The heartbeat of our community: how St. Mary’s blossomed into a centre of cardiac excellence 

The mood around St. Mary’s was one of excitement on July 7, 2003, as Dr. Kassem Ashe and Dr. Gary Salasidis were preparing for the hospital’s first open-heart surgery.
As experts in cardiac care before joining St. Mary’s that year, the two surgeons had planned out and practiced the procedure in advance. But even they were pleasantly surprised with how well it turned out.
Photo: Dr. Gary Salasidis
“It was a triple-bypass, and we were done in about two hours,” recalls Dr. Salasidis, who assisted Dr. Ashe on the surgery. “It was like we’d been doing it for years.”
Last summer, St. Mary’s celebrated a milestone: 20 years as the Regional Cardiac Care Centre.
What started as a small program with two cardiovascular surgeons has grown over the last two decades to a robust team that provides full-service cardiac care to roughly 1.4 million Ontario residents.
The program blossomed thanks to dedicated team members who wanted to ensure its success from the start, and to community contributions that allowed St. Mary’s to secure top-of-the-line cardiac equipment.
Cardiac OR - Dr. Salasidis and team.

Cardiac care: before and after

Before becoming the Regional Cardiac Care Centre, many patients had to be referred outside of the Region for care. Transfer had to be arranged to a hospital that could take the patient, and any delay put substantial risk on those who needed urgent treatment.
“Yes, you could get care. But with cardiac cases, timely care matters,” Dr. Salasidis says.
“So, becoming a regional cardiac centre really was a big step for the community and a big boost for their general health.”
SMGH staff prepping for a cardiac procedure.
St. Mary’s has spent much of the last 20 years on the leading edge of innovative, globally-renowned care known for excellence in the field and bringing in new services with the help of donor generosity.
While the hospital’s first cardiac catheterization lab opened in 2001, it has since evolved from a program that could diagnose heart problems to one that can both detect and treat various conditions, including stopping active heart attacks by opening up arteries with balloons and stents.
Soon after the first Cath lab was installed, a second came along, and a rehabilitation program followed, offering exercise and diet education to patients after surgery.
Cardiac rehab / PREVENT clinic photo.
In 2005, the hospital initiated its STEMI bypass program for patients experiencing active heart attacks. The partnership with EMS ensures those urgent cases are brought directly to the Cath labs for timely care.
In 2018, St. Mary’s launched its TAVI (Transcatheter Aortic Valve Implantation) program for minimally invasive valve replacement surgeries, and in 2020, the hospital’s Device and Arrhythmia Clinic opened. Services expanded further in 2021 to include an electrophysiology lab where heart rhythm conditions, such as atrial fibrillation, are treated.
St. Mary’s performed its first Percutaneous Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO) procedure to close openings in the heart related to heart defects and became the one of the few centres in Ontario to perform same-day discharge TAVI procedures. And the program isn’t stopping there.
CV surgery full room view.

Care now – and into the future

Planning to expand and improve, including adding a third Cath lab, and updating equipment in the two existing labs, are top of mind.
“The imaging we’re hoping to get in the new systems is even better (than what St. Mary’s has now),” says Stefanie Cooper, program manager, Cath Lab, PHIU, Structural Heart. “And the third Cath lab will allow us to see more patients and offer a wider array of services.
EP Lab Procedure
“Bringing that technology in is key to not having to send patients out elsewhere.”
Donations from community members are imperative to St. Mary’s future cardiac expansion, as the cost of new and replacement equipment within the hospital is not covered by government funding.
“We very much depend on equipment that is at the forefront of technology to offer our patients the best cardiac care possible,” Stefanie says.
Cardiac patient with heart pillow.
This month, St. Mary’s expanded cardiac care into Guelph by reopening the Pacemaker Remote Monitoring Clinic through a partnership with the YMCA of Three Rivers bringing care closer to home for pacemaker patients in Guelph-Wellington.
And in April, St. Mary’s launches its latest cardiac initiative – the PREVENT Clinic aimed at preventing heart disease.

Hear from Dr. Gary Salasidis, Cardiac Surgeon at St. Mary's General Hospital

As we celebrate and reflect on all that has been achieved through the support of our team, volunteers, community partners and donors, we look to the future as we continue to collaborate and innovate, together, to meet the needs of our communities.
St. Mary's General Hospital - 100 Years

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