Make Death Wait

Sunday, February 05, 2012
Yesterday, Mommikins, Super Duper Sister in Law, and I took part in a tour of the Mazankowski Heart Institute's research labs and clinical areas.  The tour was put on by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Alberta, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, and I was invited because I'm a monthly donor.  As my regular readers know, my family has been directly affected by heart disease.  My father had a heart attack 2 Christmas' ago, his family has a very long history of heart attacks and strokes, and I have had high blood pressure since I was in my 20s.  Needless to say, the HSF is a charity very close to my heart (pun intended).

The HSF's current campaign
We started off in the lecture hall at Bernard Snell hall and both Chandra and I commented that the chairs in lecture theatres have either gotten much comfier since we went to the UofA or medical students are spoiled.  A brief introduction and rundown of the afternoon by Dr. Gary Lopaschuk, the scientific director of the Maz was followed by a presentation Dr. Michael Sean McMurty's research, the HSF's latest recipient of the Distinguished Clinician Scientist award.  Some of the tidbits I managed to make note of during this pre-tour presentation...

  • The HSF's goal is reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes by 25% by the year 2020.
  • Some famous folks who've had heart disease or a stroke include Emily Carr, Gordie Howe, Sir John A. MacDonald, Walter Gretzky, and Margaret Thatcher
  • Cardiovascular disease (death from? can't read my notes!) decreased by almost 50% between 1980 and 2000.  Decreases in smoking, becoming more active, maintaining a healthy weight, and limiting alcohol intake all contributed to the improvement.
We then split into groups of about 20 or 25 people and headed out on our respective tours.  They had ten stations on the tour but each group would only have the opportunity to visit four - two research labs and two clinical areas. 

Our first stop was the lab of (I think) Dr. Jagdip Jaswal where he was looking at the oxidation of glucose and fatty acids.  I didn't understand the whole picture of his research (it was hard to hear with all the people crowding into the lab) but what I was able to hear sounded fascinating.  Next up was another lab, this time with two researchers looking at iron deposits in cardiac tissue following a heart attack. Or at least, that's what I was able to gather from the bits and pieces I could hear.  Unfortunately, once again, there were two many people in the group, and where I was standing, both researchers were turned away from me.  Additionally, they both spoke very quickly and it was hard to get a full understanding of their research.  From the visuals I was able to see when they'd move out of the way of the computer monitor, their research would have been something I'd like to learn more about but, alas, we were on the move again.

A few unproductive trips up stairwells only to discover the doors were locked eventually led to the Mazankowski itself.  Our next stop was, for me, the most important of the whole tour.  We ended up in the Cardiac Catheter Lab - the room where the magic happens.  The Maz has a Stereotaxis system where they use superpowered magnets to move a catheter around the heart with pinpoint accuracy.  They also use them in agnioplasties and the insertion of stents (the procedure my Dad had) rather than having the medical staff use force to insert and move them around.  Looking like a giant video game console (including a joystick!), it was absolutely amazing to see what they are able to do these days.  Medicine has come a long way.  And just this one small section of the Maz (maye the size of two medium living rooms?) cost $6 million! 

Our final stop was a state of the art patient room set up with the latest and greatest in ultrasound technology.  The Maz is fortunate to have lured Dr. Harald Becher, one of the world's leading researchers in echocardiography, to work with them.  It was incredible to see how, with a simple ultrasound wand or scope (inserted in the throat) they are able to see and hear so much about how the heart works.  We watched as they were able to create a 3-D cross section of one of the heart's valves.  Speechless.  We had to cut our time with Dr. Becher short (he seemed to be able to go on talking about his work for hours!) as we were running late.  I was slightly relieved though as I was getting overheated and needed to sit down.  Dr. Becher's passion for his work and research was obvious and I would love to attend a presentation if he ever gives a lecture open to the public.

We returned to Bernard Snell hall where a lovely buffet spread awaited us - all kinds of heart healthy treats from fresh veggies, hummus, fruit, spring rolls (the wet ones, not the deep fried), and lots of chocolatey dessert squares.  All in all, it was a great way to spend the afternoon - getting a first hand look at the research going on and the advances in cardiac care was incredibly fascinating.  My only suggestion for next time (it seems like this might be an annual, Heart Health Month event) would be to limit the size of the groups to 10 or 15 people.  To do this, they'd have to spread it out over two days given the number of people who attended with us (we estimated over 200) but it would be easier for visitors to hear/learn more and not make the labs and rooms we visited so hot.

If you ever get the chance to go on one of these tours, I highly recommed giving it a go!  Until next year, why not check out the Heart and Stroke Foundation's website to learn what you can to reduce your risk factors.  While you're there, why not make a donation too?


SIL said...

I wish could have stayed way longer to ask questions at every point we saw on the tour. The rat heart was cool and that fancy microscope in the iron/collagen lab was totally fascinating. And the Holodeck? AWESOME. Think I drove a few people crazy with all the questions though. I wonder if I go back and randomly show up in their labs whether I'd get kicked out. Thanks again for letting me tag along!!

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