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Catholic Voice
August 12, 2013   •   VOL. 51, NO. 14   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
Holy Sepulchre at 100:
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Parish gets SMART with
healthy living initiative

The St. Anne Medical Action Response Team (SMART) puts on a workshop about diabetes; about 140 parishioners attended.
Courtesy photo

What began as an effort to better assist parishioners who fainted during Mass has blossomed into a healthy living initiative at St. Anne Parish in Union City.

"I've never been so proud as a pastor," said Rev. Geoffrey Baraan of the parishioner-driven effort.

Mellie Van Giese, who has been a parishioner at St. Anne since 1990, said she had "witnessed a lot of our people passing out at Mass."

She noticed, too, that people who were responding to their needs had expertise outside the medical field.

That's when Van Giese, who is a registered nurse in the Intensive Care Unit at Kaiser Hospital in Redwood City, suggested to her pastor, "Let's form a group to respond to medical issues."

With Father Baraan's blessing — and under a name he devised, the St. Anne Medical Action Response Team (SMART) — she started with a core group of a dozen people with medical training, doctors and nurses.

The following week, after each Mass, all day Sunday they recruited other volunteers. They finished the day with 65.

"I am appreciative of the support of the parishioners," Van Giese said. "Father told them we needed volunteers. We are not having a hard time finding volunteers."

They'll be needed. In the parish of 4,000 families, there is one vigil Mass on Saturday and four on Sunday. "The goal is always have someone to provide services at each Mass," she said.

SMART also staffs major parish events and festivals.

Retired nurses are looking out for parishioners who need assistance at daily Mass, she said.

The medical professionals stocked a big orange bag with emergency medical supplies. "We have all of it — except the AED," she said.

The team has requested two automated external defibrillators — one in the church, and the other in the parish hall. The devices cost about $1,500 apiece. "We are waiting for approval of the finance council," she said.

They will also want the company's representatives to give training on the machine to the team and staff members.

Meanwhile, that orange bag is safely stowed in a cabinet in the church. It has already been put to use.

People pass out at Mass for any number of reasons — some are fasting, and sometimes it's the heat — but there can also be underlying medical issues.

At a recent noon Mass, the paramedics were summoned, finding their patient sitting in a chair surrounded by medical professionals.

"Paramedics were surprised and appreciative of what the group did," she said.

As is their pastor. "Thank God for the SMART," he said.

What started out as a response to medical emergencies has turned into something more: a program to help prevent them.

The first class, on diabetes, was attended by about 140 people. It will be followed by classes on heart attacks and stroke, Van Giese points out, covering the "three most common causes of medical issues" by the end of the year. A cardiologist from Washington Hospital will conduct the heart attack class, she said.

SMART members donned their white coats and checked parishioners' blood pressure after each Mass one Sunday in July.

Then the parish decided to "go green," planting St. Anne's Garden. Plots were filled rapidly. At harvest, team members will cook healthy recipes.

"As a way of giving back to parishioners, we'll give samples after each Mass," Van Giese said.

In addition to helping parishioners find healthier ways to eat, SMART would like to help get them moving. Plans are in the works for twice-a-week personal fitness exercises and Zumba.

Also on the schedule: a 30-minute "friendly walk," led by the pastor, in the Coyote Hills. Everybody is invited to walk; the choir will provide the music.

Van Giese said a picnic featuring healthy foods will await at the walk's end.

"A healthy mind, body and spirit equal a healthy community," she said.

Father Baraan described the formation of the team, and its ensuing health initiatives, as "a defining moment of this community."

He has been pastor for the past seven years, and seen it grow not only in numbers of parishioners, but their involvement. "Most important," he said, "they become part of the community."

"I've said in the past in my homilies, I'm the luckiest pastor. The people here want to share their time and talents. What an amazing place."

He said he is looking forward to showing Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, this amazing place when the bishop visits. "I'm looking forward to showing Bishop Barber the garden," he said.

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