Donna with the bike
Donna Hart, in a photo she posted on Twitter, beams as she participates in her first Becel Heart & Stroke Ride, to raise funds for heart research, just 13 months post-heart transplant. (Photo: Donna Hart)

One of Canada's most critical arteries was shut down for 12 hours this past Sunday. Traffic was prohibited on the Don Valley Parkway for what could best be described as roughly 20,000 different reasons.

That's how many people rode their bikes, jogged or walked to raise funds for research, as part of the Heart and Stroke Foundation's 29th Annual Becel Heart & Stroke Ride.

Donna Hart, who received a heart transplant last May, was one of them.

A rare heart condition

Back in 2014, Donna was avid cyclist who averaged 120 km per week on her bike. She was also a passionate swimmer who swam 2.2 km weekly. 

She was fit, healthy, active, vibrant at 57 years old, and married with two adult children.

That is until Donna was given five months to live – the normal prognosis for someone diagnosed with giant cell myocarditis. The rare heart condition occurs when the myocardium, or heart muscle, becomes enlarged.

Five months later

Mother's Day weekend of May 2015 was a rush of emotions for Donna and her family.

On May 9, 2015, Donna would mark five months since her diagnosis. May 10 was Mother's Day. 

On May 11 at 7:30 a.m. in the heart failure ward on 5B at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, Toronto General Hospital, clinging to life, everything changed for Donna.

"One of my doctors walked into the room and said, 'your heart is here'," she recalls, voice shaking.

up and about post surgery Donna Hart
Fit, healthy and active prior to being diagnosed with a rare heart condition, Donna Hart, married with two children, received a heart transplant at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre in May 2015. One year later she participated in a fundraiser for heart research which involved biking 50 km at 20 km/hour along a highway in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo: PMCC)

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BY THE NUMBERS:

500:    Number of new heart failure patient referrals UHN receives per year

25-30: Number of adult heart transplants performed annually at UHN

650 total number of heart transplants performed at UHN overall

DID YOU KNOW?

  • Innovation at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre to make a greater number of suitable donor hearts available for transplant includes: Ex Vivo Heart Perfusion.
  • Ex Vivo Heart Perfusion:
    • Enables the heart to work outside the body
    • Provides time for diseased heart to recover, be repaired and assessed for possible transplant
    • Gives doctors time to repair a diseased heart while it is alive and beating ​

A journey

"This has been quite a journey and one that I never expected to take," Donna said a few days before participating in her first Becel Heart & Stroke Ride. 

"I was very fortunate to have a cardiologist who saw that I was very unwell and transferred me to the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre. I did not think I would survive the transport to Toronto," she says reflecting on her reality little more than a year ago. 

 "The people at Peter Munk Cardiac Centre saved my life." 

On the day of the ride, she posted a beaming photo of herself, now 58, on Twitter, with the words:  "Big shout out to @PMunkCardiacCtr for making this possible. 1 year post heart transplant. 50 Km average 20 km hour."

In about 90 characters, Donna encapsulated a harrowing journey, her new reality and her appreciation for receiving a new donor heart and life-saving care.

Next stop on Donna Hart's ride – the World Transplant Games in August.

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