Winter with heart failure: Things to be mindful of this season

Winter is a beautiful time of year in Canada with glistening snowfall, beautiful snow-capped mountains, and frozen lakes and rivers. However, our winters are also long, and often harsh, in much of our country. The cold season increases the risk of dangers for everyone, and for those living with heart failure, this is especially so. Contending with strong winds, heavy wet snow, ice and extreme temperatures can place undue demands on our hearts.


Low temperatures can cause blood vessels to narrow, restricting the flow of blood around the body, and so reducing the amount of oxygen reaching the heart. This means the heart needs to work harder to continue pumping enough blood and oxygen around the body, as reported by Keep It Pumping.


Rapid drops in temperature can lead to worsening heart failure symptoms, a higher risk of hospitalization, and an increase in risk of death for heart failure patients. For this reason, it’s crucial to take precautions and be aware of the risks winter brings for heart health. The following tips can help you stay safe from the cold this season.


Reduce your exposure to cold

Avoid the impact of cold weather by reducing the amount of time you spend outside. If you are outdoors make sure to dress warm with several layers. This includes wearing a coat, hat, gloves, and warm footwear. If you find your breathing affected by the cold, try wrapping a scarf around your face. People taking beta blockers often have cold hands and feet, so you may need two pairs of socks and mittens instead of gloves.


Stay active during winter  

It can be hard to stay physically active when the cold weather hits. But by decreasing our physical activity, we’re essentially ‘hibernating’ our hearts, according to Health Canada. Hearts need regular exercise during winter and you can do simple exercises at home, take short walks, practice yoga, or strength training. Other options include walking tracks, mall walking, pools, or community centre fitness programs. Be sure to stay hydrated before, during, and after you exercise.


Keep your home heated  

Stay warm by heating your home to 18°C or higher. Open blinds or curtains to let as much natural sunlight in to each room as possible, and check sealing around doors and windows to minimize draughts. Using an extra blanket or a hot water bottle may be helpful during colder periods.


Don’t become overheated

During winter, you don’t want to find yourself sweating if you are outside because this signals that your body is overheated. If your body can’t release the extra heat it will lower your blood pressure, reducing blood supply to the heart. If this happens, remove layers until you cool down and/or take the time to go indoors and let your body readjust to a warmer temperature. It’s important to check with your medical practitioner to find out if you should be shovelling snow, most people living with heart failure will be advised to refrain from shovelling to protect your heart health.


 Maintain a heart healthy diet

The holiday season is generally filled with parties and family gatherings where food and wine are plentiful. “It is recommended that all patients with heart failure completely abstain from alcohol,” as reported by the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research. However, there are many festive non-alcoholic drink recipes available online. If you have diet restrictions try snacking on protein rich food before going out to keep your portions small and minimize sodium and sugar intake.


Be prepared for snow days

Check your local weather forecast regularly for weather that may impact your ability to get out. It’s important to have a supply of your prescriptions on hand to see you through any winter storms.


Reduce your risk of flu  

Flu season can cause a myriad of complications for heart failure patients, which can be potentially life-threatening. Flu shots are strongly recommended for heart failure patients. Your doctor may also recommend a pneumonia shot. Make sure to speak to your doctor immediately if you’re experiencing flu-like symptoms such as a fever, vomiting, or congestion.


There may be days during winter when braving the cold isn’t an option. If the temperature drops below -40°C, it’s often caused by wind chill, and you are best to take shelter indoors and exercise at home, according to Health Canada.



Eat well: 3 Heart-healthy recipes for fall


Autumn brings shorter days, longer nights, and a drop in weather temperatures that makes you savour those cozy nights in. That’s why it’s a wonderful time of year to try out new, seasonal recipes that are healthy for your heart.

“You may find eating with heart failure is a bit of a balancing act. While you don’t want to eat too much, you have to be sure to eat enough to maintain good nutrition,” as stated in the Nutrition Guide for Heart Failure by the University of Ottawa’s Heart Institute.

Living with heart failure requires a thoughtful approach to cooking, it’s something you become more familiar with over time. Nonetheless, with some advanced planning, consulting recipes, and picking up the fresh ingredients you need, you can make dishes that you, your family, and friends will enjoy this season.


Cooking at home lets you monitor your ingredient usage and amounts which is vital when you have heart failure, also if you are diabetic or have a sodium restriction. A healthy, balanced diet helps maintain your heart health and lower any potential risks. Since fruit and vegetables are packed with nutrients, you should aim for seven to ten servings per day, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation.


Making fall-inspired dishes with natural ingredients can also help improve your cholesterol levels, reduce your blood pressure, and help you manage your body weight. Plus, you can have a lot of fun getting creative in the kitchen and you don’t need to be the next Master Chef to do so!


