I’ve always been physically active; I loved hiking and was a children’s educator. In 2009, a virus infected my heart and slowed down my life… and my heart rate.
It was at the Montreal Heart Institute that I received a defibrillator. Thanks to this device, I was healthy again. In fact, I thought I was invincible. Life was going to remind me that was not the case…
On January 15, 2015 I was transported to the MHI in cardiac arrest. I was completely panicked and I looked at my cardiologist, Dr. Guy B. Pelletier, right in the eyes and said, “Doctor, I’m afraid of dying!” He stroked my hair and gently said, “Hold on Johanne, we aren’t going to give up on you.”
My life was saved, but I desperately needed a heart transplant. At the time, I was in such a bad state that I was most likely going be transferred to a palliative care unit. Unbeknownst to me, I was about to receive the two most wonderful gifts of my life.
On the morning of February 24, my grandson Anthony was born. The birth of my little angel occurred the same day of my own rebirth. A heart was finally available for me.
I received my heart transplant on February 25, 2015. I was incredibly nervous about the surgery. However, I knew I was in good hands because the Montreal Heart Institute is internationally renowned for heart transplants. The compassionate care I received during my hospital stay was outstanding. I was also touched by how much respect the doctors had for the nurses, technicians, and patient attendants.
It moves me to think about Caroline Dupré, an extraordinary nurse. Her empathy, warmth, and dedication made all the difference in the world during my moments of desperation. I now consider Caroline a very close friend.
Every day, I think about the person who donated their heart so I could live. Their heart lives in me and I cherish it.
Words cannot describe the love I have for my husband and my children, my precious allies who never faltered in their belief that I would get better. Together, we won the war!
I will be eternally grateful to the Institute for giving me the chance to enthusiastically embrace life. Life is beautiful and is worth living!
Johanne Prévost, 52
Claire Charpentier, 67 years old
"I was born with pulmonary stenosis, a congenital heart defect that caused a lot of health problems for me when I was a child and teenager. I often had shortness of breath, stomach issues, and blue lips and fingertips. I was also very skinny for my age. When I turned 20, my family doctor at the time, Dr. André Daudelin, diagnosed the defect. After the diagnosis, he sent me to the Montreal Heart Institute right away because of my health. I could have died if I didn't have heart surgery.
At 20, I was living with my family in Saint-Simon-de-Bagot, a small town near Saint-Hyacinthe, and I was scared to go to the big city of Montreal. I had open-heart surgery on August 15, 1968. I was extremely stressed the night before my surgery because I was afraid that I would never wake up—medicine wasn't as advanced as it is today. I prayed a lot before my surgery! The cardiac surgeon, Dr. Pierre Grondin, a wonderful man who unfortunately passed away, carefully explained the entire procedure, which really reassured me. The nursing staff also took good care of me throughout my stay at the Montreal Heart Institute.
It was very painful for my scar to heal and my convalescence took three months, but the surgery changed my life! I was able to start doing things again, like working as a hairdresser. Life opened up for me and my dream of having a family came true. I had two healthy daughters and I've been with my husband for 45 years.
Forty-seven years ago, I would never have thought I'd get to have an old-age pension!"
Sylvain Bédard, father and MHI heart transplant recipient
Sylvain Bédard’s name is synonymous with motivation and passion for life, both in Quebec and abroad. He became the first heart transplant recipient ever to make it past the 6,000-metre mark on Bolivia’s Mount Sajama (2004) and the first Canadian heart transplant recipient to reach the Chamonix summit of Mont Blanc (2003).
The road leading to the highest summit – a life-threatening struggle for health – began over 30 years ago. Born with a congenital heart disease, Sylvain Bédard remembers his first visit to the Montreal Heart Institute in 1980: “I was in good hands. My doctor was Dr. Raymond Lamontagne, one of the few paediatric cardiologists in Montreal, and Dr. Paul David himself conducted my first electrocardiogram.”
As the third Canadian to receive a pacemaker-defibrillator, Sylvain Bédard has seen cardiology evolve and feels that he owes his life to the researchers and medical staff of the Institute. In turn, they believe he facilitated their work: “His courage and determination allowed us to push the boundaries of cardiovascular research and treatments,” said Dr. Michel Pellerin, the cardiac surgeon who performed Sylvain Bédard’s heart transplant in 2000.
