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I can’t have a heart condition! We have places to go!

November 16th, 2020
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Valerie Higo was the definition of someone living her best, healthiest life. Before she retired, she routinely walked 16 blocks to and from work. She thought nothing of taking the dog out for three-hour hikes. She and her husband, Bill Purver, would jet off on globetrotting adventures multiple times a year.

That all changed in 2016, on the short walk home from the grocery store. “About a block from my house, I became so exhausted and out-of-breath, I had to lay down on the sidewalk!” Valerie recalls. Bill rushed her to Mount Saint Joseph Hospital (MSJ).

They were shocked to learn that Valerie had been living with a serious heart condition called atrial fibrillation. AFib is a kind of arrhythmia that causes your heart to beat irregularly. It can lead to shortness of breath, extreme fatigue, and even stroke or heart failure. Like Valerie, many people don’t even know they have it.

The best care anywhere

In the years since that first scary episode, Valerie has been grateful for the care she has received at MSJ especially from Dr. Rudy Chow, the hospital’s geriatric cardiologist. (Although, at age [67], Valerie balks at being considered geriatric.)

In fact, Dr. Chow is BC’s first geriatric cardiologist and he is renowned for providing compassionate, supportive care that truly goes above and beyond. People from all over the lower mainland make the trek to MSJ just to see him. “Dr. Chow is more than a great cardiologist. He’s warm, caring, and funny,” says Valerie.

Valerie also has high praise for the nurses at MSJ. “They’re skilled and friendly, which isn’t always easy because I’m not a very good patient!” She shares a story of being hospitalized, wired to a variety of monitors, and having to use the toilet. “The nurse brought me a commode chair. But there was no way I was going to use it!” After the nurse left, she unhooked herself and went to the bathroom.

Another time, she set off the cardiac alarms at the nursing station because she was brushing her teeth too vigorously. “The nurses have to be pretty bossy with me!” Valerie laughs.

Keeping up the pace

Because Valerie had been hospitalized for her condition several times, Dr. Chow recommended she consider getting a pacemaker to regulate her heartbeat. Valerie was reluctant, but her desire to get back to travelling, coupled with her fear of having an episode far from home, convinced her to take Dr. Chow’s advice.

So, early one morning this past summer, Valerie headed to the pacemaker clinic at St. Paul’s Hospital. Valerie’s was one of five implantations that day. “The nurse joked that it’s a pacemaker factory,” she laughs. Valerie was awake for the procedure which involves making a tiny incision in the shoulder. “It felt like the doctor was kneading something on my chest and then it was done!”

Valerie was back home that afternoon and out walking again only a few days later. She was also pleasantly surprised at how small the device is. “I was worried it would show through my clothes or, even worse, that it would set off the metal detectors at the airport,” she says. “It’s only about the size of a loonie. It’s definitely not going to set off any alarms – when we get to travel again!”

– By Kris Wallace

MSJ is beloved by patients and staff alike. It’s equally known for its exceptional care and the comforting feel of a small-town community hospital. When you give to Lights of Hope, you help make that happen. Your donation supports incredible caregivers like Dr. Chow. And you give comfort to patients like Valerie when they’re at their most vulnerable. Thank you!

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