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Image of Dr. Sean Virani and Brianna Davies
Dr. Sean Virani and Brianna Davies.

The heart of the province-wide network

St. Paul’s Hospital will become the home of three leading-edge heart treatment and research centres, changing the future of heart care in BC.

by Kris Wallace and Michelle Hopkins

Lorraine Wilson enjoyed a healthy, active lifestyle. During a spin class back in June 2021, the 66-year-old felt a tightness in her chest and found it difficult to breathe. Wilson contacted her family doctor, who sent her for an angiogram at St. Paul’s Hospital.

Wilson quickly learned that her major artery was 70% blocked. “Within half an hour, I was told that I needed open-heart surgery,” says Wilson, who was shocked and frightened.

Today, thanks to the amazing care she received from St. Paul’s cardiology team and nursing staff, Wilson is back on the spin bike.

“I am filled with so much gratitude. If you have a heart problem, St. Paul’s is the place to be,” she says. “I was so lucky to be a patient here.”

Home is where the heart, and the Heart Centres, are

In Lorraine Wilson’s words, if you need cardiac care, St. Paul’s Hospital is the place to be.

Today, St. Paul’s is home to the acclaimed provincial Heart Centre, the referral hub for BC’s most complex cardiac cases. And we have the distinction of being the only facility in the province where highly specialized cardiac care is fully integrated within an innovative research centre.

To further expand our leadership in cardiac care and research, St. Paul’s is poised to open three new provincial facilities of excellence: the Centre for Cardiogenetics, the Centre for Advanced Heart Failure, and the Yasmin and Amir Virani Provincial Adult Congenital Heart (VPACH) Program.

When we move to the new St. Paul’s Hospital on the Jim Pattison Medical Campus in 2027, all of these centres – and the talented people who bring them to life – will move with us.

He’s got his mother’s eyes, and his father’s cardiac arrhythmia

Many cardiac diseases can be inherited, including arrhythmias, congenital heart malformations, and even high cholesterol. Cardiogenetics is a growing speciality that’s looking to identify the specific hereditary causes of heart disease. This work includes genetic diagnoses, genetic testing and counselling, and clinical management for a range of inherited disorders.

“Cardiogenetics is not a new field,” says Dr. Sean Virani, head of cardiology at St. Paul’s Hospital. “What will be new is having a central hub where experts in the field can work together in a coordinated way at a single location. A place with resources to support patient care and assessment where we can really leverage everything we know, and everything we learn, about cardiac care.”

St. Paul’s Centre for Cardiogenetics – the first program of its kind in Canada – will become a learning centre for patients and researchers alike. We’ll be able to identify patients with inherited cardiac disease and refer them for genetic counselling. This will enable families to participate in preventive and therapeutic treatments.

As a genetic counsellor in the field of inherited arrhythmias, Brianna Davies is specially trained to provide patients and their families with invaluable resources and support. Genetic counsellors help patients to understand the heritable nature of their disease, its potential risk to family members, and the necessity of screening.

“When we meet with a patient and their family, we discuss whether genetic testing is an appropriate screening tool for the family members,” says Davies. “We talk about why genetic testing is valuable and what they can expect if the test indicates they are at risk.”

Some 40%-60% of heart disease is thought to be heritable. Unraveling the underlying genetics will not only improve care, it will bring peace of mind to countless patients and families. That’s why we are committed to opening this new centre for excellence.

Of course, these benefits will also apply to the patients at our new Centre for Advanced Heart Failure and the VPACH Program as well. Dr. Virani sees the three new centres as cornerstones of our commitment to patients and to innovation. “We have always taken a leadership role in emerging research and technology. These are the next steps in our long history of leading-edge cardiac care.”

Provincial centre for advanced heart failure

If you have Advanced Heart Failure (AHF), it means conventional therapies and symptom management are no longer working for you. However, improvements to heart failure therapies have led to longer survival rates and improved quality of life even for patients with severe AHF. “St. Paul’s is home to the provincial experts for treating end stage AHF,” says Dr. Sean Virani.

The Provincial Centre for Advanced Heart Failure will be a luminary for heart function innovation and excellence in care, and be foundationally grounded in a learning health system. It will become the central repository for clinical expertise and training of clinicians engaged in the care of this complex patient population.

Yasmin and Amir Virani provincial adult congenital heart (VPACH) program

Congenital heart disease (CHD) is one of the most common types of birth defects worldwide: in Canada, about one in every 100 babies is born with CHD. Sixty years ago, fewer than 20% of children with CHD reached adulthood. Today, it’s more than 90%. Because of these incredible survival rates, there are now more adults living with CHD than babies born with it.

In BC, children with CHD are treated at BC Children’s Hospital. When they turn 18, they are referred to the VPACH Program based at St.Paul’s Hospital and led by director Dr. Jasmine Grewal. 

Every year, the VPACH team of multidisciplinary experts receives about 350 new patients, most of whom will require life-long care.

“Thanks to breakthroughs in surgical techniques, non-invasive treatments, and specialized medical care, many of our patients survive well into adulthood,” Grewal says.

Twice a year, members of the VPACH team head to Kelowna to look after CHD patients in the Interior. “We want all CHD patients across BC to have access to the life-saving care they need. Having the VPACH team visit more remote communities to provide care is a big step to providing equitable access to care. Donor support would make all the difference in the world in supporting this.”

St. Paul’s new heart centres are part of our commitment to transform cardiac care for those who need it most. Donor support is an incredibly big part of our success. Be part of this lifesaving work at

Photography by Jeff Topham

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