Cardiac catheterization lab specialist Kathy Bogacki preps the room Wednesday for the arrival of a patient.
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Jack Masters can thank the pioneering work of cardiologist Chris Lai that he’s still around today.
On New Year’s Day 81-year-old Masters, Thunder Bay’s former mayor and the grand old man of city politics, suffered a heart attack.
Driving himself to the hospital, within seconds of arriving at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre treatment was under way.
Masters, who survived to tell the tale, said he still remembers the reaction of his doctors and nurses once they realized he was going to make it.
“I can still seem them in the operating room, dancing around. ‘It worked, it worked. Oh my God,’” Masters said Wednesday at a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the hospital’s cardiac catheterization lab.
Without Lai’s vision, none of it would have been possible.
Met with opposition from his colleagues at the old Port Arthur General Hospital, who said an isolated lab would be an abstract failure without surgical backup, Lai climbed plenty of obstacles to see his dream realized in 1988, after several years of fighting for its very existence.
It was a sign of the times, he said.
“We had no money. We had no budget. So we had to borrow other people’s equipment, borrow other people’s money, borrow other people’s staff to establish the cardiac catheterization lab,” Lai said. “It is without a doubt it was a major achievement, despite the fact that many of my colleagues did not really believe that angiograms should be done here in Thunder Bay because we were so isolated.”
How quickly they changed their tunes once the lab was up and running.
Prior to its existence, patients suffering cardiac incidents were at the mercy of hospitals in other communities. They’d be flown to Hamilton, London, Ont., Winnipeg or Toronto for angiograms, and the delay was often deadly.
As Lai explained, the quicker a patient gets treatment, the likelier they are to survive.
“When you had a heart attack, the only thing we could have given you at the time was something called a clot buster. There was only about a 65 to 70 per cent success rate. We have to open up the artery as soon as we can, mechanically, maybe angioplasty or by giving you … medication to dissolve the blood clot.
“That’s why I pushed and pushed for a cardiac catheterization lab for Thunder Bay,” Lai said.
Fellow cardiologist Frank Nigro said the early days of the lab weren’t easy.
“The Mayo Clinic has 44 cardiologists. We were left with two to serve Thunder Bay and the region,” Nigro said.
“It puts into perspective the amount of dedication required to make it happen.”
Without the lab, angioplasty, introduced within years of the hospital opening in 2004, would not be possible, said Mark Henderson, the hospital’s director of interventional cardiology.
It’s also paving the way for the introduction of cardiovascular surgery and an electrophysiology program in Thunder Bay, which Henderson hopes to begin in the next few years.
“We have a proposal in at the ministry about that as we speak,” Henderson said.
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