Heart

With your support
we are giving
cardiac patients
a new chance at life

Treating the most critically-ill patients

The Schulich Heart Program has earned an international reputation for pioneering some of the world's most innovative ways to treat the heart and damaged blood vessels. We give the most vulnerable cardiac patients a new chance at life.

Critically ill patients are being treated with advanced technology to decrease complications, improve long-term outcomes and reduce treatment times. Patients too frail to undergo open heart surgery now receive novel minimally invasive procedures introduced through the generosity of donors or made accessible thanks to donors.

Your support helps us to bring these innovative treatments to more patients.  Donate now.

Minimally Invasive Treatments

Minimally Invasive Treatments

Learn about innovative procedures that are saving the lives of cardiac patients.

Robotic Heart Procedures

Robotic Heart Procedures

Learn how remote control is being used in the cardiac suite.

A Hybrid Operating Room

A Hybrid Operating Room

Learn how a hybrid OR will help overcome surgical delays.

Saving lives and limbs

Saving Lives and Limbs

Learn how vascular surgeons are using novel technique to relieve suffering.

Learn more about the Schulich Heart Centre

Minimally Invasive Treatments

Minimally invasive procedures that save more lives

Minimally invasive procedures are providing a life-saving option for patients too frail to undergo open-heart surgery. A pioneer and global leader in this area, Sunnybrook continues to research and implement new technology and treatments to benefit critically ill cardiac patients. Some procedures are now funded by government, thanks to initial donor investment, while others are only possible thanks to donor funding.

TAVI

Thanks to the generous upfront investment of donors, a procedure pioneered at Sunnybrook is now saving the lives of patients with deteriorating aortic valves with government support. Conventional treatment is open-heart surgery. For those not healthy enough for the procedure, the only option is transcatheter aortic valve implementation (TAVI).

Using a small incision, a team of specialists insert and advance a catheter through the body to the heart where the new valve is put in place. The procedure takes about half as long as conventional surgery. Patients can go home after a few days and often return to normal activities within a few months. Donor support was crucial in confirming the value of TAVI to secure government funding. Sunnybrook is now Ontario’s largest program for TAVI, and we continue to advance research and test new generations of devices to improve treatments for critically ill heart patients.

MitraClip

For patients with a faulty mitral valve, the flaps don’t close properly, causing blood to flow backward. The decreased blood flow to the body leads to extreme fatigue, and even short walks or climbing the stairs can become difficult. Using a small catheter to reach the heart through a blood vessel in the leg, the surgeon deploys the MitraClip to clip the faulty flaps together, restoring blood flow. Before the device, a third of all patients who needed mitral valve repair were turned away as too high risk.

Since 2011, Sunnybrook heart experts have repaired the mitral valves of more than 110 critically ill patients with MitraClips, thanks to donor support. Based on the evidence of success, the government now fully funds 40 MitraClip procedures a year, the largest volume in the province, and all thanks to initial donor investment.

The Watchman Device

The Schulich Heart Centre was one of the first in Canada to offer a procedure to reduce stroke risk in patients with atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots, stroke and heart failure. For patients who can’t take blood thinners, the usual treatment, there was no other option.

Blood clots often develop in a pouch near the heart of people with this condition. If the clots enter the bloodstream, they can travel to the brain and cause a stroke. Our cardiologists insert a small device by catheter, called the Watchman, to seal off the opening of the pouch, and the patient’s risk of stroke is reduced by two-thirds. This treatment is only available to patients through donor support.

Robotic Heart Procedures

Remote control offers enhanced precision and patient safety

Increasingly common with age, atrial fibrillation is a major risk factor for stroke and is caused when the electricity that triggers the heart’s pumping action "short circuits." Thanks to donor support, Sunnybrook’s arrhythmia lab was the first in the country to install the Stereotaxis Vdrive remote control system. The sophisticated GPS-like technology controls powerful magnets to guide a soft catheter to the faulty electrical site. Clinicians destroy the damaged heart tissue to restore a regular heart rhythm.

The Stereotaxis system allows the catheter to contact the wall of the heart with exacting precision, reducing the risk of perforation and other complications, as well as lower X-ray exposure for patients and staff. Of our 300 patients per year, about 70 per cent are now treated with this robotic technology: they can often go home the same day with such minimally invasive treatment.

A Hybrid Operating Room

Hybrid operating room

With donor support Sunnybrook is building a hybrid operating room that will allow critically ill heart and vascular patients to undergo multiple procedures in a single visit. This will eliminate worrying delays and lead to faster recoveries with less risk of complications. No longer will patients suffering from heart valve failure and blocked arteries have these conditions treated separately over a space of weeks.

In the hybrid OR, we will replace a patient’s failing aortic valve with a minimally invasive solution and then surgically treat their blood vessel blockage. Advanced imaging will allow our experts to immediately confirm surgical results, increasing safety and reducing the potential for repeat surgeries. This facility will also accelerate our medical teams’ abilities to perform the most complex, image-guided procedures in the safest possible environment. With your help we will eliminate treatment delays, expand treatment options and return patients to their lives that much sooner.