And who does he credit with helping him reach the highest summit of his life? “By giving me a heart, my donor was giving me a life and the chance to see my five boys grow up. I could have waited at home, taking my 18 pills a day. Instead, I decided to show people how lucky I am to have my health, my family by my side, and the opportunity to fulfill my dreams. It’s my way of saying thank you to my donor and to the Institute,” he said.
Since returning from Mont Blanc, Sylvain Bédard has channelled his passion for living into motivational speaking engagements, several of which helped support the Foundation. To date, he has shared his story with over 45,000 people, including thousands of students and entrepreneurs.
“ By giving me a heart, my donor was giving me a life and the chance to see my five boys grow up."
Paule Mercier, MHI patient
I had to have two surgeries as an infant to survive a congenital heart defect which limited the blood flow to my lungs. But the problem reappeared in 2003.
The MHI’s rapid intervention enabled me to survive once again and I can now lead a normal life. My family and friends couldn’t believe how healthy I looked after the surgery!
People don’t realize how blessed they are to simply go up a flight of stairs, a simple task which, in my case, was like climbing a mountain. Today, I climb stairs without loosing my breath, walk briskly and go about my business normally, whether at home or at work.
My heartfelt thanks to the MHI for giving me a second chance at life.
Tony Meti, Foundation Board Member
Tony Meti has known for quite some time that an institution’s greatest asset is its staff. He realized that the Montreal Heart Institute would be at risk, particularly with respect to its visionary approach, should it be unable to attract and retain highly specialized staff. It led him to create the Bal du Coeur with a view to raise funds for post-doctoral awards. For the past ten years, the Bal du Coeur Fellowships have been highly successful in attracting and retaining promising young heart specialists looking to broaden their expertise and adopt the MHI’s mission as their own.
From this highly successful initiative stems the MHIF’s innovative nursing scholarships. Tony Meti joined forces with the MHI Foundation and TD Bank in 2007-2008 to provide specialized training to cardiology nurses, individuals whose extraordinary contribution deserves to be recognized.
The millions of dollars raised over the years by the Bal du Coeur continues to make headway. In June 2008, the Foundation launched the Bal du Coeur Seminars, a showcase for knowledge transfer where Bal du Coeur Fellows shared their research findings with MHI colleagues.
The launch of the seminars served as an opportunity to pay tribute to Tony Meti, a man of vision who continues to contribute to the excellence of the MHI and its Foundation.
“I believe that giving is more important than receiving and feel immense joy at the thought of playing a role in progress at its best. If everyone got involved in a cause they felt strongly about, it would make the world a better place”
Nicole Parent : former MHI Head of Surgical Units
Eyes sparkling with energy, focused and welcoming, Nicole Parent offers Foundation staff and donors a tour of her world: the Montreal Heart Institute’s Surgical Care and Intensive Care units. She joined the MHI team 20 years ago and has been the Head of Surgical Units for the past three years. Like other members of the MHI staff, she has been highly supportive of the Foundation’s mission.
Nicole Parent has always been keenly interested in why people feel a need to help and made it the subject of her master’s thesis in nursing at Université de Montréal. “What really fascinated me was the way patients naturally helped one another,” she said. After completing her degree, she established the Volunteer Support Program for Cardiac Surgery Patients, which is celebrating its 18th anniversary this year. Trained by a team of MHI specialists, eight volunteers accompany patients and families before and after surgery to help reduce anxiety. This pioneering approach was so successful that the American Heart Association asked Ms. Parent to present her findings at its annual conference in 1995.
Nicole Parent is herself a dedicated volunteer. As National Research Chair of the Canadian Council of Cardiovascular Nurses, she gives of her time to organize the Council’s annual conferences and helps disseminate the knowledge gained through cardiovascular and cerebrovascular research.
On a January 22, I came home after work and found two messages on my voicemail. The first was from my mother, asking me to call her back. The second was her again, saying never mind and we’d talk the next day. “I’m going out for the evening, to a dinner party. I have to get ready. Bye.”
