Why the world needs more hearts
Arnold Schwisberg

Arnold Schwisberg received a heart transplant in 2019.

With heart failure rates increasing, there aren’t enough hearts for those who need them.

In February 2019, Arnold Schwisberg was halfway down a ski run at Whistler Blackcomb in B.C. when his implantable cardioverter defibrillator went off three times. “It felt like being kicked in the chest by a donkey,” says the Richmond Hill, Ont., lawyer, who was born with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition that causes heart tissue to thicken.

Fortunately, the skilled skier managed to get himself down the hill. After three weeks in a Vancouver hospital, he returned home and saw his longtime care team at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre. They had bad news: he was in stage four heart failure and needed a new heart. Unfortunately, there wasn’t one available. While devastated, Schwisberg never gave up hope. “I refused to be put down by this,” he says.

Schwisberg’s situation is all too common. Thousands of Canadians need hearts, but there aren’t enough to go around. According to Dr. Mitesh Badiwala, a cardiac surgeon in the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre at University Health Network’s Sprott Department of Surgery, and Surgical Director of the Heart Transplant Program at UHN’s Ajmera Transplant Centre, between 30 and 40 per cent of hearts that become available for transplant can’t be used due to damage.“Hearts are scarce,” he notes. “We can’t offer them to everyone who would benefit.”

And we need more hearts than ever: heart failure rates are growing in Canada, in part because people are living longer with cardiovascular disease.