The operational arm of Aicarm, Interview with Valerio Pelini

di Francesca Conti

Aicarm operates in the context of a region that is very rich in terms of volunteering, which is an enormous social capital. At the cardiomyopathy diagnosis and treatment unit in Careggi, the number of volunteers who make themselves available to patients facing their first diagnosis or going there for a check-up is increasing. They inform them and make themselves available to them for every need. It is a service of the same nature as Hearts in Listening, but with direct human contact. 

What role do Aicarm volunteers have in Careggi? How does volunteering at the cardiomyopathy clinic fit into Aicarm's activities? And what is the relationship with the Hearts in listening telephone helpline?

Paola and Valerio, AIcarm volunteers, with Prof. Olivotto

Paola and Valerio, Aicarm volunteers, with Prof. Olivotto

In Careggi there is a unit for the diagnosis and treatment of cardiomyopathies and we have decided, in agreement with the doctors who manage this activity, to also activate a support service for patients who come for outpatient visits. This activity is basically expressed in an information action that our volunteers carry out towards these people who arrive for a first visit for which the diagnosis emerges or for check-ups.

This activity is part of Aicarm's patient support activities, which is one of the most important aims of the association.

How do these volunteers fit into the clinic in Careggi?

We volunteers are in the clinic on Tuesdays and Thursdays, on Tuesdays also in the afternoon and we have a room available and some materials. We have the list of patient visits that is provided to us at the Cardiomyopathy Unit. We introduce ourselves to the patients who are waiting for the visit to illustrate what the association's activity is, what its aims are, the services offered, starting from the assumption that it is an association of patients and doctors which has the aim of improve quality of life of patients and their families. This activity is a Hearts listening done in a different way. In the case of Hearts in Listening we are the ones who receive the phone call, in this case we are the ones who propose and introduce themselves to the patients.

How is this presence of Aicarm perceived and welcomed in the clinic? What type of synergy is created?

From the point of view of the relationship with the professionals of the Unit there is perfect harmony, we planned the activity together. There is a very close collaborative relationship, in the sense that the patients who are summoned for the visit receive the information that Aicarm volunteers will be at their disposal. The synergy is strong, the work that the Unit does is a diagnosis and treatment work, the work we do is a job of supporting the patient and being available for all the needs he may express. Patients have an attitude of great availability and attention when we present ourselves. The feedback is absolutely positive, as is that of Hearts in listening, where we now have hundreds of contacts. In the majority of cases the patient or family member who calls is satisfied with the type of support they receive. Even at the help desk the patient is accompanied, so the presentation of the association is aimed at both the patient and the family member.

What is the type of volunteers? What are the reasons for their commitment to volunteering?

We are four volunteers for now, who stay in the clinic for two days, and we deal with all types of cardiomyopathies. Dilated cardiomyopathy was left out and that's why we decided to increase its presence. Three of these are also patients, the fourth is a volunteer. The motivations for volunteering are those that led us to join Aicarm. However, it is important to reiterate that we do not carry out any activity that has the content of either diagnosis or treatment but only a support activity. This is the aim of Aicarm: to improve the quality of life of the patient and his family.

There is also a dimension of loneliness in illness, does all this also serve to not make patients feel alone?

It often happens that the first visit produces the diagnosis and the diagnosis is a tsunami because cardiomyopathy also has a genetic implication given that it can be transmitted to children. Aicarm's support is also linked to the problems that the diagnosis creates on a psychological level.

We are talking about this specific case involving Aicarm and Careggi, but fortunately volunteering is very widespread in Tuscany. Can we say that volunteering makes the country go round?

Tuscany has important numbers from this point of view. In our region there are 27.000 voluntary associations and 500.000 volunteers out of a population of three and a half million people, therefore 71 volunteers for every ten thousand inhabitants while at a national level there are 55. Tuscany is a land of volunteering and solidarity, sensitive to social justice issues. Aicarm is within the context of a very rich region in terms of volunteering and this is undoubtedly an enormous social capital. Volunteering is the beautiful part of the country, Italy is not just scandals and inefficiency, but also solidarity. This is Italy that works and we must be proud and aware of it.