My mother lives alone. She drives her car, cooks Italian, goes to the opera, eats lunch at restaurants with her friends or has them over to her place. She spends a great deal of her time on the phone planning her days and then preparing to enjoy them. When she doesn’t go out – though the mere thought depresses her – she curls up with a good book, and every page lifts her spirits. She devours her books, but as she says, “they have to have a happy ending.”. My mother is a veritable dynamo: her endless energy is legendary; she’s even a little too energetic for some.
But last spring, the sparkle in her eyes began to dim. Short of breath, she moved from armchair to armchair, and she lost her lust for just about everything, even stories with happy endings. She avoided stairs. She no longer marched along at that hurried pace she’d adopted to seem young. My mother was old. My mother was scared.
A narrowing aortic valve was taking its toll on her, and one day, when at the Heart Institute for an appointment, they realized her atrial fibrillation rate was critical. She was rushed to the ER, where her heart stopped beating. We were terrified. Valve transplant surgery was not only necessary, but desperately urgent. On August 25, renowned surgeon Dr. Michel Pellerin and his team performed the operation, and it was a success!
My mother got back into her routine, waking up every morning with fresh plans already in the making. She isn’t afraid anymore. She constantly talks about the Heart Institute’s international reputation and boasts about having been treated by the world’s best cardiologists. And I don’t think she’s exaggerating.
I had come to take the daily messages on my voicemail for granted. I always expected to come home from work and find one waiting for me. But life is so fragile. As the Joni Mitchell song goes, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…
I would like to thank Dr. Pellerin and the members of his team, not to mention all the doctors and nurses who attended to my mother with such concern and professionalism. I have my mother back, and she’s happy and active. I’ve also rediscovered the simple joy I get from finding a message waiting for me on my voicemail.
My mother is 88 and she’s just starting to live. That’s exactly the kind of retirement I want for myself.
Lise Venne, Foundation Volunteer
Lise Venne is one of the Foundation’s senior volunteers, helping the MHIF with its day-to-day activities. Having retired after a long career as a secretary-receptionist in a medical office, she is currently putting her life experience and office management skills to good use. Her sound judgment, speed and eye for detail are highly appreciated by staff who have to deal with multiple tasks in rather limited time. When needed, she takes charge of the reception, helps with mailings and handles well any other task given to her.
“I like feeling useful,” says Mrs. Venne, who has made her way to the Foundation’s offices once or twice a week, rain or shine, for over 15 years. Mrs. Venne works with the ‘Monday and Tuesday crowd.’ They enjoy being together every week and going out for a meal once a month.
“What I like most is the warm welcome, the respect and the kindness of everyone at the Foundation. I’ll miss them a lot when I leave.” - Lise Venne
Serene, independent, well-organized, curious, radiant, attentive and courageous… qualities that describe Joëlle Rousseau, a patient of the Montreal Heart Institute for 25 years.
Joëlle’s medical condition had made its presence known the moment she was born in 1965. “I had been working with newborns at Hôpital de Jonquière, so I knew Joëlle wasn’t like other babies,” says her mother, Marianne Tremblay.
After years of chronic fatigue, anxiety and continuous malaise, and despite seeing countless doctors, Joëlle and her family still had no answers. Only when she turned 18 did she finally find someone who could shed some light on the situation, Dr. Ihor Dyrda, a cardiologist of the Montreal Heart Institute, who diagnosed her with restrictive cardiomyopathy. With no family history of this devastating cardiovascular disease, it had never been considered a possibility.
Joëlle was determined to go on with her life, despite the Sword of Damocles over her head. She earned a bachelor’s degree in geography at Université du Québec à Montréal. With the reassurance of her treatments, she and her sister Louise set off for Europe to join their brother Régis is studying.
Her patience was phenomenal; Joëlle took her time and got from one destination to the next at her own pace. Before setting off on a new journey, she would research the itinerary, whether it be Europe or a few streets over. Being surprised by stairs was her true nemesis, because climbing them took her five times as long as other people. Her modus operandi was effective planning, a major quality from which she, and everyone around her, would benefit throughout her life.
