Category Archives: Our Staff

Donald Beanlands

A Rich History

by Dr. Donald Beanlands

The University of Ottawa Heart Institute has come a long way! I should know, I’ve been at the Heart Institute since its humble beginnings in 1976. I’ve watched with pride and excitement as the Heart Institute has evolved from a very small hospital into a world-class institution!

I can tell you that the technology we have today far exceeds what we had when I first started at the Heart Institute 39 years ago. Back then, we could not do any cardiac catheterization, because we didn’t have room. Cardiac catherization had to be done at the Civic campus and we could only do a handful of procedures a week. Most patients had to go Kingston to have an echocardiogram and nuclear scanning.

My team of cardiologists got together and paid for part of the equipment we needed to ensure patients could be treated here instead. We bought echocardiograms and nuclear scanners which cost a couple of hundred thousand dollars at the time — a cost we shared with the Cancer Centre. I consider this one of the first of many gifts we offered to our patients. Together, along with the community, we’ve invested millions of dollars in the Heart Institute. We did it because we cared deeply about our patients.

Technology has helped us diagnose things we didn’t know existed
and to see things we couldn’t see before. And even if we could see
them before, now we can see them better.

Take for example the angiogram. Performing an angiogram isn’t the same as it was before! The image intensifiers weren’t good at all. To see a scan, I had to get my eyes adjusted to the darkness of the room and to do that I had to wear sunglasses. Not just any kind of glasses, I had to wear infrared glasses. I wore them on my way to work so that I could get my eyes accommodated to the darkness of the room. If I didn’t wear them, I couldn’t see the x-ray scan very well.

Photo credit: Julie Oliver The Heart Institute’s rich history and the medical advancements we see today were all made possible through generous donations.


CT Scanner
Photo credit: Julie Oliver
The Heart Institute’s rich history and the medical advancements we see today were all made possible through generous donations.

To show you just how technology has progressed, let’s take the now-routine coronary angioplasty procedure. We used to perform this procedure with a 75 per cent success rate. Now, technology has advanced so much that we are confidently performing this procedure at 95 per cent successful rate. One of the single most important advances is the ability to perform electrophysiology without opening a patient’s chest. There was a time where we couldn’t even operate on patients with arrhythmia. We can do that now. Last year, the Heart Institute treated 11,009 angioplasties, angiograms and ablations and some of these cases were very complex.

The advancements extend even beyond the field of cardiology. Surgeons have benefited remarkably from improvements in technology. There was also once a time when we could almost predict a patient’s chance of survival. If a patient was under the pump for too long — the pump that is now the heart lung machine, an equipment responsible for oxygenating the blood during a procedure — we just knew the patient wouldn’t survive. Cooling the body to perform intricate surgeries is still relatively new. That’s very important for patients who experienced cardiac arrest. Back then, a person had to be resuscitated within four minutes to survive a cardiac arrest. Now, this cooling technique reduces brain damage.

On the other hand, I can tell you what hasn’t changed… That’s the cooperation between Heart Institute surgeons and cardiologists! It is among the best partnerships in the world.

That’s what attracted Dr. Thierry Mesana to the Heart Institute. I can remember when we tried to recruit him 12 years ago. Coming from sunny Marseille, he paid a visit to the Heart Institute in January in minus 40 degree weather. I thought we had lost him, that there was no way he would agree to relationship surgeons have with cardiologists. Dr. Thierry Mesana says you can’t find this type of relationship anywhere else. He’s right, and it all started with Dr. Keon and me.

Even as a young cardiologist, I can remember how great our surgeons were and still are. They were always available when we needed them in the cath lab. When we were doing angiograms in the middle of the night, I could always ask for help if I needed it. Dr. Keon was always right across the hall. He would come down in 20 minutes if we needed it. We designed the S level that way so that surgeons and cardiologists had easy access to procedure rooms.

Many years ago, I had perfomed a cardiac catherization on a female patient. A week prior she was in another hospital where she experienced four heart attacks in one week. They brought her over here and I did an angiogram on her. Her left main coronary artery was blocked and I thought I could open it but I couldn’t. The reason, I learned later, was that the artery had spontaneously torn. As a result, the catheter passed into a false lumen which was blocked. Dr. Keon was just down the hall. He did a by-pass operation on her but didn’t have much success either because she had too much damage in her heart. She had a mechanical heart for a week and then our team transplanted her with a new heart. Her name was Noëlla, our first heart transplant patient, and she went on to live another 25 years!

