Dr. Mitesh Badiwala
Dr. Mitesh Badiwala and his team are working on a host of new technologies, some which will be able to repair heart damage as fast as possible. (Photo: The Globe and Mail)

Three decades after the first successful heart transplant was achieved in Toronto, the medical mysteries keep unravelling, and the miracles keep multiplying.

"We have done more than 700 transplants, and I have been here long enough to have worked on 500," says Dr. Heather Ross, world-renowned cardiologist and Director of the Ted Rogers and Family Centre of Excellence in Heart Function and the Cardiac Transplant Program at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre (PMCC), part of UHN.

"It's still a remarkable achievement every time it happens," Dr. Ross says.

Thanks to new research and technology, it's getting more remarkable all the time. Doctors and scientists are on the verge of breakthroughs that promise to increase the success of heart transplants and which may vastly expand the number of patients who can receive the life-saving treatment.

The first successful heart transplant in Toronto took place on November 17, 1968, at St. Michael's Hospital, performed by Dr. Clare Baker on Charles Perrin Johnston, who lived until 1975. It took place after two earlier transplants in Toronto in which patients died within a week of surgery, as well as less than a year after the world's first heart-to-heart transplant was performed in South Africa by Dr. Christian Barnard.

In the next 30 years, the possibilities for innovation range from incremental improvements in technology and medication to Star Trek-like procedures that are so stunning they're barely imaginable.

Dr. Ross says the breakthroughs and discoveries that medical teams are working on now include:

  • new medications that lower the risk of cellular rejection
  • the use of donor hearts that were previously considered too damaged to transplant, making transplants available to many more people
  • the possibility of stem cell treatment to repair damaged hearts
  • taking a patient's own heart and putting it "on the hoist" – removing it temporarily for repairs and then reinstalling it, rather than replacing it with a donor's heart

"In the first 30 years, nothing has really changed in terms of the surgery itself – until recently," says Dr. Mitesh Badiwala, a cardiac surgeon at the PMCC.

PMCC Magazine 

The third annual Peter Munk Cardiac Centre (PMCC) magazine published by The Globe and Mail focuses on why Canada's premier cardiac centre is known for being “the heartbeat of innovation.” The magazine explores the PMCC model that supports the creation, development and evolution of innovative ideas into action – making “today's idea, tomorrow's practice.” It also examines the impact that a culture of innovation has on the way cardiovascular care is delivered now and into the future.

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