In 1987, while applying for a job at La Ronde amusement park, Joëlle met her life partner, Réjean Royer. “I remember that day like it was yesterday, when this beautiful, six-foot-tall woman got up to shake my hand. It was love at first sight for me. It took me five months to get her over a lifetime of fears about her physical condition and accept that we were made for each other,” Réjean confided.
Her mother Marianne added, “Joëlle had always been independent and it was hard for me let her fly away on her own, far from home. But, I knew that Réjean was someone who would watch over her.”
Joëlle wanted a child, but her doctor advised against it. Nonetheless, despite the warnings and with the courage of a lioness, she stopped taking her medication to protect the fetus from any risk. She conceived and successfully gave birth. One of the most difficult moments in Joëlle and Réjean’s life was losing Simon-Pier within six days of his birth. The doctor assured them that it was because of a heart malformation not related to Joëlle’s own condition.
Jean-Mathieu, a gift from heaven, was the result of a totally unexpected second pregnancy. Today, at 19, he is an accomplished musician studying at the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal and a member of the Orchestre symphonique des jeunes de Montréal. Standing six feet, five inches tall, he is the image of health.
Aware of the benefits that the Montreal Heart Institute’s Biobank has brought to personalized genetics research, Joëlle and Réjean signed up so that their respective medical backgrounds could benefit others.
With a transient ischemic attack (TIA) on September 14, 2008, it was obvious that Joëlle’s medical condition was getting worse; she was ready for a transplant. The MHI put her on the waiting list on October 1, 2008. “Joëlle had known for years that a heart transplant was her only option,” says Réjean. On February 2, 2009, destiny intervened and a heart was found for her.
She went in for the transplant with inner peace. But, despite her extraordinary will to live and a medical team that did everything in its power to save her life, Joëlle passed away on February 28. She was 43.
“When the time came, Joëlle didn’t hesitate for a second. It was her courage and conviction of a better life that made her the person who has left behind so much love and warm memories for her family, friends and colleagues,” says Réjean.
Réjean made a donation to the Montreal Heart Institute Foundation’s Fonds Joëlle Rousseau on August 17, 2009, the day Joëlle would have turned 44. “Actually, this is Joëlle’s gift to the Institute, her home away from home, where she found well-being, comfort and hope for over 25 years,” added Rejean.
This most altruistic gesture, which marked the launch of the Montreal Heart Institute Foundation’s Honour Fund Program, is a most beautiful way to celebrate the life of a courageous, beloved woman.
In Memoriam Joëlle Rousseau – 1965-2009
John A. Rae, Executive Vice-President, Power Corporation of Canada
John A. Rae is the man behind the Foundation’s golf tournament in Kahnawake, an annual event that has raised more than $2 million since it was launched in 1987. A volunteer at heart, always humble and respectful, he tells of his fondness for his former colleagues, J. Frank Roberts, Marc L. Belcourt and Yves Marcil, the event’s founders and all three members of the Board of Directors of the MHI Research Fund, as the Foundation was formerly known. According to Mr. Rae, the credit belongs to them, to the Kanawaki Golf Club and to the volunteers who have given of themselves over the years. “It’s nothing formal, really. It’s about inviting people to have fun playing golf on a nice summer day,” says John Rae. What drives him to carry the torch year after year? The answer is simple: “The Montreal Heart Institute is a pillar of healthcare. We have to support it.”
Marc Belcourt remembers that the MHI Research Fund had met Dr. Paul David’s challenge to raise $10 million in the 10 years spanning 1977 to 1987. New avenues needed to be explored to meet the needs of an institution that had already earned everyone’s respect. “No one could say no to Frank Roberts, who was Chairman of the Fund in 1987,” added Mr. Belcourt. “Frank, Yves and I decided that the cost of the first tournament would be $1,000 per golfer, and since the maximum number of players allowed was 29, profits that first year totalled $29,000. It was quite something back then!” Two years passed before John Rae would take over the annual event that would become so successful over the years.
And John Rae’s most memorable moment? “Oh, that’s easy: When Donald K. Donald scored a hole in one… It cost me a bundle, but we raised a lot that year,” he chuckled.
“The Montreal Heart Institute is a pillar of healthcare. We have to support it.”