The University of Ottawa Heart Institute is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Photo: CC Eric Schmuttenmaer
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Heart Institute begins expansion in 2016, following milestone year

The University of Ottawa Heart Institute (UOHI), which provides training and research opportunities for students as well as medical care to Ottawa residents, is celebrating its 40th anniversary.

Starting their anniversary off on an ambitious note, the UOHI, which is affiliated with both the Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa, performed seven heart transplants in eight days, from Dec. 31 to Jan. 7.

“The entire team got together to make sure these patients received excellent care,” said Vincent Lamontagne, director of corporate communications at the UOHI. Lamontagne said that the process to prepare for and perform the surgery takes about 24 hours—which made for a very busy week.

Lamontagne says the UOHI has come a long way since it was founded in 1976 by a cardiac surgeon named Dr. Wilbert Keon. “He decided that Ottawa needed a centre of excellence for cardiovascular health,” said Lamontagne. “He instilled a model where you have education, research, and clinical care under one roof.”

According to its website, the UOHI currently handles just over 100,000 patient visits per year. They also train over 280 students—medical, doctoral, and post-doctoral—per year.

The UOHI is also in the middle of expanding, with a new building slated to be completed in the winter of 2017, followed by renovations to the existing building. 

The expansion has not been without controversy—The Ottawa Hospital has been accused of breaking procurement laws for sourcing materials for the expansion to only one company, at a cost of $1 million to taxpayers. The Heart Institute operates independently from the Hospital, but leases its space. None of the allegations have been proven in court.

The updates will reflect the changing demographics in healthcare, with the average age of patients increasing. Statistics Canada predicts that by 2056 people over the age of 65 will make up 25-30 per cent of Canada’s population, up from 13.7 per cent in 2006.

“We’re going to have the very latest technology when it comes to our operating rooms and our labs,” said Lamontagne. “The expansion really brings the past to the future.”

He continued that the community has played a big role in the centre’s development as well. “If we were able to perform seven transplants in eight days, it’s because of the support of the Ottawa community,” said Lamontagne. “We feel, and we witness every day tremendous support from patients and families.”

Lamontagne says he doesn’t want this year to get overlooked. “We’re going to celebrate our staff, our research excellence, our clinical tier… and we’re going to celebrate everything we’ve done with education,” he said. “Everybody here is very excited to celebrate.”