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.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.