Regional cardiac care enables student to live life fully:Special cardiac procedure provides cure for arrhythmia patients

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A specialized procedure provided by Rouge Valley’s regional cardiac care team has allowed a teenage student in Whitby to have the active life she relishes.

For two years, boarding school student Sallie Lau lived with a rapid heart rate. She was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome (WPW), a condition caused by electrical short circuits that were on the left side of her heart. These episodes can begin and end quickly.

“The sensation of the episodes was like a horse running very fast inside my chest. After an episode, I would be exhausted. It was draining on my body, and would sometimes take a couple of days to recover,” says Sallie, a Grade 12 student at Trafalgar Castle girls school in Whitby.

For more than a year, the regional cardiac care program at Rouge Valley Health System (RVHS) has been offering a specialized procedure to cure arrhythmias (an irregular heartbeat) like Sallie’s, which arises from the left side of the heart. The transseptal cardiac procedure takes two hours to perform, and the patient is up and walking within four hours and discharged from the hospital within 24 hours — sometimes even on the same day. Being able to treat WPW and other arrhythmias significantly changes patients’ lives. It eliminates repeated visits to family doctors and emergency departments where treatment is otherwise done through medication.

The first transseptal procedure performed at Rouge Valley Centenary hospital campus was in February 2012. Prior to this, patients from Scarborough and Durham would have to be treated at a larger hospital specializing in more advanced cardiac care in downtown Toronto. On May 23, Sallie became the 46th patient to have the procedure done at RVHS.

“Sallie had very unique circumstances. Here she was in Canada at boarding school, with her family in Hong Kong. Treating her took our expertise at this procedure, as well our commitment to open communication with her family on the other side of the world. When Sallie came for visits, my team and I would videoconference with her family to discuss her condition, explain the procedure and go over any concerns they had. The relationship we built reflects the tremendous amount of trust Sallie’s family placed in Rouge Valley,” says Dr. Bhavanesh Makanjee, the cardiologist who performed the procedure.

During her two years at the boarding school, Sallie was making regular visits to emergency departments whenever her heart rate would suddenly increase. Everyday life was physically demanding on the avid tennis player. Her schoolwork would pile up when she was recovering from an episode, and catching up and keeping up were starting to weigh on her. Even getting around the school was a chore — founded in 1874, it has no elevators and plenty of stairs.

After several episodes and trips to the hospital, accompanied by the school’s registered nurse Katie Douglas, Sallie was referred to cardiologist Dr. Makanjee. As an electrophysiologist specializing in the treatment of arrhythmias, he was able to diagnose Sallie with WPW and recommend the transseptal cardiac procedure. Her mother flew to Toronto for the surgery to be there for comfort and support.

“There are many benefits of this procedure. I don’t need a full day of rest anymore. I can play tennis and volleyball for the school team again. I have no spares and a full schedule of classes that I hadn’t been able to attend. This has all changed,” says Sallie.

Rouge Valley’s regional cardiac care centre

Rouge Valley Health System has a leading cardiac care program, and is home to the regional cardiac care centre for the Scarborough-Durham area. The regional cardiac program consists of a highly-qualified and experienced team of more than 20 cardiologists and more than 100 health professionals, who serve the communities of east Toronto and Durham Region from both hospital campuses — Rouge Valley Centenary and Rouge Valley Ajax and Pickering. RVHS delivers a complete range of cardiac services, including cardiac diagnostics and consultations, as well as regional services such as life-saving cardiac catheterization and intervention procedures, arrhythmia studies and management, and cardiac rehabilitation and education. Regional services are delivered in partnership with Lakeridge Health, The Scarborough Hospital, and the Central East Local Health Integration Network.