For Kathy Clouthier, travelling out of Thunder Bay for cardiac surgery was one of the most difficult and lonely experiences of her life.
“Don’t get me wrong – I can’t say enough about the great care I had in Toronto,” Kathy said. “Everyone there was nice and professional, and I trusted them completely. The only thing was, it wasn’t here at home.”
Kathy was born with a heart murmur, but it wasn’t a problem until about 25 years ago when she started to get an irregular heartbeat. Over the years she would see her cardiologist every two years, then every year, and eventually every six months. Finally, it was time to discuss surgical options for her aortic valve, the main valve in the heart.
That meant travelling out of town.
“My husband and I are from the Ottawa Valley, so I really wanted to have it done in Ottawa. We have family there – lots of family there. We’d have that support and my husband wouldn’t have to stay in a hotel.”
However, Toronto had the best program for her particular condition. Besides, it was supposed to be only 7-10 days away before she’d be back home.
Unfortunately, Kathy had complications during her operation. Suddenly, her two-hour surgery turned into six hours, and her week in the hospital became two weeks in the ICU and another week in recovery at Toronto General. She also had another operation to insert a pacemaker to better regulate her heart.
Being away from home slowly took its toll on Kathy. She was desperately missing her four children and eight grandchildren. On top of that, her husband took early retirement to stay and take care of her. The whole experience left her feeling lonely, scared, and disconnected.
“It starts to weigh on you. ‘Just a couple more days’ turned into just a couple more, and a couple more after that,” Kathy said.
Unfortunately, her ordeal wasn’t over when she got home. Two days later, Kathy was admitted to the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre for another three weeks of recovery. But what a world of difference! This time, her family came to visit all the time, including her grandkids. Kathy felt all the love and support that comes from being at home.
“Recovery was so much easier here because I had people with me all the time. Not just my family, but friends. I was happy because I was never alone in the room,” she said.
Today, Kathy said that she’s on a mission to bring as many cardiac care services to Thunder Bay as possible. It will mean that thousands of patients will avoid the stress and strain of travelling out of the region for world-class, life-saving cardiac services.
You can help. Your donation this Heart Month to the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Foundation’s Northern Cardiac Fund will go directly towards improving our local cardiac care services. So please, make this Heart Month extra special. Donate online at healthsciencesfoundation.ca/cardiac or call (807) 345-4673.