Here are three easy-to-make recipes for fall from the Heart and Stroke Foundation and The Mikey Network.  


Corn, Potato and Shrimp Chowder


Serves: 4


·      2 tsp vegetable oil

·      1 sweet onion, finely chopped

·      1 clove of garlic, minced

·      1 tsp dried dill weed

·      1 potato, peeled (cut into ½ inch cubes)

·      1 tsp ground pepper

·      1 ½ cups Corn kernels, fresh or frozen (thawed)

·      2 cups water

·      ¼ cup all-purpose flour

·      2 cups 1% milk

·      1 lb raw, medium size shrimp (shell off)

·      1 tsp lemon zest, grated

·      3 tsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed



  1. In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat.

  2. Sauté onion, garlic, and dill weed, for about 5 minutes or until the onions are softened.

  3. Stir in potatoes, corn and water; bring to a boil over high heat.

  4. Cover the pot, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 5-10 minutes or until the potatoes are almost tender.

  5. Increase heat to medium.

  6. Whisk flour into the milk and gradually stir this into the pot. Stir gently.

  7. Stir in shrimp. Simmer uncovered while stirring gently but often for about 5 minutes – until the shrimp are firm and pink and the soup has thickened (do not let this boil).

  8. Stir in lemon zest and juice.

  9. Season with pepper to taste.


Grilled Chicken Barley Bowl

Serves: 4


·      1/2 cup (125 ml) pearl or pot barley

·      2 cups (500 ml) baby arugula

·      4 carrots, sliced lengthwise

·      2 red peppers, quartered

·      2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 lb/454 g)

·      2 tsp (10 ml) canola oil, divided

·      1 tsp chili powder

·      2 tsp (10 ml) balsamic vinegar



  1. In a small saucepan, cover barley with water; bring to a boil.

  2. Reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or until barley is tender but still chewy. Drain well and toss with arugula; set aside.

  3. Spray carrots and peppers with cooking spray; set aside.

  4. Toss chicken breasts with 1 tsp (5ml) of the oil and chili powder to coat.

  5. Heat grill to medium-high heat and grill carrots, peppers and chicken breasts for about 7 for the vegetables and about 12 minutes for the chicken. Turn occasionally until vegetables are tender and chicken is no longer pink inside. Remove to cutting board.

  6. Slice carrots and peppers; toss with remaining oil and vinegar.

  7. Divide barley mixture among 4 bowls and top with vegetables.

8. Slice the chicken and place over top to serve.

Apple Cranberry Crisp

Serves: 6


·      ½ cup dried cherries (or raisins if not available)

·      zest of 1 whole orange or lemon

·      1 cup sugar (or Splenda if desired)

·      1 tsp flour

·      ½ tsp ground ginger

·      ¼ tsp salt

·      3 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, chopped (about 4 cups)

·      6-8 oz cranberries, fresh or frozen, cleaned, rinsed, drained



·      1/2 cup panko crumbs (Japanese breadcrumbs) – use regular if not available

·      2 tsp brown sugar

·      ¼ tsp ground ginger

·      2 tsp butter, melted



  1. Preheat oven and prepare baking pan – use a 10″ quiche dish.

  2. Soak the cherries/raisins if needed in ½ cup warm water for 20 minutes, drain. Combine them with the fruit zest in a small bowl.

  3. In a large bowl, mix together, sugar/Splenda, flour ginger and salt.

  4. Into the bowl, stir in the apples, cranberries, and dried cherries/currants and the zest.

  5. Turn this into the prepared baking pan.

  6. In a small bowl, mix together all the topping ingredients.

  7. Sprinkle over the top of the fruit.

  8. Bake for 45 minutes until bubbly and many of the cranberries have popped.

  9. Serve warm alone or topped with ½ cup low-fat frozen yogurt.



If someone you love has been diagnosed with heart failure, you’ll want to read this


Each year, 60,000 Canadians are diagnosed with heart failure, as reported by the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research. One in two Canadians have been touched by heart failure and the support offered by family members, friends, and other caregivers can often make a difference in the quality of life for heart failure patients.


Carers or family caregivers, take on an unpaid support role for those living with chronic heart failure. In Canada, there are 750,200 carers providing social and emotional support; and sometimes physical care for loved ones with a cardiovascular disease, as reported by Carers Canada.


Burden, stress, and depression are associated with the caregiving role in the heart failure population. However, no two cases of heart failure are the same and each patient requires a different level of support depending on their unique situation.


We recently spoke with three Canadian caregivers who kindly shared their perspectives of heart failure with us (link to first post). Before the interviews ended, we asked each individual what they would say to someone whose loved one was recently diagnosed with heart failure.


Here’s the advice they have to share with you.


