When the COVID-19 pandemic spurred Pulmonary Hypertension Association (PHA) support groups to conduct virtual meetings, Katherine Neawedde and April Blakely initially were hesitant. The co-leaders of the Indianapolis Support Group were concerned members would struggle to participate. But with the help of teammates Jess McKinney and Denise Turner, their first meeting worked out well.

One member said she was nervous beforehand, but once she got into it, she found it enjoyable. And a former member even joined the call from Amsterdam.

Katherine, a clinical social worker for Ascension St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis, is glad the group can meet despite the pandemic. It allows them to continue the work of the group’s founder, Donna Harrison, who died in 2019. “I’m glad we were able to continue to meet and honor all of the hard work she put in making this support group happen,” Katherine says. “I’m honored to be a small part of everything she has done for the PH community.”

Katherine became a PHA volunteer to better care for her patients. “PH is such a unique disease that is poorly understood by the average person,” she says. “My patients needed to know they were not alone in what they were experiencing. However, very rarely did they know someone else with PH.”

The Indianapolis group is a joint effort among three hospitals and a patient support group leader. The hospitals, Indiana University Methodist Hospital, Community Hospital and Ascension St. Vincent each wanted to create a support network for PH patients. By working together, they could offer more to patients than they could individually, Katherine says. Before the pandemic, the group met the second Thursday of each month at alternating hospitals.

“I am inspired by all of those with PH,” Katherine says. “They are so determined to get the most out of every day … if they can overcome so much, then I can as well.”

Katherine, who lives in Zionsville, Indiana, with her husband, Tyler, and their dog, Sage, was inspired to volunteer by her mother, who taught her to care for others. Katherine has been caring for PH patients since 2018. She enjoys watching her group’s support each other. “It is rewarding seeing them welcome a new member or offer guidance to someone going through a difficult time,” she says.

Are you are interested in attending a virtual PHA support group? Find a meeting.

Katherine Neawedde

April Blakely