The Heart Institute’s rich history and the medical advancements we see today were all made possible through generous donations.

Donate today!

Tim Zakutney Biomedical Engineering

Our Team: Tim Zakutney

Who? Tim Zakutney
What? Director of Biomedical Engineering

As the Director of Biomedical Engineering, Timothy Zakutney leads the team at the Heart Institute that is responsible for more than eleven thousand pieces of equipment! For the last thirteen years, Tim’s team has sourced and sustained many of the technologies behind the Institute’s innovations and discoveries.

Equipment is catalogued, tested for safety and functionality, and then deployed to the healthcare providers after careful preparation and training. “After this equipment has been implemented, regular quality inspections take place. A life support device, for example, may see a frequency of inspection upwards of four times a year,” says Tim.

Tim’s day consists of regular meetings with staff and clinical managers, planning, and capital equipment procurement, as well as forecasting upcoming challenges with his team. With the advent of the Heart Institute’s new building, a lot of Tim’s time has been focused on the evaluation, procurement and assessment of all the new equipment, estimated at this time to be an additional ten thousand pieces.

This wasn’t always Tim’s dream job. “I wanted to either be a physician, or an engineer,” he said. His career path led him to several hospitals in Toronto, St. John’s, and Boston. When he arrived at the Heart Institute, there was no Biomedical Engineering department. This was something Tim was eager to explore. His team of 9 has grown since his arrival, and Tim admits this wonderful, skilled, and dedicated team is quite possibly his greatest achievement to date at the Heart Institute.

Tim’s inspiration comes from two places. The first is seeing the satisfaction in creating an environment in which physicians, nurses, and technologists can enjoy working in and innovate. The second is the emotional connection patients and family members have with the Heart Institute. “It is sobering when you spend your day away from the clinical environment, and then you are faced with a very concerned family member, and it really grounds us all. What we do here in Biomedical Engineering is vital to the care provided by the healthcare team,” Tim said.

One of Tim’s most memorable events at the Heart Institute was his experience in witnessing Dr. Wilbert Keon’s last Jarvik implant procedure. “This cardiac surgery one might think would be an intense, and incredibly complex procedure, seemed to me so ordinary. Dr. Keon approached it as though he was riding a bicycle. It was a very memorable moment for me,” Tim admitted.

The future Heart Institute promises many things for many people, but for Tim: “The new building will be transformative. Our community, who have been so supportive, will be shocked when they see it completed. From the entrance and flow, to the hybrid operating rooms, it will be monumental.”

Help us bring the future closer by donating to the Heart Institute Foundation. Your money will go towards the construction of this new facility.

nurse heart institute

Walking Challenge: A Cure for Workplace Inactivity?

*The study will be published this fall

How active do you think you really are? Are you getting the 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity you need in a week, or are you doing your 10,000 steps per day? These are just some of the questions Associate Scientist Dr.Jennifer Reed asked our nurses as they prepared to take part in the Heart Institute’s Cardiac Prevention & Rehabilitation WALK study. In it, she discovered that Heart Institute nurses experienced lower levels of physical activity but could make beneficial lifestyle changes with a simple intervention and challenge.

“This is the first study of its kind,” says Dr. Reed. “Previous studies with Canadian nurses used self-reported measures but we tracked their physical activity instead. This is also the first time nurses are part of a physical intervention. They are the largest professional group within the Canadian health care workforce.”

The idea was born, in part, through results of an employee engagement survey. In it, nurses at the Ottawa Heart Institute reported being eager to find ways to increase their physical activity and improve their health. A National Survey of the Work Health of Nurses echoed their sentiments. In fact, 45 per cent of nurses are overweight or obese and 13 per cent have high blood pressure. Nurses have a rate of absenteeism which is 55 percent higher than the average for all other health care occupations. On average, nurses take 20 days of sick time each year. Studies have demonstrated that poor health is associated with high absenteeism rates and reduced productivity. Nurses are working long hours and must manage the physical and emotional demands of the job.

“Nurses are often on their feet, but may not be moving as much as they used to. Nursing stations were once located at the end of a corridor or hall. Now, nursing stations are in the middle making it more convenient to reach patients.”

A total of 76 full-time, part-time and casually employed nurses participated in the study. Each had a device strapped to their ankle to monitor their physical activity and step counts, but were not allowed to track their progress for six weeks.