Erin Cherban: “It is critical that you attend appointments with your partner as your emotional states will make it difficult to comprehend what you are being told – take notes at appointments. If you feel frustrated with the information you receive, the appointments you are asked to attend, or any aspect of the healthcare journey, make sure you reach out, ask questions, and get clarification.”


“You will need to be your partner’s advocate. Also, if any of medical staff suggest that you look at specific books or use services, read or use them, they will help.”


Lyndall McCormack: “A support system is important, and friends and family are wonderful for that, but I was blessed to have another caregiver (the wife of another recent LVAD recipient) who met me for coffee while our spouses were having tests or appointments.”


“It was a freeing experience to be able to speak candidly with someone in the same position, going through the same things. We could say anything to each other, express how frustrated we were with our husbands or the doctors, and totally understand where we each were coming from.”


Mrs. Bloggs*: “It [heart failure] is not a death sentence. Read, get informed, learn, but don’t believe Dr. Google or everything that is on the internet. Get involved in online support groups for people living with heart failure. Don’t be afraid of asking questions and questioning answers.


“Get organized with a note-taking system as there will be a lot to learn. This is a roller-coaster ride. Enjoy and rejoice during the coasting times and pull up the big girl pants for the other times.”


The name *Mrs. Bloggs was used solely for the purpose of this article.




Dining out: How to eat healthy with heart failure


Heart failure has many potential causes such as high blood pressure, excess body weight, high cholesterol, and also diabetes which plays a role in several ways. The connection between diabetes and heart failure starts with high blood sugar levels.  

“Over time, high glucose in the bloodstream can damage the arteries, causing them to become stiff and hard,” as reported in an article by Dr. Mansoor Husain, executive director for the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research at UHN. “Diabetes accelerates atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), which can lead to heart attacks and stroke, contribute to dementia, and cause kidney damage and failure. The increased incidences of hypertension, heart attacks, and kidney disease in those with diabetes makes them particularly vulnerable to developing heart failure.”   

Individuals with diabetes may develop heart disease 15 years earlier than those without the chronic condition, according to Diabetes Canada. If you have heart failure, accompanied by diabetes or not, it’s important to maintain a healthy diet to lower any potential risks. A healthy diet is made up of mostly whole or natural foods and can help you improve your cholesterol levels, reduce your blood pressure, help you manage your body weight, and control your blood sugar, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

You might find it easy to eat a heart-healthy diet when you’re at home, but what happens when you dine out a restaurant or go on vacation? We’ve compiled a list of guidelines that can help.


Speak with your server

Many restaurants and eateries prepare food for special diets on a daily basis. You can ask your server’s advice to help you select tasty, low-fat, healthy dishes. Find out how each dish you would like to order is prepared. Avoid heavy sauces and fried foods where possible.


Carefully choose your main dish

 When ordering your entrée, it’s best to choose a low-sodium option such as grilled, baked, poached, or broiled skinless chicken, fish, or lean meat. “Too much sodium makes your body hold on to extra water. This makes your heart work harder because it has to pump the extra fluid around your body,” according to HealthLink BC.


Specify side dishes

When it comes to your side dishes, opt for salads and steamed vegetables to best complement your entrée and help you stay on track with healthy eating. You can also ask your server for low-calorie dressings and toppings. If this is not possible, request for dressings to be served on the side so you can manage usage.

Time insulin if needed

Sometimes, you will be waiting longer than expected for your meal to arrive. If you have diabetes, check in with your server or host and time your insulin injection appropriately if you know your meal is going to be delayed. At this point, you may need to eat a piece of fruit or bread to keep you going until your meal is ready.


Manage your portion sizes

Oftentimes, food portion sizes at restaurants or a friend’s home will be bigger than you would normally prepare for yourself. Only eat as much as you would like, don’t feel obliged to clean your plate. You can always take the rest home with you and enjoy it at your own pace.


Leave or split dessert

Desserts and baked goods such as cakes, candies, chocolate, cookies, doughnuts, ice cream, muffins, pastries, and pies, are high in added sugar, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Heart and Stroke recommends that you consume no more than 10% of your total calories per day from added sugars – ideally less than 5%. So, if you really want to have dessert, get someone to split it with you.  

Maintaining healthy eating habits and lifestyle choices has the potential to help you live a longer, healthier life with heart failure.



Finding strength amid frustration: A caregiver’s perspective of heart failure


One million Canadians have heart failure, the most rapidly rising cardiovascular disease in Canada, as reported by the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research. That’s one million people who have been diagnosed with an illness, for which in 2018, there is no cure.

Frequent hospital appointments, daily medication, monitoring your diet, and taking extra precautions when travelling, suddenly become part of your life. Because of this, heart failure patients often require assistance from a caregiver; a spouse, family member, or friend.

