the aroma wafting from the hallway.

Bread. Big hunks of it.

"Hello! We have some bread for class," says Liz Unz, a registered nurse in Florida Hospital Orlando's cardiovascular progressive care unit, where three days a week Bloom holds "Heart Talk" classes.

"That looks great," says Kristy Newton of Kansas City, Mo., helping herself from a wicker tray loaded with bread, butter, jams and jellies.

"It's Hawaiian," Unz says of the freshly baked loaf.

For the last two years, the nurses of the 65-bed unit have replaced the usual hospital smell of bleach and antiseptic with the mouthwatering aroma of fresh-baked bread. Hatched as a twist on aromatherapy, the idea is to entice patients to climb out of bed and walk during weeklong post-op recovery.

"It's homemade right on the floor and made specifically for them, instead of going out and buying something out of box, which is not as special," says Evan Ballantyne, the unit's nurse manager. "It's an extra heartfelt touch."

At 6:30 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, an assistant nurse manager fires up the Sunbeam breadmaker and adds a bread mix. Three hours later, an incoming shift nurse takes the warm loaf, slices it and serves it to the class and to patients who abandon their beds to follow the scent.

Country white, Italian, dill and wheat are among the offerings, but the hands-down favorites are Hawaiian and cinnamon. Usually the nurses bake one loaf, but when they expect larger classes, they make more.

Good thing for Harold Benjamin, 71, of Titusville, Fla. Four years ago, he swore off slathering butter on his bread and found he now could "actually taste the bread."

So, for Benjamin, hospitalized since mid-April for diabetes-related amputations and other surgeries, the Hawaiian bread is a mitzvah, a good deed. It reminds him of the days when breaking bread meant breaking down walls.

"Sharing bread around the campfire happened many years ago, to build up friendship, to have a little goodwill," he says. "The hospital is a perfect place to build up friendships and a little goodwill."

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