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Dr. Michel White, from the Montreal Heart Institute, Dr. Diego Delgado, from the PMCC, Dr. Heather Ross, from the PMCC, and Dale Shippam, a heart transplant recipient, at the South Pole on last year’s Test Your Limits trek (Photo: Test Your Limits Campaign).

"Is your life worth one hour a day?" 

It's a question that Dr. Heather Ross poses to many of her patients. 

As a cardiologist at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre and one of the world's leading heart transplant physicians, Dr. Ross spends each day treating men and women of all ages and backgrounds, who are severely impacted by the progressively debilitating effects of a failing heart.

Those effects can range from breathing difficulties and a rapid heartbeat to swelling of the legs and ankles, persistent coughing, dizziness, or an inability to concentrate or function. 

"Heart failure is an epidemic," says Dr. Ross.  "It seriously compromises a patients' quality of life. Not only how long they live, but how they live."

And so, part of her treatment plan for heart failure and heart function patients is a proactive approach to helping them make conscious choices and changes.  That's where the question, "is your life worth one hour a day?" enters.

"When I ask patients that question, it usually freezes them," says Dr. Ross. "It's difficult to argue against spending 60 minutes a day doing something heart-healthy, something that will keep the most important organ in your body strong. Tackling the heart disease epidemic starts there," she says.

It then continues for Dr. Ross through Test Your Limits.

"Part of my motivation for initiating Test Your Limits back in 2006 was to lift the curtain on the prevalence, seriousness, and dire consequences of heart disease not only in Canada, but around the world," she says. "It is the leading killer on the planet."

 Test your Limits is rooted in encouraging people to live to their full potential, regardless of age or health circumstance. 

Dr. Ross put her passion into practice in 2006, when she and a small team --- including one of her heart patients --- set a goal, trained for months, then followed through by trekking to Vinson Massif, Antarctica's highest peak. It was the first Test Your Limits expedition.

"Gasping for air while we climbed that mountain, feeling dizzy with exhaustion with each step, wondering, am I going to make it --- these are all daily realities for many heart failure patients," says Dr. Ross.  "Feeling those very emotions in Antarctica during that trek, brought me closer to understanding what many of my patients live with every single day."

 After months of rigorous training and self-sacrifice, Dr. Ross, heart transplant recipient Dale Shippam, a former firefighter in his 60's, and Dave Smith, a kidney transplant recipient from Edmonton are set to test their limits again.   On Sept. 12, they are boarding a flight to the Kingdom of Bhutan to challenge themselves in the formidable Himalaya.

Dubbed the Snowman Trek, Bhutan 2014 involves travelling to the Eastern Himalayas, adapting to the culture, weather, terrain and punishing elements en route to climbing mountain passes with ranges of more than 17,000 feet, some 5,000 metres above sea level. 

Perhaps somewhere along the journey, memories of Dr. Ross' close brush with death --- when she developed high altitude pulmonary edema, similar to heart failure, during a Test Your Limits trek to Antarctica --- will no doubt surface. So far, three treks later, it has not deterred.

"My goal is to put myself out of business as a cardiologist," says Dr. Ross. "It is to get to a day where my skills are not needed because the message of heart health and taking the steps to achieve it --- are the norm, not the exception. Like breathing."

Is your life worth one hour a day?

Test Your Limits expeditions:
Sept. 15-Oct. 23, 2014 – Bhutan:  Snowman Trek
2013 – South Pole
2010 – North Pole
2008 – Mera Peak, Nepal
2006 – Vinson Massif, Antarctica

Test Your Limits Campaign:

Program has raised over $1 million through four expeditions over 8 years for:

Research, Education & Patient Care for the Ted Rogers Centre of Excellence in Heart Function

Increased awareness for Heart Failure and Heart Health

Increased awareness for Organ Donation and Transplantation

Increased awareness for replacement strategies for advanced heart failure such as: Mechanical heart program, Regenerative medicine, Cardiac transplantation


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