Having the support of a caregiver can contribute to a heart failure patient’s own self-care. “The availability of a spouse or other family relative is likely to be of benefit to the CHF patient in improving overall quality of life of the patient and in assisting the medical management of the condition,” according to a review of Family caregiving and congestive heart failure written by Gerard J. Molloy, Derek W. Johnston, and Miles D. Witham.

However, caregiving can often cause frustration and emotional distress for family members and friends of an individual living with heart failure. Yet this is something you don’t often hear about. We spoke with three caregivers across Canada to hear their perspectives of supporting a loved one with heart failure.


Erin Cherban – Caregiver her husband

Erin Cherban’s husband has dilated cardiomyopathy and she notes how it all began nine years ago when he was experiencing shortness of breath, stomach pain, and tiredness. Their older son was one-year-old at the time, and she had just returned to work from maternity leave.

During their first appointment, Erin and her husband were told that he was only expected to live two years unless he got a heart transplant (which they were told was next to impossible). Thankfully, after changing to another cardiologist, the couple discovered that the initial diagnosis was not the only path forward.

Erin explains how the heart failure journey has changed their relationship. “Initially, for me, the biggest hurdle was trying to come to terms with potentially being a widow with a young child before I had even turned 40. It’s frustrating to feel helpless both for your partner and yourself.”

“It took us a few years to learn how to cope with the changes as he had to slow down and look after his health. Meanwhile, I panicked and looked for a new position that would give me the ability to financially support my entire family if necessary. After emerging through ‘survival mode’ as a couple, I think the experience made us much closer.”

 Nevertheless, Erin explains that there are elements of heart failure support which could be improved. “The support around heart failure is primarily geared toward elderly people. It’s an odd experience trying to juggle child-care needs with medical appointments and work.”

“I know ‘patient navigators’ are becoming popular in hospitals back East, I think this would help in BC. I’m lucky that I work at St. Paul’s Hospital and have a good understanding of our healthcare system, but at times I had difficulty comprehending what we were being told at appointments and then understanding the long-term impact for my husband and our family. It would be helpful to have someone – a navigator/social worker/peer mentor – to talk with at times.”

Erin stresses that it’s important not to fall into a cycle of feeling hopeless. “Each individual person’s journey is different, and we are lucky to live in an era with new advances. You need to take the journey one day at a time and not worry about the future, just concentrate on navigating the present. Make sure you create opportunities for fun and laughter for both of you and your family. Accept help when you need it from any source,” Erin added.

Lyndall McCormack - Caregiver to her husband

“I am a caregiver to Rick, my husband of 36 years,” said Lyndall McCormack. In late 2010, Rick’s congestive heart failure was diagnosed in the ER of St. Paul’s Hospital, although he had been treated by a cardiologist for five years prior to this.

“Many of the doctors had given up on Rick, with one suggesting he get his affairs in order as there was nothing more they could do. It was a chance meeting with Dr. Toma who actually gave us hope by listening to our story and wondering out loud why the transplant team wasn’t notified. He put us on a more positive path.”

Lyndall describes Rick’s heart failure diagnosis as frightening for both of them. “We were both scared of the chance of stroke more than anything during the surgery. With all this uncertainty we were on a roller coaster of emotion but our relationship was pretty much strong and intact.”

After surgery, Rick’s body didn’t respond well and he spent three months in the cardiac ward.  Several times before and after the surgery, Rick had four incidences of ‘code blue’. Lyndall told us how she even observed him ‘die’ and called for help. “Mercifully he was saved but the aftermath of these incidences was that his larynx was injured which resulted him being put a liquid diet and developed sepsis in the heart incision.”

“It was a time where I learned to adopt a ‘whatever’ attitude in respond to feeling so powerless.” Lyndall relayed how her life became one of hospital visitations, consultation/advocacy with the doctors, reporting Rick’s condition to family and friends, work, sleeping, and eating.

 She found that waiting in the hospital for doctors to inform them of Rick’s condition was very frustrating as they often didn’t appear at the expected time. “Often Rick’s memory of what was said by the doctor was fuzzy probably because of the medication he was on and I felt left out of the loop at those times. Also, I found it particularly frustrating not to be included in the doctors’ rounds discussion with Rick.” Today, she feels that a parking concession for caregivers at hospitals would be helpful and lower stress.

“Being both a spouse and caregiver can get crazy because sometimes it’s not very clear which ‘hat’ you’re wearing at any one time. The patient is dealing with their own mortality, pain and fears and can be demanding waving you off because you are trying to help them (too much in their view), or demanding care and attention, such as dressing changes.”

 “Their personality can change, and you may not be able to see the person you married. Our relationship was chaotic and confusing but like with any storm I held on to the aphorism that ‘this too shall pass’. For me, it was not until he [Rick] had recovered from his heart transplant that I began to see the person I married again. Luckily it didn’t take me too long before I fell back in love with him again,” Lyndall concluded.


