When Emily arrived at the Emergency Department at Victoria General Hospital, she knew something was gravely wrong. Her chest hurt, she was disoriented, and a deep sense of uneasiness was quickly overwhelming her. What Emily didn’t know at the time was that she was dying. A massive tear in her heart’s ascending aorta was causing her chest cavity to fill with blood and her cardiovascular system was shutting down.
At just 27 years old, Emily was not expecting to have serious heart issues. But emergency physicians quickly determined Emily was suffering from an aortic dissection, a rare but fatal condition that requires rapid intervention. Emily’s alcohol consumption contributed to her experiencing this unusual cardiac trauma at such a young age. But the CT scanning technology available in our Emergency Department allowed doctors to immediately assess and diagnose Emily’s massive cardiac trauma and get to work saving her life.
Within an hour of arriving at Victoria General, Emily was rushed to Royal Jubilee Hospital, the cardiac referral centre for Vancouver Island, and prepped for emergency open-heart surgery. Dr. Lynn Fedoruk, Division Chief of Cardiac Surgery for Island Health, wasted no time in performing the complex operation that saved her life. Ten years ago, Emily may not have survived. But advances in technology and equipment meant she could be saved and get the help needed to live a healthy, long life.
Today, at 29, Emily’s life has turned around and she radiates health. Working with children as an Educational Assistant keeps her busy and focused on what’s important in life — health and happiness. She has also run a half marathon. “I feel so grateful for the care I received, especially looking back at how serious it was. I felt a real connection with Dr. Fedoruk because I knew she truly cared about me and helped me survive my traumatic experience. I am beyond grateful to be able to experience life fully, and newly with my heart 2.0. I have another chance.
For as long as she can remember, Dr. Lynn Fedoruk felt compelled to become a cardiac surgeon. She knew it was what she was meant to do in life and relentlessly pursued the long and arduous route to become a surgeon. For the past 10 years, Dr. Fedoruk has been saving lives and returning people to health at Royal Jubilee Hospital.
“Cardiac technology and equipment have improved drastically over the past decade, allowing more lives to be saved and overall outcomes to improve dramatically. Today we can operate on people who just 10 years ago we had to turn away”, says Dr. Fedoruk. “For example, operating on patients who are 80+ years old is now routine, whereas in the past it simply wasn’t possible.”
Dr. Fedoruk explains how advances in equipment are not, on their own, solely responsible for improved care, but are part of a bigger picture where everything from new equipment, improved imaging technology, and better post-op care all contribute to higher survival rates. “When patient outcomes are improved by just 2% or 3%, the impact is massive. It may not seem so at first glance, but if you consider that we may operate on 700 cases a year, that means that up to 21 more lives will be saved.”
Donors play a major role in equipping our medical teams with the tools and advancements they need to solve complicated cases and save lives. “Simply put, when we have better tools, the care we give patients is better,” says Dr. Fedoruk.
Diane Ball spent her whole life knowing she was born with a hereditary congenital heart defect that might someday affect her ability to live a full life – her aortic valve has only two cusps instead of the usual three. Her father passed away from the same condition at just 48 years old. But with two grown children and three beloved grandkids, Diane was determined to live a vibrant, active life filled with family and love well into her golden years.
Last April, Diane was having a blast on a Hawaiian cruise when she suffered a mild stroke. But against the advice of onboard doctors, she stayed on for the rest of the voyage. Her decision to stay was part of her philosophy of living life to the fullest. She felt ok, and didn’t want to cut short her much-anticipated trip. Upon Diane’s return to Victoria, an echocardiogram revealed her heart function had significantly declined. Once-simple activities, like walking to get the mail or going to the pool for a swim, had become near impossible. Diane’s aortic valve needed to be replaced, which required open-heart surgery at Royal Jubilee Hospital.
“Dr. Fedoruk and her team gave me my life back,” said Diane. “I’m 66 years old. Without this surgery, I would not have lived for more than another year. The care I received was absolutely amazing, and my family and I are immensely grateful for the life-changing care I received. When Dr. Fedoruk fixed my heart valve, she liberated me!”
Diane is back to doing everything she loves and couldn’t be happier, thanks to the skilled and dedicated cardiac teams who do everything in their power to return people to wellness.