Today's treatment, Tomorrow's Solution: A History With Heart

Jilliane Code, second from right, with her husband, nurse and friend at her side to run an 8K road race, which she completed on the first anniversary of her heart transplant.

This past year, the 30-year anniversary of the longest-living heart transplant recipient in BC dovetailed with Providence’s 20-year anniversary of heart transplants being performed at St. Paul’s.

While both milestones surpass BC’s average post-transplant life expectancy of 15-years, recipient Diana Van Vliet and the transplant program itself are very much going strong, thanks to improved anti-rejection medication, donor-matching programs and advances in technology, such as a Ventricular Assist Device (VAD), which supports patients awaiting a transplant.

“The first recipients were told that a transplant would maybe get them five more years. And there are lots of them who are now reaching 25 years or more,” says Carol Imai, nurse patient educator for St. Paul’s Hospital’s heart transplant team. “They’re seeing their grandkids grow up or traveling around the world. There are many people who will choose not to work or that it’s time to do things differently. It’s kind of cool that we can support that.”

For Jilliane Code who, in October 2015, celebrated one year with the new heart that she received at St. Paul’s, having a new heart has changed everything.

“Having a heart transplant has saved my life in ways that reach far beyond the physical,” she explained. “It has transformed me.”

The first heart transplants in British Columbia were performed in 1988 at Vancouver General Hospital. After that, St. Paul’s become the designated heart transplant centre for BC. “The first transplant at St. Paul’s was done on September 5th, and we did five by the end of 1996,” recalls Dr. Andrew Ignaszewski, head, Division of Cardiology.

Fast forward to now, when the heart transplant team performs an average of 15 transplants each year and has evolved to continually support the ever-evolving needs of the patient.

“Our team is multi-specialty, meaning that we have cardiologists, surgeons, nurses, exercise specialists, psychologists, a social worker, dietitian, and spiritual health practitioner,” explains Dr. Ignaszewski.

The team’s multispecialist composition supports patients through all elements of their transplant, from physical to emotional to psycho-social. This type of comprehensive support, pre, during and post-transplant is key to a patient’s experience because, as Jilliane says, being a recipient of a new, life-giving organ is absolutely transformative.

“My work before my transplant seemed important and I suppose, with a certain perspective and with a kind of argument it was. I find myself now, however, completely changed. It is not enough for me anymore,” Jilliane says. “I am now driven by a completely different engine—figuratively and literally. Now, I am an educator and a researcher of a new kind. I have resolved that with my second chance, that I have a new purpose. To give back to the community that has kept me alive; a community that has supported me when I didn’t think I could continue, and to honour my donor.”

Read our 2015-16 Annual Report to find out what other transformative work we're doing in the area of heart, lung and kidney.

Add new comment