Getting to know Dr. Alexandra Bastiany – Thunder Bay’s Newest Interventional Cardiologist
“I was supposed to come to Thunder Bay for a month,” laughed Dr. Alexandra Bastiany, the newest Interventional Cardiologist at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre. “However, the amazing team here convinced me that I needed to stay longer than initially planned.”
Originally from Montreal, Dr. Bastiany grew up in a family that valued science, with her mother and aunts working as Registered Nurses and her father as a Chemist. After finishing CEGEP*, with a focus on science and nature, Dr. Bastiany was accepted straight into medical school; a very difficult feat. She went on to complete her medical doctorate degree at the University of Montreal and pursued an Internal Medicine residency, followed by an Adult Cardiology Fellowship that culminated in her being selected as the Faculty of Medicine’s first female Black valedictorian. “It was such an honor to be chosen for that role,” she said. Her sights then turned west to Edmonton and the University of Alberta where she pursued a 2-year fellowship in Interventional Cardiology that she completed in June 2020.
“I’ve always loved the cardiovascular system,” commented Dr. Bastiany. “I like its complexity, but also its simplicity. When I was in medical school, I knew I wanted to do something that was very hands-on, and that changed people’s lives. That’s how I became interested in Interventional Cardiology, as it gave me the chance to do both.”
“When I first met the team from Thunder Bay, it was actually virtually, because of COVID-19. I could tell right away they were one-of-a-kind,” she recalled. “I had always envisioned my time in Edmonton as a ‘pit stop’ and had plans of returning to Montreal to be back with my family. However, the chance to build my practice here, with my own interests and with the opportunity to help patients in the Cath Lab up to 3 times a week was something I simply couldn’t turn down.”
Dr. Bastiany’s expertise has been welcomed as she has brought learnings and new techniques from her fellowship to share with her colleagues. She’s also brought a bit of notoriety; for she is, in fact, Canada’s first Black female Interventional Cardiologist.
Getting to that point was not always an easy path, however. She shared, “Interventional Cardiology is still a man’s world, and you have to learn to stand up for yourself. There were times in my training where I felt I didn’t even exist. My fellow male residents or fellows would talk over me, even while I was expressing the same points they were trying to make. I had to adapt to be seen and heard. And by that I mean I had to step up my game or I’d be swallowed. It took me talking back and saying ‘I will finish what I’m saying’.”
“You know,” she continued, “people may call you arrogant or angry for stating what you want, but, honestly, developing that ‘edge’, it’s made me stronger, and it’s made me a better doctor.”
It’s no secret that Interventional Cardiologists need to be strong – both mentally and physically. “It’s very demanding,” she said, “because you’re literally inside someone’s heart while you’re in the lab and you can save a life or you can end a life. It’s quite humbling. You’ve got to prepare your mind to always have absolute focus while you are with a patient. Plus, while you’re performing these delicate procedures, you need to wear a heavy lead apron to protect against radiation, you’re covered with a gown which makes you hot and you’re on your feet the entire time. Some procedures take hours so you need to be in good shape and ready to respond to whatever comes your way.”
There are times, sadly, when, despite the team’s best efforts in the lab, a patient will pass away. “I still recall a very difficult case from not-too-long ago where we were not able to save a patient and they passed while in the Cath Lab. Our whole team felt this shouldn’t have happened and I know we will never forget that patient. Afterwards, I messaged our team so we could meet virtually and discuss what went well and what did not. We needed a safe space to share our thoughts, our feelings and to be with each other as we did so. I think it’s incredibly important to recognize that we are a team up there in the Lab, and we all are affected by the good and the bad. Having these debrief sessions can bring peace and closure, and allows us to continue to perform life-saving work.”
When Dr. Bastiany is not in the Cath Lab or meeting with patients, she does find some time to recharge. “I like to run outside,” she said, “as well snowboard, but obviously not right now.” She also has finally found time to read for pleasure. “The past few years all I read were scholarly articles,” she laughed. “It’s nice to be able to have some time to read something else.”
She also loves to travel, and will be visiting her family in Montreal whenever possible. For the time being however, she’s found a beautiful view of the Sleeping Giant, and is excited to get to know more about her new home in Thunder Bay, all the while providing world-class cardiac care to residents of Northwestern Ontario.
*CEGEP is a publicly funded school that provides a step between secondary school and university in Quebec. Most students begin at age 17.
Your donation to the Northern Cardiac Fund provides Dr. Bastiany and her colleagues the equipment they need to provide world-class cardiac care here at home. Donations welcomed at healthsciencesfoundation.ca/cardiac-donate or by calling (807) 345-4673. Together we’re Healing Our Hearts at Home.