Saving lives and limbs

Vascular surgeons use new techniques to save lives and limbs

Many diabetic patients have painful foot ulcers that won’t heal, leading to gangrene and amputation. An estimated 2,000 patients with diabetes in Ontario lose a limb each year. Sunnybrook’s vascular surgeons are gaining national attention for using minimally invasive procedures to save the legs of patients with foot ulcers. They open the blood vessels leading to the foot by sending a balloon via catheter through tiny arteries in the leg. Patients often feel instant relief as blood begins to flow to the limb again. They typically go home the same day.

Dale

Dale Robarts

Dale Robarts was frustrated that he could no longer shovel snow or mow grass at his North Bay home. Constantly out of breath, the independent senior lacked the energy even to attend his granddaughters’ hockey games.

Now 79, Dale made Canadian history at Sunnybrook last year by having two heart valve problems treated with separate, minimally invasive procedures at the same time. Weeks later, his nine- and 12-year-old granddaughters were delighted to spot a cheering Grandpa in the stands at their games.

Dale’s exhaustion was related to a combination of serious heart valve problems. His Schulich Heart Centre team of surgeons and cardiologists, led by Dr. Eric Cohen, recommended a MitraClip procedure to treat his leaking mitral valve and a transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI) for his failing aortic valve.

When Dr. Cohen told Dale he would undergo TAVI and MitraClip procedures a month apart, Dale demurred. He said, “I’m coming 220 miles. Let’s do it all at once.”

Sunnybrook pioneered these minimally invasive procedures for patients too sick or unsuitable for open-heart surgery. Both involve using real-time imaging to thread a device to the heart valve by catheter through small incisions. Patients leave hospital sooner and recover much more quickly than when having open-heart surgery.

The government now funds Sunnybrook’s busy TAVI program but is not yet covering the cost of the MitraClip device, meaning patients who need this procedure continue to rely entirely on donor generosity.

While our heart team has saved hundreds of lives with TAVI and MitraClip in the last few years, Dale is the first patient to have both at once. “With Dale, it was the right thing to do for him,” says Dr. Sam Radhakrishnan, director of the cardiac catheterization labs at Sunnybrook and one of Dale’s physicians. “It does have to be individualized but I believe there will be more patients who could potentially have the procedures at the same time.” Dale is overjoyed at the results. “I’m feeling great now,” he says. His son, Dan, marvels at the difference in his father. “It’s a huge transformation. Before Dad couldn’t walk up more than a few stairs without having to stop and take a break. Now he’s got his old self back. My daughters are thrilled to see him at their games.”

While Dale still relied on his neighbour’s snow blower to clear any major snowfalls from his driveway this winter, he was delighted to shovel the lighter dustings himself.

Together we can accelerate the understanding, treatment and care of brain disorders

Together we can accelerate the understanding, treatment and care of brain disorders

By 2020, brain disorders are expected to be the leading cause of death and disability in Canada. We aim to change this.

Sunnybrook’s Hurvitz Brain Sciences Program is taking the lead in solving the biggest threats to brain health: stroke, dementia and mental illness.

We are unique amongst Canadian brain sciences programs. Some programs address mental illness alone, some conduct only research, some provide only clinical care and some focus on one specific age group. We are the only program that brings all of this together into one fully integrated effort.

We are building the Hurvitz Brain Sciences Centre to be a hub for patient care research and teaching. It will be a centre where collaboration among our brain sciences experts will spark new discoveries and bring new innovative treatments to patients sooner.

Here’s how:

Unprecedented collaboration across disciplines – brain disorders will not be understood by just one medical specialty

Our neurologists work alongside psychiatrists. Our neurosurgeons work alongside brain imaging specialists. Our psychiatrists work alongside pharmacologists.

Why? Because each specialty teaches us lessons about the others, thereby accelerating research that will return patients to their families faster and healthier than before.

Care throughout the lifespan – from adolescence to the senior years

Our experts from the Hurvitz Brain Sciences Program care for people at all stages of life. Most discoveries made in one age group translate to the others, ultimately impacting all ages.

Integrating psychiatry and the other brain sciences

By integrating psychiatry and the other brain sciences, we take psychiatry out of the shadows and shine a light of understanding on it. Mental illness should be treated like any other medical condition.

Embedding research in patient care

Uniting research with patient care means patients receive new treatments sooner. Our ultimate goal is to improve outcomes and restore patients to health as quickly as possible.

Our aim is to provide the clinical care, research, leadership and education needed to confront one of the largest health threats of our time: disorders of the brain. We have the teams in place. We have the expertise. And we have the technology.

Now, we need the community’s help in creating a new centre that will accelerate the understanding, treatment and care of people with brain disorders.

Watch: Learn more about the centre from patients and Sunnybrook brain specialists

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Dale

Patient Story:
Dale Robarts

Dale Robarts was frustrated that he could no longer shovel snow or mow grass at his North Bay home. Constantly out of breath, the independent senior lacked the energy even to attend his granddaughters' hockey games.

Read full story