Heart failure is on the rise and the majority of Canadian hospitals are not prepared.

A new report from the Heart and Stroke Foundation said hospitals across Canada have postponed hundreds of thousands of surgeries, procedures and treatment consultations for heart patients.

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With more than 100,000 people diagnosed a year, the foundation believes action needs to be taken – especially with a projected spike in heart failure cases due to cardiovascular complications brought on by COVID-19.

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The director of St. Boniface Hospital Heart Failure and Transplant Clinics, Dr. Shelley Zieroth, told 680 CJOB that most Canadians are uniformed about the severity of the issue.

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“Heart failure is all around us, and many people do not recognize that,” she said. “Four in 10 Canadians do not understand what heart failure is. One in three know someone with heart failure or have heart failure themselves.

“That really puts it all into context, and we have to really increase awareness and understanding of this chronic condition.”

The foundation’s report points to a number of issues that put Canadians with heart failure at a disadvantage. A key issue stems from Canada’s medical systems.

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“Health-care systems across the country are not set up in a patient-centered way. And unfortunately, access to care is not consistent and can vary from province to province and even within provinces, ”said Dr. Sean Virani, an associate professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia, in a statement.

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According to the report, treatment options for the condition are severely limited in Canada.

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At least 27 percent of hospitals do not have access to one of the two essential procedures used to diagnose heart failure and 16 percent do not follow published heart failure care guidelines.

Factors like race, skin color and gender might hinder one’s chances for treatment.

The foundation says Indigenous communities, who on average deal with higher rates of cardiovascular disease than non-Indigenous communities, are subject to additional hardships when trying to receive care.

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Plus 20 per cent more Canadian women die from the condition than men.

Under the current health system, Manitoban Barb Kolomi waited almost five years for a heart transplant.

“After I had my heart attack, the medical interventions… and other measures they took did not bring my heart function back to where it needed to be,” said Kolomi.

“The only avenue available to me, thankfully, was the left ventricular assist device (LVAD).

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“I was very lucky to receive it, but it was also only a bridge to a transplant, a heart transplant, so I did live with the LVAD for five years until I received my heart transplant.”

The LVAD kept Kolomi alive at that time, but after the surgery, she had to adjust to being disconnected from her lifeline.

“First of all, it definitely affected my back,” she said. “II found that I had a bit of a hunch, and I guess that was because I carried that backpack for so long, almost five years.

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“The second thing that was even more interesting was like a psychological thing, because my backpack was like a second part of me. When it was gone, I found that I was always looking for it and wanting to put it on and take it off when I sat down. ”

Despite a few post-operation obstacles, Kolomi’s new heart is treating her well.

Going forward, the foundation hopes to initiate an action plan to give heart patients their best chance.

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“The Heart and Stroke Foundation is working with other partner societies and organizations within Canada to really develop an integrated heart failure system that is applicable to all,” said Dr. Zieroth.

“They are going to be working on the integrated system of care in Canada that leaves no person behind, apply evidence based care, access to specialized care will hopefully be improved… and so we’re asking that people support the Heart and Stroke Foundation in this very important work to improve the lives of those living with heart failure. ”

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