Magnificent machine

A letter from the Winnipeg Health Region

Winnipeg Health Region President & CEO
Wave, Summer 2010

Arlene Wilgosh

The heart is a truly amazing piece of engineering.

Consider the evidence: It is, after all, only slightly larger than your fist, weighing somewhere between 200 g and 425 g. Yet every day, this magnificent little machine will beat about 100,000 times and pump roughly 7,200 litres of blood throughout your body - almost enough to fill a backyard swimming pool. In doing so, it feeds your cells with oxygen and nutrients, while removing carbon dioxide. It is, quite simply, the thing that keeps you alive.

And yet, we tend to take this marvel of nature for granted - at least until something goes wrong. And that does happen more often than it should.

The good news is that heart disease rates and deaths have steadily declined over the last two decades, according to various studies. The experts believe these changes can be attributed to a number of factors, including advances in medical care, and the fact that fewer of us smoke.

Nonetheless, as our special report in this issue of Wave points out, heart disease remains a serious problem. According to a 2009 Public Health Agency of Canada report, heart disease afflicts about 1.3 million Canadians and claims more than 60,000 lives a year.

Moreover, researchers worry that we could see a surge in the number of heart disease cases in the years ahead, mostly because our population is aging and becoming more prone to diabetes and other chronic ailments.

Our community is not immune to these trends. Every year, the Winnipeg Health Region's Cardiac Sciences Program receives about 50,754 patient visits a year, and our medical staff also worry that the number of people with cardiac health issues will grow as demographic and lifestyle changes take root.

Meanwhile, our cardiac sciences team continues working to enhance care and deliver better patient outcomes. One area of success involves the treatment of heart attack patients. Each year, about 1,500 patients are treated for heart attack. That works out to about 30 patients every week.

Years ago, a heart attack often ended in death. Not so much anymore. As you will read in our special report, the heart attack survival rate has dramatically improved over time. Only a few years ago, the survival rate for patients suffering STEMI heart attacks in our community hovered around 85 per cent. Today, that number is closer to 96 per cent.

While these and other patient outcome numbers have been positively influenced by advances in medicine, there are other reasons for the improvements. One that often gets overlooked is the Winnipeg Health Region's decision in 2004 to create a consolidated Cardiac Sciences Program.

Consolidation changed the way cardiac care was delivered in our community. Rather than having separate hospitals develop individual hubs, with costly medical equipment and heart specialists, consolidation allowed the Region to pool staff and equipment, providing focus and synergy. Not only did the creation of the Cardiac Sciences Program enhance the delivery of care for heart patients, it also established a template for other clinical care programs throughout the Region, such as the Eye Care Centre of Excellence at Misericordia Health Centre, the Concordia Hip and Knee Surgery Centre, and the Neurosurgical program at Health Sciences Centre.

The effort to consolidate cardiac care put us in a position to focus resources and help build a better program. And that we have done. Manitoba Health is spending $40.3 million to make St. Boniface Hospital a Centre of Excellence for Heart Surgery and Cardiac Care. Part of the project includes the development of space in the Asper Centre, which is located on the St. Boniface Hospital campus.

The added space is needed, as we have expanded our cardiac program significantly, adding 25 physician specialists over the last four years, in addition to a number of cardiac critical care nurses, to serve the needs of our Region, now and in the future.

We will continue to improve how we deliver cardiac care. That's our job. But there are things you can do to reduce your risk of developing heart disease and improve your chances of surviving a heart attack.

You can, for example, learn to recognize the warning signs of a heart attack. As Drs. James Tam and Roger Philipp note in our special report, the quicker you recognize the signs and call 911 for an ambulance, the better your odds of surviving a heart attack.

Of course, even the best treatment is no substitute for prevention.

While some heart conditions are hereditary, lifestyle choices, such as inactivity, smoking and poor eating habits, can increase our odds of developing heart disease.

Here at the Region, we have launched a number of initiatives that help promote overall wellness. As part of the Tobacco Reduction initiative, for example, the Region works with community partners to help people kick the habit and keep kids from lighting up in the first place. Winnipeg in motion, meanwhile, is designed to encourage all of us to incorporate more physical activity into our daily lives. The Region is also involved in programs centred on food and nutrition, such as the effort to create a nutritional tool kit for newcomers to Canada. All of these efforts are designed to help individuals make choices that will support heart health.

At the end of the day, though, we will need more than well-conceived programs to win the war on heart disease. We will need you, the public, to pay closer attention to your heart health. Because as amazing as it is, your heart still requires a lot of tender loving care to keep on ticking. Have a safe and happy summer.


About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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