Anonymous – Caregiver to her husband of 35 years

The final caregiver we spoke to wishes to remain anonymous. *Mrs. Bloggs’ husband suffered a heart attack during a trip away in November 2017.

“Unfortunately, his symptoms did not present themselves as typical heart attack and he thought he had food poisoning – as a result, we didn’t seek medical attention until the next day. By that time, his heart muscle had been damaged. He received two stents in the US and an additional four more back in Canada. Even though we were told he had heart damage in November, we did not fully understand what heart failure meant until a nurse from the cardiac clinic explained it to us in late December,” she said.

In terms of the affect that heart failure has on their relationship, Mrs. Bloggs notes that there is sometimes an added element of sadness that wasn’t there before. “I feel his pain when he can’t easily do the things he used to be able to do like walk up a hill/stair or help family.”

Due to fluid/sodium restrictions, the couple don’t eat out as often, nor are they as spontaneous when it comes to socializing with people, especially with physical activities. “We have found that our plans need to be flexible as some days are better than others. More than anything else, I am profoundly thankful and grateful that he is still here.”

As a caregiver, Mrs. Bloggs finds it frustrating to be the ‘police’ in their relationship – reminding her husband about sodium/fluid/dietary restrictions and asking him to be mindful of how much he takes. “I hate being a ‘nag’ and sometimes decide I’m not going to be but then I see he deteriorates and so I go back to reminding him. I totally understand when he’s so sick and tired of seeing doctor after doctor, and it’s difficult for me to try and maintain a light and positive attitude in order to coax him into a better mood.”

“If there was a system of direct advocacy that could ease the load, that would make things easier.  By that, I mean if there was someone who could evaluate how he is doing on a weekly/bi-weekly basis and help with making recommendations/appointments.”

“I personally don’t like the term caregiver because I don’t feel like that is what I am.  My husband can take care of himself, but I am his support person, emotionally more than anything else. I sometimes need to be supported but can’t ask because this makes him feel bad. It’s difficult but rewarding to learn to treasure every moment and live fully in every moment.”


The name *Mrs. Bloggs was used solely for the purpose of this article.




7 Tips for Traveling with Heart Failure

Being diagnosed with a chronic illness like heart failure instantly makes you think about the rest of your life. “How will this impact my family? Will I be able to do the things I love? Can I travel?” These are common questions that every heart failure patient has.

According to the Ted Rogers Centre For Heart Research, 60,000 new people are diagnosed with heart failure every year.

Despite this figure, heart failure is an illness that can be managed. This means you can still enjoy doing the things you love when you take some time to get organized and plan ahead. Living with heart failure shouldn't stop you from enjoying life and traveling to the places you always wanted to visit.

We’ve rounded up the following tips to help make things a little easier when traveling with heart failure.

Prepare in advance for air travel

Although oxygen levels are slightly lower on an airplane, air travel generally isn’t a problem for those with stable heart failure. However, your doctor may recommend supplemental oxygen for your flight if your symptoms have worsened recently. Make sure to contact the airline before booking your trip to ensure their policy allows for supplemental oxygen usage and make the necessary arrangements.


In-flight aids

Many travellers experience swollen ankles and muscle cramps as a result of sitting still for extended periods on an aircraft. To help reduce these effects and prevent blood clots, you can wear knee-high compression stockings during your flight. Walking around the cabin and stretching regularly can also help maintain continuous blood flow. Additionally, staying hydrated and avoiding alcohol are also helpful. 

Pack weather-suitable clothing

Your body should never get too hot or too cold because extreme changes in temperature can put undue stress on your heart. This is why you should pack the right clothing for the destination that you’ll be visiting. It also means you don’t have to worry about finding a store when you arrive. Think of packing light, loose, and comfortable clothing for hot destinations and warm layers for colder locations. You can also bring a hat for extra protection. Find out more about managing heart failure in the heat here. 

Medication coverage

When you’re travelling, it’s imperative to make sure that you have enough medication with you as delays can happen unexpectedly. You can ask your doctor to write a letter outlining what your medication is (plus the generic name), and the dosage. It’s important to carry your medication in your hand luggage so that you have it at hand when you need it to avoid any issues if your luggage is lost. You can contact the airline you’re flying with ahead of time to see if there are any rules regarding carrying medication. Once you arrive at your destination, you can set an alarm at the local time you would usually take your medication.

Maintaining your diet

It can be difficult to maintain your regular diet when you're travelling. To help limit any symptom changes, you can watch your salt intake, limit your alcohol consumption, and ensure you’re getting enough fluids. Eating regular nutritious meals can help ensure you get your recommended daily intake of fruit and vegetables. Doing a grocery shop and preparing your own meals and snacks whenever possible also helps.


