Support With Heart `Zipper Club' Marks 25 Years Of Fellowship

Posted: February 14, 1997

Some call it a ``unique'' organization, others call it ``elite.''

``Not everyone can join,'' laughs its president, Dick Bate.

To join, you gotta have a ``zipper'' running up and down your chest.

Bate heads up the Zipper Club, a volunteer support group for people who've had open-heart surgery.

Founded in Philadelphia, the club is observing its 25th anniversary this month - Heart Month - with a Valentine's social and bingo for ``zippers'' from the five-county area and New Jersey.

Over those 25 years, the club has spread to at least five other states. They were started by former Phildelphia members who moved from the area.

One goal of the club is to allay the ``fears and doubts'' of patients after surgery.

``Eighty percent of the people who undergo heart surgery don't know what's going to happen,'' said Bate, of Roxborough. ``That's where we can help. We've been there. We tell them what you're going through, we went through, too. We had the same doubts, the same fears.''

``A doctor can explain pain,'' added the 75-year-old grandfather, ``but unless he experiences it, lays in that bed, he can't really relate to it.''

Bate said the club started in 1972 with a casual meeting between two heart patients at Albert Einstein Medical Center, Old York and Tabor roads.

``Two men had undergone open-heart surgery,'' related Bate. ``One patient, his name was Sydney Freedman, was recovering well. The other was having emotional problems, depression. The doctor asked the first guy, Freedman, to talk to the second guy.''

He did. It worked.

Before long, Freedman was consoling other heart patients. They met in each other's homes, swapping problems, trading advice, comparing doubts and fears.

In lighter moments, they also compared scars.

``It was like a badge of honor,'' said Bate. ``At one point, someone joked how it [ scar ] looked like a zipper.''

The Zipper Club had taken root.

Bate, who worked 23 years in the purchasing department of the old PSFS, got his ``badge'' in September 1992, when he underwent quintuple bypass surgery at Hahnemann University Hospital.

One of the biggest problems Bate faced when he first came home ``was not being a pop-pop'' to his two young granddaughers.

``They used to take a running leap and jump into my arms,'' said Bate. ``They couldn't do that. I couldn't lift anything over 5 pounds. They were told they couldn't jump into my arms. At the time, I felt I wasn't being a pop-pop to them.''

Bate, a volunteer at Lankenau Hospital, said there are club volunteers at five heart surgical hospitals in Philadelphia and two in New Jersey. In addition to visiting patients, ``zippers'' do phone counseling.

Bate said Zipper Club volunteers average close to 8,000 visits to heart patients each year.

But despite their efforts, ``a very small percentage of patients'' join the club, Bate said.

``Why? I don't know. I had one fellow say he didn't want to be associated with people like myself. It's depressing.''

Not for Bate.

``I enjoy helping people,'' Bate sadi. ``I don't think there is anything greater in the world than someone looking at you, shaking your hand, and saying thanks, thanks for coming today.''

For information on the Zipper Club, telephone 215-887-6644.

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