After six weeks, the results were astonishing. Only 36 per cent met the 10,000 steps per day guideline, and shockingly, only 10 per cent of nurses in the study did 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity. These results are lower than the Canadian average. According to the Canadian Health Measures Survey 2011, 40 per cent of adults do an average of 10,000 steps per day while 15 per cent do 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity.

“Week six also marked the beginning of the intervention phase. In this phase, our team allowed nurses to see their results online. Without their knowledge, we randomized the nurses into three challenge categories. In these categories, 25 nurses would receive an individual challenge, 25 would be paired up with other nurses for a friend challenge, and the last 25 nurses would have a team challenge. The nurses did not know who they were competing against in the friend and team challenge.”

Dr. Reed says that there’s something about competition that gets people moving: the nurses in both the friend and team challenge increased their physical activity significantly. Seeing the results of an anonymous competitor or competitors encouraged the participating nurses to be more active. In fact, purposeful exercise increased from 10 per cent to 25 per cent. In the end, researchers observed a decrease in body fat, a decrease in systolic blood pressure and a decrease in waist circumference.

Dr. Reed is working with Dr. Robert Reid and a team of co-investigators in the Champlain region to expand this research program to 10 other hospitals who have expressed an interest in the study. If the results prove to be successful, they will expand the research to other healthcare practitioners and hopefully other professions.

The research is part of a workplace intervention program in which researchers are finding ways to increase physical activity in the workplace. The Prevention and Wellness team is seeking additional funding for the research to expand their work into other workplaces. Support their work through the Heart Institute Foundation.

The Making Of “Spending every second of our lives…saving yours”

Ottawa’s best hidden gem is stepping out of its shell. Tucked away on 40 Ruskin street, the four decade old institut, the Ottawa Heart Institute is coming out with its first corporate video. The two minute video was shot and produced at the Heart Institute by Jamie Tiernay, a skilled producer of SOAK studios who has worked on several TV shows like Kenny vs Spenny. He was nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for the show Triumph of the Will and won an Ice Award for his work with the IWK Health Centre. The corporate video was his most recent project.

The result is here:

“I met with the Communication team earlier in the summer to discuss the concept of this video,” says Jamie. “They had a vision of what the video should be. Andree Dumulon, Vice-President of Communications at the Heart Institute, kept saying that it was about the people. She literally hammered it into my brain and it stuck.”

Jamie toured the institute alongside Communication Specialist Amanda Straus, and Vincent Lamontagne, Senior Manager in Communication, who were instrumental in the video’s success. It dawned on Jamie that the video should naturally be voiced by its people.

“I was touring with Amanda Straus that week I visited the Heart Institute and I was amazed at how many people she knew,” he said. “She knew everyone and she knew the story behind every wall. Everyone we met had a story about how someone went above and beyond to save a person’s life. It became clear that the video had to be about the people.”

And it was. None of the people in the video are actors. That’s right, none! Most of the cast is comprised of Heart Institute employees, a handful of volunteers and patients. Jamie was particularly impressed at how long some people have worked at the Institute.
“I’ve met some people who have worked at the Institute quite literally for 20 to 30 years. These days, staying at one place for more than 3 years is unheard of.”

To unify each of these stories, Jamie created the concept of talking Institute. “I wanted to have a hook. When you watch the video, you wonder who is talking. The video begins with ‘I was born in 1976, I live here’ so you expect it to be a doctor. It’s only after 30 seconds into the video that you realize that it’s the Institute talking.”

He was committed to the project. He stayed one full day outside in the blistering summer heat to capture the time lapse of the building from the outside. He spent a full week at the Institute shooting and was called back home unexpectedly: a healthy baby boy was waiting for him back home. He came back to add the finishing touches to the project and the rest is history.

“I am so focused on my work and to get the ‘perfect shot’ that I often don’t realize the physicality of the shoot. There’s a part where a man is picking up his daughter after he’s been discharged from the hospital. We must have done that scene at least 20 times. After the 21st take, I asked the actors if we can reshoot the scene again. I immediately noticed the man’s death stare. He didn’t need to say much, I knew he was tired. I don’t think he noticed, but I did. That’s how involved I get into the project.”

Thankfully the scene made it through the final cut.

Alas, not all clips made the cut. Here’s “The Making Of” of the corporate video.

The Heart Institute is expanding quite literally. In the coming years, a new building will be erected between the walls of the Institute and the Ottawa hospital. The new building will have additional operating rooms, beds and state of the art equipment to service the aging Ottawa population.