January 12th, 2021
Patients who were among the first to receive ablation procedures to treat heart rhythm issues at St. Mary’s Regional Cardiac Care Centre are sharing their gratitude as they experience a new lease on life.
Patient Bill Austin is still marveling at how much better he feels following the treatment.
“The next day I felt like a million bucks,” said Bill, an 82-year-old New Hamburg grandfather who was the second patient to receive the treatment on January 4 when the ablation program officially launched. Prior to that, Bill would have episodes where his heart would race wildly two or three times a day when he stood up, after which he “would feel totally wiped out, as if I had run the Boston Marathon.”
Bill said he was amazed at the myriad of high-tech equipment in the new procedure room where Dr. Jolly conducts complex electrical mapping studies of the heart to find trouble spots and then freezes or burns them with catheter ablation to restore normal heart rhythm.
At age 53, Beth Wolf, also had a heart that would frequently race, sometimes for up to 20 minutes at a time. It would start with a flutter, she’d feel she might black out, and after it was over she would need to sleep for two hours. “It was quite debilitating,” said Beth who was mostly housebound last summer, with heat and humidity a trigger for episodes. As the first scheduled patient to receive ablation on launch day for the St. Mary’s program, she is now symptom free and back to work a week later as a literacy consultant with the Waterloo Region Catholic District School Board. “I’m look forward to getting my life back and re-vamping my garden this summer,” she said.
The high-tech suite for electrophysiology studies and ablation is the centre-piece of the $13 million three-phase expansion of St. Mary’s Heart Rhythm program. Clinic space opened on November 9, 2020, and beds for preparation and recovery of patients, having ablation or cardiac catheterization will open in the spring of 2021.
“That St. Mary’s was able to achieve this huge milestone during a pandemic speaks to its commitment to improving local access to patient care,” said Dr. Umjeet Jolly, a Cardiac electrophysiologist and lead for the EP program. “Being able to offer this service is a game-changer for patients. They no longer face waits of up to 18 months, and travel to receive ablation in centres like London or Toronto, which can be quite daunting, as many of them are older and unwell,” he said.
While St. Mary’s has reduced many booked procedures during the second wave of the pandemic, regional cardiac services are being preserved as much as possible. Urgent and emergent procedures continue, as well as some where inpatient beds are not required. The large majority of ablation patients can return home the same day as their procedures.
After his 4.5 hour procedure, and a total of 12 hours in hospital, Bill is easing back into physical activity, and eager to resume the long walks he had been able to enjoy without triggering episodes. “I can hardly hold him down,” joked his wife Beth, with whom he will celebrate 60 years of marriage in February – coincidentally, Heart Month.
“Dr Jolly and the team were all fantastic,” said Bill. “I have nothing but good things to say about St. Mary’s.” Added Beth, “We are so fortunate to have these services available in our community.”
Beth Wolf also praised the team. “Everyone was very helpful and efficient. It was a great experience,” she said.
“This is a highly specialized, complex program and many people across our organization worked tirelessly in the midst of a pandemic to meet the project timeline for the launch of electrophysiology studies and ablation,” said St. Mary’s President Lee Fairclough. “It’s an amazing accomplishment and we are so proud of them.”
“We are also extraordinarily grateful to Ontario government and community for bringing this much-needed expansion to fruition,” she added. Ontario committed up to $7.4 million of the capital funding, with the remaining $5.6 million for equipment and construction coming from local donors.
“It has been a thrill to watch this take shape with the latest and greatest in equipment that will support our highly skilled team,” added Susan Dusick, President and CEO of St. Mary’s General Hospital Foundation. “To see patients now receiving this high quality care in their own community is a testament to the generosity of our donors, and we thank them for their role in advancing the amazing care our cardiac program provides.”
The regional cardiac program at St. Mary’s serves a catchment area of more than one million people, from Goderich to Guelph and from Tobermory to Simcoe. The program was the last in Ontario to receive ablation services.
To learn from Dr. Jolly about the significance of this program, and for a behind the scenes look during construction, view this video.