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Dr. Keon passed away on Apr. 7. Photo: Courtesy of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.

Dr. Wilbert Keon, founder of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute and Canadian heart surgery pioneer, died at 83 on Apr. 7.

“(Keon) was admired as a heart surgeon the world over, inspiring numerous youth to follow in his footsteps, while serving as a model for his many colleagues,” U of O President and Vice-Chancellor Jacques Frémont wrote in a statement on Apr. 8. “The University of Ottawa has lost one of its great ambassadors.”

Keon was born in Sheenboro, Que., in 1935, according to the Canadian Press. He went on to earn his undergraduate degree from Carleton University and then his MD from the U of O in 1961, later studying experimental surgery at McGill University and then training at Harvard University.

Keon founded the Heart Institute in 1976 and was president and CEO until 2004. Keon made medical history in 1986 when he and his team completed the country’s first artificial heart implant. He performed more than 10,000 open-heart surgeries through his career. Keon was appointed to the Senate in 1990 by then prime minister Brian Mulroney and served until he reached the mandatory retirement age of 75 in 2010.

“Together with the Heart Institute staff including those who worked alongside him for decades, I pledge that we will live up to his legacy, and his dream to continue building and growing his beloved institute,” Dr. Thierry Mesana, current president and CEO of the institute, said in a statement on Apr. 8.

Two funeral services will be held in the coming days: One will take place in Ottawa at St. Patrick’s Basilica (220 Kent Street) on Apr. 11 at 10 a.m., while the second service will be held on Apr. 12 at 11:30 a.m. at in Sheenboro, Que. at St. Paul the Hermit Church.