The clock is ticking for millions of Canadians with heart disease – but like the final seconds of a football game, there is hope.

Canadian Football League promises a touchdown to save failing hearts

Regardless of your preferred colours, Canada’s annual celebration of football is about to hit a fever pitch with the upcoming Canadian Football League divisional finals this weekend in Ottawa and Calgary. They culminate with thousands of fans from across the country descending on Toronto for the 104th Grey Cup at BMO Field on Sunday, Nov. 27.

The CFL playoffs and final game will have special significant this year for the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre.

Railway giant Canadian Pacific (CP), a sponsor of the CFL, also supports heart-focused initiatives each year through fundraising activities spearheaded by its community investment program, CP has Heart. This year, it has chosen PMCC’s Mechanical Heart Program as its beneficiary.

For every touchdown scored during the CFL playoffs, CP has Heart will donate $5,000 to the Mechanical Heart Program. During the Grey Cup, that number doubles to $10,000.

There will also be a “mini-museum” installation showcasing the evolution of the mechanical heart, with PMCC patients (mechanical heart recipients) and staff on hand as part of Grey Cup Festival activities in downtown Toronto on Friday, Nov. 25 and Saturday, Nov. 26.

Vivek Rao

Dr. Vivek Rao

The largest of its kind in Canada, the Mechanical Heart Program led by Dr. Vivek Rao, Division Head, Cardiovascular Surgery, began in 2001. It offers leading-edge device therapies — surgically-implanted mechanical heart technology — to severely-ill cardiac patients who meet the strict criteria for this type of treatment option.

Patients enduring the debilitating effects of heart failure are among those for which a mechanical heart — ventricular assist device (VAD) — could provide support, assuming the pumping (of blood) function of the heart.

Each device costs about $100,000 per patient, with a fixed number of VADs funded by Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, annually. The rest is supported through philanthropy. In the first decade of the Mechanical Heart Program, more than 25 per cent of all mechanical heart devices were supported through donor funding.

Did you ever wonder what is a Mechanical Heart?

Peter Munk Cardiac Centre surgical teams have implanted more than 200 mechanical hearts to date. They serve as either a critical “bridge to transplant” or increasingly “destination therapy,” with some patients even experiencing such significant improvement in their own heart function while on the device that they are eventually able to have the mechanical cardiac device taken out, or explanted.

Graphic of Mechanical Heart

How a mechanical heart works.

Dr. Rao estimates PMCC could implant 125 more mechanical hearts each year with additional funding.

“My vision for the program is continued growth until we hit U.S. and European norms for implant rates,” says Dr. Rao, noting that is two to three per 100,000 population. “That translates into 100 to 150 VADs per year given a population in the Greater Toronto area (GTA) of five million people.

“That would make us one of the biggest VAD programs in the world.”

Dr. Rao will be among a group of VAD patients and PMCC staff on hand for a cheque presentation ceremony during the Grey Cup game.

You can join this show of support by making your donation.