The only enlarged hearts were those that swelled with pride at a University of Ottawa Heart Institute Foundation dinner held Saturday to celebrate the successful campaign completion of the largest expansion and renovation in the history of Canada’s foremost cardiovascular centre.
The UOHI Foundation has worked hard to raise $100 million for the Heart Institute, which was founded 44 years ago by cardiac surgeon Dr. Wilbert Keon and is now led by Dr. Thierry Mesana.
“I’m thrilled with the community in their support of the Heart Institute,” UOHI Foundation board chair Barbara Farber, president of Leikin Group, told OBJ.social. “We always had world-class care and now we can deliver it in a world-class facility.”
The foundation's "Gift of Time" Celebration drew a crowd of about 450 guests and was emceed by beloved broadcaster Joel Haslam.
The evening featured a powerful and moving musical performance by a dynamic duo of doctors: Dr. Fraser Rubens, a cardiac surgeon at the Heart Institute and a talented tenor, and Dr. Marc Ruel, the head of cardiac surgery and an accomplished concert pianist.
It’s no coincidence organizers chose the popular Infinity Convention Centre as the host venue; one of its owners, businessman Anand Aggarwal, used to sit on the board of the UOHI Foundation and has been a generous supporter of the Heart Institute.
The Heart Institute’s $100-million campaign breaks down to: $50 million toward the purchase of new equipment, $26 million toward the construction costs, $20 million for research and $4 million for its Canadian Women’s Heart Health Centre, which is dedicated to improving the prevention, detection, and management of heart disease in Canadian women.
The Heart Institute is roomier now, following the renovation of its existing space, plus the addition of another 146,000 square feet. Its state-of-the-art working environment boasts new laboratories, operating rooms and a 27-bed cardiac intensive care unit, with private patient rooms. There’s better ventilation and an abundance of natural light. The cardiac centre has about 245,000 patient visits each year and employs nearly 1,500 people.
Heart Institute doctors now have the latest cardiac imaging equipment and minimally invasive robotic surgical tools to work with. The result: shorter patient wait times and shorter hospital stays.
During the campaign, the foundation received gifts from 15,000 donors each year, ranging from five bucks to $1 million. “Without their generosity, we would not be able to do what we do,” Jim Orban, president and CEO of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute Foundation, told OBJ.social. “We would not be able to purchase the life-saving, state-of-the-art equipment that we have.”
The foundation has also been helping to fund innovative UOHI research, from the development of the first human protein gel material capable of repairing damaged heart tissue after a heart attack, to treating patients, suffering from deadly arrhythmias, with completely non-invasive cardiac radio-ablation.
“If Dr. Keon were alive today, he’d be in tears,” said Orban.
Keon, who passed away last spring at age 83, founded the University of Ottawa Heart Institute in 1976.
He made a lasting impression on Orban, not just as a gifted heart surgeon, but also for his persuasive ability to win people over, when it came to supporting the Heart Institute. “He knew how to get money from people. He got money from governments. He got money from universities. He got money from the community. And he never, ever forgot the community, or the nurses.
“He always said it was the nurses that made the Heart Institute what it was, what it is.”
The Heart Institute performs some 2,000 open heart surgeries each year, along with a range of health interventions, such as diagnostic tests and cardiac devices.
Plans and proposals for the UOHI expansion had been in the works for years. It wasn’t until August 2011 that the project got the adrenaline shot it needed. Dalton McGuinty’s Ontario government announced, in advance of that fall’s election, its commitment to fund a building extension and major renovation. The heart health centre needed to keep up with changing demographics, in the form of an aging population. McGuinty attended the foundation's celebration on Saturday.
Orban was just weeks into his new job and still new to professional fundraising. He’d had a long and distinguished career in the newspaper industry, including seven years as publisher of the Ottawa Citizen.
It was a daunting task for him and his team to launch their first-ever capital campaign. “This was a whole new challenge for everybody,” said Orban, who remembers placing phone calls to seasoned fundraisers like Susan Doyle, former CEO of The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, and Fred Bartlett, former CEO of the CHEO Foundation, to pick their brains.
The foundation’s original $75-million campaign goal grew to $100 million, in order to be more accommodating. “It wasn’t supposed to happen that way but I just can’t say no,” Orban joked. "It’s very clear we’re going to hit the $100 million by the end of March."
The Ottawa chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals honoured Orban with the Professional Fundraiser of the Year Award at its prestigious dinner last November. The timing was perfect; Orban is stepping away from his role with the UOHI Foundation this June. “I’ll be riding off into the sunset on a high,” he said.
Farber is also winding up her position as chair of the foundation board this June. She was the first woman ever appointed to the position, nearly four years ago. She was also the only woman on the board when she joined in 2010. Now, more than one-third of the foundation board is female.
“I’ve done a lot of volunteer work but, really, my volunteer life has been greatly enhanced by my experience with the Heart Institute, starting with Dr. Keon and continuing through to Dr. Mesana,” said Farber.
“It’s been a privilege, and the icing on the cake has been the opportunity to work with Jim Orban over the past four years, and to set a goal and see the goal through.”