Celebrated local Chef Thierry Busset was like most other 38-year-olds. He was living a normal, active life that included skiing, kayaking, building a career, and starting a family. One day, while he was walking to work, he was overcome with exhaustion. He lost his vision and the power in his legs. He made it to St. Paul’s emergency where he was stunned to learn he had the same heart condition that had killed his sister when they were just teenagers.
Chef Thierry’s experience at St. Paul’s was life changing. Here is his story, in his own words.
When I was 13, my wonderful big sister Evelyne died of heart failure. She was only 17. We lived in a village in France and, at that time, there were no drugs to treat her condition and the doctors hadn’t given her a defibrillator. She died of cardiac hypertrophy – a thickening of the heart muscle that caused her young heart to fail.
The doctor told us that her condition wasn’t hereditary, so no one in our family was tested. We tried to rebuild our lives without my sister, never realizing that the same disease could affect my brother and me – or our children.
All my life, I’ve participated in sports like skiing, tennis, and kayaking. I played hard and I worked hard and I’ve been fortunate to enjoy a career that has brought me global recognition as a chocolatier and patissier.
It all changed in 2006, on that frightening walk to work. Once I got to St. Paul’s, I was treated right away. They implanted a defibrillator next to my heart. The device didn’t stop the abnormal beats, but it did monitor my heart and it sent an electrical shock to restore normal rhythm when needed.
After the surgery, I felt much better. In 2014, I opened Thierry Cafe on Alberni Street in Vancouver. That same year, my wife Alison gave birth to our first child, Liam. Life was good.
Faith, hope, and love
But by 2016, things started getting bad again. I didn’t have the energy or strength to walk, let alone work. I couldn’t make it up a flight of stairs. I passed out frequently because there wasn’t enough blood getting to my head. I knew I needed help.
The doctors at St. Paul’s gave me two treatment options. Ablation, a minimally invasive procedure, that would “scar” the heart tissue responsible for triggering the abnormal rhythm. Or a more aggressive surgical option, which would trim off some of the thickening heart muscle so it could pump more effectively.
Alison and I agreed that surgery was the answer. We were told about the risks, but we didn’t worry. The doctors at St. Paul’s are the best and we had complete faith in them.
My open-heart surgery went very well. I was in my hospital bed, just out of recovery, when Alison told me she was expecting our second child. I wanted to jump for joy. The news was so hopeful and life affirming. We knew surgery was the right choice.
Our daughter was born late that same year. We named her Evelyne, in honour of my sister.
Today, I’m about 90% back to normal health. I don’t participate in all the sports I once did, but that’s okay. I still have a heart condition, so I’m doing everything possible to be here with Liam and Evelyne for a long time.
Heart of class
We were relieved to learn that my brother and his two children do not have the condition. Our kids are still very young, so they haven’t been tested yet. But if they do have it, I want St. Paul’s to be there for them with the newest and most up-to-date technology.
That’s why I started donating to St. Paul’s after I had my first surgery. Then, after I opened my cafe, I started donating 10% of the sales from Macaron Day to St. Paul’s. (Each year on March 20, International Macaron Day, bakeries around the world donate a portion of their proceeds to their favourite charities.)
I love having the opportunity to give back because I know just how important it is for the doctors and staff to have access to the best resources when patients need them.
And I know I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the care I received at St. Paul’s.
When you give to the Heart Centre at St. Paul’s you’re giving so much more than just money. You’re giving doctors the tools to save lives. You’re giving families more time with their children and loved ones. And you’re giving the most precious gift of all: hope to people like Thierry, Alison, Liam, and Evelyne.