​​​​​​​HeartLinks Support Group of heart transplant recipients gather with Dr. Heather Ross
HeartLinks Support Group of heart transplant recipients gather with Dr. Heather Ross, Ted Rogers and Family Chair in Heart Function at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre and Medical Director, Cardiac Transplant Program, (fourth from left in the front row) and Stella Kozuszko, Nurse Practitioner, Cardiac Transplant Program, (first from the left) before giving out 425 cookies as a thank you to transplant staff. (Photo: HeartLinks Support Group)​

Valentine's Day is a special day for heart transplant recipients at Toronto General Hospital (TGH), as they celebrate their transplants - their gifts of life - by thanking heart transplant staff.

For the fifth year in a row, the HeartLinks Support Group set out in a caravan with heart-shaped balloons and gave out gingerbread cookies with pink hearts to 425 staff involved in pre and post-transplant care.

"We wanted to find a meaningful way in which to thank staff, and we thought Valentine's Day was the appropriate day to do so," said Tom Foran, 60, a caregiver to his wife who had a transplant 10 years ago.

He also emphasizes that the "culture of care" in the transplant program really makes a difference to patients and families. "Everyone has a role in the program – from surgeons to housekeeping staff. Everyone finds a way to make your day brighter."

Jurate Foran, who had a heart transplant in 2004, remembers fondly that during her recovery, nursing staff went above and beyond to help her feel better. "One nurse made me a fresh grilled cheese sandwich just because I craved one," she recalled with a smile. On another day, nurses got Jurate up out of bed, helped her to dress, and took her in a wheelchair to a potluck supper for heart transplant recipients.

For me, giving out cookies at TGH is like "coming home. The staff are like family," said Janet Parr, 53, who was implanted with a heart pump for two and a half years to keep her alive until she received a transplant in 2010,​

Larry Mason, 76, who had a heart transplant in 1993, agrees that the yearly ritual is meaningful to both the recipients and staff. "When they see us coming, it's like we're their kids. They smile and laugh and are so happy to see us."


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