In 2001, Dr. Vivek Rao became the youngest faculty member ever to join the UofT cardiac surgery division. Ten years later, after building Canada's largest Advanced Heart Failure Program, he's become the second youngest chief of cardiac surgery ever appointed at UHN's Division of Cardiac Surgery (just months shy of the founding chief, Dr. William Bigelow).
Dr. Rao symbolizes the next frontier of the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre (PMCC): leading in innovative treatments, technologies, and prevention. PMCC will develop new minimally-invasive therapies, test the latest technologies, and become a clinical trials powerhouse, to not only treat, but help prevent, heart disease in the 1.3 million Canadians living with it.
To fund this next phase, PMCC launched the "Building the Future Campaign" last fall, a five-year $20 million fundraising initiative supporting the recruitment of the best heart specialists in the world and keeping PMCC on the world stage in cardiac care.
"I think our role is to recruit the best doctors that will test new technologies and design better minimally invasive therapies for heart disease patients," says Dr. Rao.
After training with Dr. Mehmet Oz of the "Dr. Oz Show" in New York in the late 90s, Dr. Rao brought mechanical heart technology to Toronto by establishing PMCC's Mechanical Heart Program in 2001. Today, the program offers the most diverse array of devices in Canada. In the last 10 years, more than 100 advanced heart failure patients have received the life-saving device.
Heart failure is the most common cause of hospitalization in North American adults; over 50,000 people are treated for advanced heart failure annually. Transplantation is the only long-term treatment for end-stage heart failure patients and the long wait times for a matching donor organ make it necessary to find other alternatives, such as a mechanical heart or left ventricular device (LVAD), which gives patients time to recover and wait for a heart transplant.
Under the direction of Dr. Rao, PMCC's multidisciplinary team achieves some of the best heart transplant outcomes in the world. Patients who receive a heart transplant at PMCC have a 90% five-year survival rate. That number for the rest of Canada is 75-80%. Furthermore, PMCC cares for the broadest range of patients, transplanting individuals from 18 up to 70 years of age.
How is PMCC able to achieve these outcomes?
"Once an advanced heart failure patient comes to PMCC, they're here for life," says Dr. Rao, noting the extensive patient selection protocols, strong multidisciplinary teams and long-term care of heart transplant patients as ingredients for success.
"We follow our patients from beginning to end – that's how we have such great outcomes."
Supporting excellence is not only crucial for Dr. Rao as head of cardiac surgery; it's also his passion outside the operating room. Dr. Rao sponsored Canadian skeleton athlete John Montgomery who won a gold medal in the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.
"As a leader, you must find excellence and support it."