Travel insurance

Securing travel insurance is one of the most vital things to do before you depart for your vacation. You can save a copy of your policy on your smartphone or print out a copy and keep it in your wallet. Discuss your travel insurance plan with a broker representative to make sure the policy you get covers any medical treatments that you may need and includes coverage for pre-existing conditions. It's also helpful to have a clear understanding of the steps you should take if you need emergency care during your vacation.

Emergency preparations

Preparing for emergency situations before you go traveling is key because you can never anticipate when something is going to happen. You can find out where the nearest hospital is to the location where you'll be staying, get a half page summary of your medical status from your cardiologist, and also have your doctor’s number in your smartphone if you need to make an emergency call. 

Everyone deserves a vacation to unwind, and those with heart failure are no exception. Although the experience may be different for each individual patient, planning is vital for a smooth transition and enjoyable holiday experience.


St. Paul’s Hospital celebrates 500 heart transplant surgeries in BC

Dr. Sean Virani (R), Head of Cardiology at Providence Health Care, with Marc Bains (L) and his wife, Jessica Bains. 

Dr. Sean Virani (R), Head of Cardiology at Providence Health Care, with Marc Bains (L) and his wife, Jessica Bains. 

On August 8, a special event took place at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver to celebrate a major milestone – 500 heart transplants in British Columbia. Heart transplant recipients, the transplant care team at St. Paul’s Hospital, representatives from BC Transplant and Public Health Services Authority, and Health Minister Adrian Dix, joined together for the occasion.

The event also celebrated the 30th anniversary of the transplant program and marked a monumental occasion for the HeartLife Foundation’s co-founder and vice president, Marc Bains. Marc was the guest of honour at the event as he became the 500th heart transplant recipient in BC, in June 2018.

Marc lived with heart failure for 10 years and received his healthy heart after 10 months on the transplant wait list. Surgical director of the Cardiac Transplant Program of BC, Dr. Anson Cheung, performed the surgery which took place 30 years after the very first heart transplant procedure was performed in the province.

“I feel grateful to be part of this milestone. That moment when the newly transplanted heart begins to beat is something I never get tired of,” said Dr. Anson Cheung in a Providence Health Care News (PHC News) release.

Marc explained how, at 23 years old, his heart failure began with a simple cold which then progressed to the flu. “I had chest pains, I was exhausted, I was falling asleep at the kitchen table. Turns out my heart was functioning at only 10 to 15 percent of what it should be.”

Lifestyle changes and medical interventions allowed Marc to come off the heart transplant wait list and eventually establish the HeartLife Foundation with Jillianne Code, a two-time transplant survivor.

Then in 2017, Marc’s heart failure began to worsen, and he was put back on the heart transplant list.

"There were points where I thought I might not make it, but needless to say I always seemed to bounce back. I was ready for the heart, I was ready for the transplant and to move on to the next stage,” Marc told On The Coast's Gloria Macarenko.

Almost three months after the transplant surgery, Marc is looking forward to getting back to work, driving, and living his life to the fullest.

During his speech at St. Paul’s Hospital, Marc said: “I’m excited for the next stage of my life with my new beautiful and powerful heart. To my donor and donor family, thank you for the gift you have given me and my family. You have given me a second chance to live a full life, and I’ll be forever grateful for that.”

Over 1.2 million people living in BC have registered for the Organ Donor Registry, and more than 600 British Columbians are on the wait list for an organ transplant, according to a release from Providence Health Care.

Speaking to CBC News, Marc said: “I just want everyone to know that it's easy to become an organ donor. It's fast, it's simple and you could save a life." You can find out more about becoming a donor by visiting BC Transplant.

Listen to Marc’s full On The Coast interview here

Symptoms of Heart Failure and What to Look Out For


Heart failure is a serious condition which can affect anyone, however, it can be a difficult disease to diagnose since the symptoms may be subtle at times. “Symptoms may be variable depending on the underlying cause and severity of the patient’s heart failure,” said Sean A. Virani MD, MSc, MPH, FRCPC, FCCS.

Dr. Virani is an Associate Professor of Medicine at UBC, Senior Medical Advisor of Cardiac Services BC, President of the Canadian Heart Failure Society, and Medical Director at the HeartLife Foundation. He explains that there can be significant overlap between the symptoms of heart failure and other common cardiac and respiratory diseases.

“Not infrequently, heart failure will be incorrectly diagnosed as pneumonia, asthma or COPD (chronic obstructive lung disease) since the symptoms may be similar.”

Heart failure symptoms

Patients with heart failure will, in general, complain of shortness of breath, initially with exertion, but then progress to having “difficulty breathing, even at rest.”

