It’s a Wonderful Life

Dec 16, 2015 | News

When I attended the "It's a Wonderful Life" heart rounds at St Paul's Hospital, I had no idea how profound the journey was for heart patients.

In previous years, the medical team would report on the surgeries and success stories. This year, UBC Division of Cardiology rounds celebrated from a different perspective – through the eyes of ex-patients who were invited to share with us the impact that their surgeries had on their lives.

Although the patients came from all walks of life, they all had one thing in common: heart failure.

Almost all of the patients came down with heart failure as adults. All were surprised, as they were relatively healthy and active. One was born with dextrocardia, a rare defect in which the apex of the heart is located on the right side of the body. Not only that, but the heart’s lower half was reversed, a condition called congenitally corrected transposition of the great arteries (CCTGA). Another not only had heart failure, but also suffered from asthma as a child and was the most complicated case her doctor had ever encountered.

All of the courageous patients in front of us had undergone multiple surgeries, receiving an LVAD or AVR, stents or heart transplants.

The journey of how they all came under the care of the St Paul's team may have been different, but similarities in the road to recovery, as well as gratitude and a renewed sense of purpose echoed with each testimony.

Some words of gratitude that were expressed by the patients:

"Gratitude is not really an appropriate word to say what it means to have me upright, standing here, being able to tell you all of the things I've been able to do because of what you all have done. For 10 years, you all save my life over and over again. As my donor heart sustains my life, you guys helped me find my voice and I fully intend on using it." - Jillian Code, an organ transplant advocate blogging her journey on Heart Failure to Harvard.

"I'm really impressed with you people. You are an amazing group of people and you should be immensely proud of what you do. And I want to thank you all." – Marinus “Rennie” Pelkman.

"My husband wants me to thank all of you. Truly, the mechanics of a machine that makes this all work - I find it personally quite mind-blowing. It's the most staggering thing. The most wonderful thing. I leap out of bed and into the shower now. You have no idea what a thrill that is. It's fantastic. It's wonderful recovering. And it's wonderful to come back and see everyone. Thank you all very much." – Leslie Finlayson.

"It's still so hard to believe that I recovered so well from my 2 heart surgeries, but I did, because of the team at St. Paul's and also VGH, who put in the echo. The team identified me as a candidate for LVAD quickly and provided high quality and innovative world class care. We are forever grateful for the compassionate skill, hardworking and dedicated team we encountered and continue to encounter here. I hope that you are proud of all the work that you do." – Andrea Marrie.

And what can not be expressed enough in words was shared as a rousing performance on the flamenco guitar by Victor Kolstee.

All the patients were grateful to be able to go back to their old activities, like hitting the gym, hiking, painting, traveling to far-flung places such as Turkey and Bangladesh, or savouring good food - all the small things in life that are to be appreciated.

But it's not only patients who were deeply affected by the cardiac team, it was also their families, whereby family memebers were inspired to enter into medicine.

“My younger son is studying pre-med. My older son got into UBC medical school. Both were incredibly inspired by the efforts of you guys. For everything that you've done, what you displayed, not only your talent, but also, the amount of care you give to your patients, for the people around them, for the whole team. The fact that you can inspire two young kids by simply treating patients - that amount of care and that kind of inspiration can only come from people who are truly inspired. On behalf of my whole family, thank you. Thank you very much.” – Walter Dullemond.

“My daughter wanted to become a vet, but I'm delighted to say she's at Dalhousie, in her third year of microbiology. And just very, very determined to become a doctor. I couldn't be more proud of this. The admiration I have for the whole profession, for all our sakes, it's humbling.” – Leslie Finlayson.

For patient Andrea Marrie, she went back to school and became an RN, working in multi-organ transplant at Toronto General Hospital for five years. She also completed her masters in University of Toronto's nurse practitioner program and has worked in cardiac surgery at Royal Columbian Hospital for the past year.

What an inspiration to hear patients expressing their thanks and updating us on what life has been like after surgery. There were some tears. There was plenty of laughter. And a lot of warm and fuzzy feelings all around. Thank you to all the patients for sharing their stories and a big thank you to their doctors, Dr. Marla Kiess, Dr. Andy Ignaszewski, Dr. Mutafa Toma, Dr. Ken Gin.

Doctor Shanta Chakrabarti summed up the morning best: "We are here for our patients. The patients are not here for us. We are here for patients."

For more photos of Heart Rounds, click here.

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