University of Ottawa Heart Institute supporters to paint the town red

Business community to match public donations, light up buildings during foundation's February is Heart Month campaign
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Lianne Laing, executive director of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute Foundation, with Armando Giannetti outside his family's Preston Hardware, one of dozens of Ottawa businesses and organizations helping to support and promote February is Heart Month. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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More Ottawa businesses than ever will be in the red this February

And they couldn’t be happier about it.

That’s because they’re lighting up portions of their respective buildings in brilliant hues of red as a way of showing their love for the University of Ottawa Heart Institute and its annual February is Heart Month campaign.

“This is really a critical month for us,” said UOHI Foundation executive director Lianne Laing of upping awareness for heart health, as well as raising funds to help the Heart Institute with its medical research. 

“There are so many advancements currently in the works that are going to have a major effect on how we’re going to be dealing with cardiac care in the future,” said Laing, referring to less invasive procedures and quicker recovery times.

From hotels and highrises to cranes and conference centres, dozens of Ottawa businesses and organizations are painting the town red. Participants include The Westin, Fairmont Château Laurier and Andaz hotels, the Shaw Centre, Aberdeen Pavilion, the Performance Court office tower at 150 Elgin St. and the Pure Kitchen locations, to name a few.

The University of Ottawa Heart Institute, led by president and CEO Dr. Thierry Mesana, will make its own red splash. Expect to see its giant pretzel-shaped heart logo out and about in the community and featured on social media, raising awareness of the importance of taking care of the ol' ticker.

The UOHI Foundation is aiming to top the $1 million it raised during last year’s February is Heart Month, according to Lindsay Firestone, the foundation’s director of community engagement and development. The campaign is getting a major boost from the matching of donations by such sponsors as Giovanni's Ristorante, Carleton Refrigeration Heating & Air Conditioning, Mark Motors Group's Jaguar Land Rover Hunt Club and SerCo Construction. Each has a designated week.

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From left, former University of Ottawa Heart Institute patients Johnny Giannetti, Fred Giannetti and Robbie Ibrahim are not only related but also work together at the family-owned Preston Hardware, which is lighting up its store on Preston Street during February is Heart Month. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Preston Hardware employee Robbie Ibrahim knows how lucky he is to have a world-class cardiac care facility right in his hometown. On Dec. 29, 2020, the married father of three suffered a heart attack shortly after leaving for work at 6:30 a.m. While he was only 40 years old at the time, heart disease runs in his family. 

Ibrahim was headed to Preston Hardware, located on Preston Street in Little Italy. Minutes into his drive, Ibrahim knew something was wrong. He did a U-turn and headed back to his home in Barrhaven.

"Next thing I know, I’m in the operating room."

“It was right in my chest, something I had never felt before,” said Ibrahim, who was taken by ambulance to the Heart Institute. “It was scary.

“Next thing I know, I’m in the operating room. They put a stent in right away. No messing around.”

Ibrahim said he received “phenomenal” care during his procedure, recovery and cardiac rehab. His praise of and gratitude for the Ottawa Heart Institute was echoed by his colleagues and family members, Fred Giannetti and Johnny Giannetti, who are also former patients of the Heart Institute.

Preston Hardware, which is family owned and operated, will be proudly lit up in red throughout the month of February.

The UOHI Foundation didn’t have to ask Gemstone president Josh Zaret twice. He’ll be lighting up the real estate firm's head office, a beautifully restored heritage home, on Argyle Avenue in Centretown. 

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Gemstone, a custom-home builder and real estate company located at 252 Argyle Ave., is participating in the Light the Town Red initiative in support of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute Foundation's February is Heart Month. Photo by Caroline Phillips

“I thought it was a pretty neat opportunity, and it’s interesting from a few perspectives,” said Zaret.  “One, it’s not hard to do. Two, I think it will help sort of brighten up the city throughout the winter. These are properties that all owners are proud of showcasing. It was easy to say yes to, that’s for sure.”

Zaret also liked the community feel behind the idea. “I’m super excited that we’re participating, and I’m going to try and inspire some other people to participate as well.”

Dymon Group of Companies is “honoured and privileged” to be supporting the renowned Heart Institute, said its senior vice-president, Stephen Creighton. “They do tremendous work.”

Dymon, which was recognized for its philanthropy in 2019 by the Ottawa chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, has a tradition of changing its colour of lights to recognize important occasions and causes.

“Our corridors and our lit areas of our buildings have really become sort of representative of some great initiatives that are happening in the community, and we get tons of feedback whenever we do things like this,” said Creighton.

“It’s proven that corporate support of philanthropic ventures results in greater giving. I think having our buildings lit up, in the very dominant locations where they are, sort of tweaks people’s thinking.”

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Dymon Group of Companies is once again participating in the Light the Town Red initiative in support of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute Foundation's February is Heart Month by lighting up its storage facilities in Ottawa. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Laing said the campaign wouldn’t have nearly the same impact without the support of the community.

“We are incredibly grateful for the way this city responds to Heart Month,” she said. “Every year, the donors open their hearts to the cause. What is equally important is the support we receive from the business and corporate community. They’ve jumped on board with our new initiatives  especially through COVID helping us build awareness and fundraising opportunities around heart disease.

“We can’t thank them enough, from matching donations to lighting up red. It all makes a difference.”

There are numerous events happening throughout February in support of the Heart Institute, including an online art auction by AliCat Art Shop and a 14-day Wellington West two-kilometre walk or run challenge presented by Run Ottawa. The foundation is also launching a paper heart social media campaign and has special crochet heart cards for sale at such local shops as Thyme & Again.

As well, the foundation is partnering again with Escape Manor to bring back its Hunt for Hearts online and in-person scavenger hunt. The second annual event will be running over the Family Day Weekend as a way of getting participants outdoors, active and exploring different parts of Ottawa.  

Heart Month, said Laing, “allows people to participate in whatever capacity they can. It’s just exciting to have some buzz in the city.”

caroline@obj.ca