Dr. Virani explains how, oftentimes, patients will be unable to lay flat in bed at night and will prop themselves up on pillows to help with labored breathing. Also, that some patients describe waking up in the night “to catch their breath”.

“Commonly, patients will note swelling in their legs and abdomen, which is due to fluid retention, and fatigue resulting from poor heart function.” Each heart failure case is unique, and the symptoms of heart failure may come and go over time, according to the Ted Rogers Centre For Heart Research.

The question presents itself; how long does it take for an individual who injures their heart to notice the symptoms of heart failure?

“There is no rule or best guestimate on the delay between developing dysfunction of the heart muscle and the onset of symptoms. Some patients may go years before experiencing symptoms, while others have symptoms right away,” said Dr. Virani.

“In general, the more severe the symptoms and the more functional impairment the individual experiences (i.e. inability to perform exercise, walk short distances or even care for themselves) the worse the prognosis for heart failure.”


Factors which contribute to diagnosis

Heart failure is very common. Every year, 50,000 new people are diagnosed with the chronic condition, according to the Ted Rogers Centre For Heart Research.

“The diagnosis of heart failure is primarily made on clinical grounds – that means that healthcare providers rely heavily on taking a history and performing a physical exam in order to make the diagnosis.” Dr. Virani notes that a comprehensive history and physical exam will also help the practitioner to identify the underlying cause for why a patient may have developed heart failure.

“Once the clinical diagnosis of heart failure is made, additional diagnostic testing may be used to confirm the diagnosis, provide insight on the cause of heart failure, identify the optimal treatment strategy and determine prognosis. This may include blood tests, an ultrasound of the heart which is also called an echocardiogram, an electrocardiogram (ECG), and in some cases an invasive test called an angiogram or heart catheterization.”

Heart failure has many causes or underlying risk factors. “The most common is damage to the heart muscle caused by a heart attack (myocardial infarction),” according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

High blood pressure can lead to heart failure if left undiagnosed and untreated for a long period. That’s why it’s important to get your blood pressure checked at least once every two years, or more often if your physician recommends you do so.

If heart failure is left untreated

“For all corners with heart failure, regardless of cause, symptom and disease severity, the average survival is 50% at 5 years. That means that 50% of patients will not be alive at five years if their disease is left untreated,” Dr. Virani added.

“Hospitalization is a major risk factor for mortality and this is why healthcare providers work hard to ensure patients don’t get hospitalized for their heart failure.” Despite this, more than 100,000 Canadians are hospitalized annually due to heart failure, according to the Ted Rogers Centre For Heart Research.

“In BC, approximately 12% of patients will be re-hospitalized for heart failure in 30-days and approximately 25% will be re-hospitalized at one year. After the first hospitalization, average survival drops to 30 months and after four hospitalizations, the average survival is only six months. Death and hospitalization can be significantly reduced with medication and adherence with lifestyle recommendations,” Dr. Virani concluded.

Always speak to a medical professional if you experience one or more of the common symptoms of heart failure.


Heart failure tools: Support groups and how they can benefit you


Heart failure is on the rise in Canada. It’s often the last stop for people who have experienced a journey through cardiovascular disease, according to a 2016 report on The Burden of Heart Failure, published by the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Regardless of whether you’re aged 18 or 68 being diagnosed with heart failure and discovering that there is currently no cure for this chronic illness, is a shocking thing to hear. It can cause a mix of many different emotions as you start to envision the impact of this diagnosis on your life.

Heart failure is often misunderstood by the public, and this can make speaking out about the illness quite difficult for patients. In 2016, a poll by the Heart and Stroke Foundation revealed that “more than a quarter of Canadians believe that heart failure means your heart has completely stopped beating” and “one fifth mistakenly believe that it is a part of aging.” In fact, heart failure means your heart is damaged or weakened (failing), not failed, and it can affect people of all ages.

It’s normal to feel anxious

“Early diagnosis, lifestyle changes, and appropriate drug treatments can help you lead a normal and active life, stay out of hospital, and live longer,” as stated in the Heart and Stroke Foundation report. That’s the crucial thing to remember – heart failure can be managed. And you’re the most important person in managing your illness.

Nevertheless, it’s normal to feel stressed or anxious about how heart failure is going to affect you and your future. According to Health E-University’s Cardiac College, “feeling a loss of control can have the same effect on your heart as actually having the bad things that you fear happen.”

The Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research notes that over time, as you “learn more about the condition [heart failure],” feelings of worry and anxiety will “subside.” However, if your “stress or worry seems out of control and is interfering with your daily life, you should speak to someone about it.”

Although you might feel like you want to be alone, getting support and help from others can be invaluable to helping you understand and manage your diagnosis.


Support groups

Talking to friends, family, and loved ones is an important part of living with heart failure. In addition, the emotional support gained from speaking to others with similar experiences can be very reassuring and helpful.

Depression and Heart Failure: Can Support Groups Reduce Depressive Symptoms?, an article by nurse practitioner, Estrella-Holder, published by the University of Manitoba’s Cardiac Sciences Program, states that support groups “may have beneficial effects in having members providing psychological support to each other.” It notes that members may improve their feelings of “wellbeing” and possibly “reduce depressive symptoms” by engaging with others in “similar situations.”

At the HeartLife Foundation, we run a closed, private support group on Facebook.

It’s a safe place for individuals living with heart failure, and their loved ones to ask questions, share information, and learn about the latest heart failure research. All members live with or have been impacted by heart failure and can talk freely about their experiences with others who understand.

We believe that a positive attitude, friendly support, and consistent encouragement, can help improve self-management of heart failure, which, in turn, can offer an improved quality of life.


Managing heart failure in the heat: 6 steps to help make things easier


Temperatures are soaring across Canada, and while we welcome the warmer days, it’s not always easy living with heart failure in high levels of heat and humidity. In fact, these conditions can make things incredibly dangerous for people with cardiovascular health problems. At present, there are approximately 600,000 Canadians living with heart failure, as reported by the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

“Your body shouldn’t get too hot (or too cold). If your temperature rises too far, the proteins that build your body and run virtually all of its chemical processes can stop working,” as stated in 2011 Harvard Health blog post titled: Heat is hard on the heart; simple precautions can ease the strain.

When you get too hot, your body tries to get rid of extra heat through radiation and evaporation, both of which stress your heart. Additionally, the rate of bodily "heat gain" is more than the rate of "heat loss" in hot environments, as reported by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety. For most healthy people, dealing with these changes is manageable, but for those with heart failure, or those on the verge of it, hot, humid weather can be especially hard.

According to Patrick J. Skerrett, former executive editor at Harvard Health, the extra work that heat brings for the heart, “compounded by the loss of sodium, potassium, and the internal flood of stress hormones, can push some people into trouble.” For heart failure patients, this can be enough to cause “dizziness or falls” due to the “combination of increased blood flow to the skin and dehydration” which can drop blood pressure significantly lower.

In hot and humid workplaces, the “cooling of the body due to sweat evaporation is limited because the air cannot accept more moisture,” as noted by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t be exposed to heat or that you’ll never be able to go on a vacation in the sun again, rather, you can make some small changes to avoid any complications or “heat stroke” due to hot weather. To help you, we’ve compiled a list of six tips for managing heart failure in the heat.

Wear lighter clothing

Make sure you’re as comfortable as you can be when it comes to dressing for hot and humid weather – even if you’re not spending a lot of time outside. Loose, light, breathable clothing will help you feel more at ease and wearing a hat while outdoors can also help.

Reduce your physical activity

Take it easier when exercising in warmer weather and avoid putting any extra strain on your body. Early in the morning or later in the evening are often better times to exercise outside when the temperatures are not at peak.


Manage your fluid intake

The Heart and Stroke Foundation states that at least half of a heart failure patient’s daily fluid intake should be water. On hot days, you may want to increase your fluid intake to reduce your chances of overheating. If you’re on a fluid restriction, diuretics, or have bowel problems, this could make staying hydrated more difficult. Try freezing a 500 ml bottle of water overnight and sipping on it throughout the day if you have to limit fluids (DB Roberts, Pumping Marvelous). Caffeine-based drinks act as a diuretic so it’s best to try avoiding them.

Stay cool

One of the best ways to beat the heat is by breathing in chilled air. You can do this by spending time in the shade, taking a cool shower or bath, putting a wet cloth or ice pack under your arm, or setting your air conditioning to a cool mode if you have one. Spending time indoors and closing windows and blinds at home on hot days can also help.

Eat lighter meals

Avoid overloading your stomach in the heat by eating lighter meals such as salads, cold soups, and fruits. These options give you extra fluid while helping to satisfy your hunger. If, however, you’re on a fluid restriction, you could try sucking on ice cubes or frozen grapes, or perhaps using a mini water spray bottle.

Use caution with spa facilities

The use of spa facilities such as baths, saunas, jacuzzis, and steam rooms, is generally not recommended for heart patients. In hot weather it’s especially important not to expose yourself to sudden temperature changes between hot and cold pools. Always make sure to speak to your doctor before you use any such spa facilities.

Heat exhaustion symptoms include nausea or irritability, dizziness, muscle cramps, feeling faint, headaches, fatigue, thirst, heavy sweating, and a high body temperature, as outlined by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety.

It’s crucial to seek medical attention immediately if you experience any of these symptoms.