Life-saving program front and centre at free forum in Kelowna, B.C.

Click to play video: 'Donor-funded program in Kelowna aims to prevent early onset of cardiovascular disease'
Donor-funded program in Kelowna aims to prevent early onset of cardiovascular disease
Heart disease can run in the family so in many cases understanding the risk factors can help prevent otherwise healthy young people from experiencing a major cardiac event. That's where the Save BC program comes in--trying to provide early detection in men under 50 and women under 55--especially those with a family history. As Klaudia Van Emmerik reports, the program allows more research and action to take place so that fewer people suffer cardiac events--possibly fatal ones. – Apr 12, 2024

Matt McArthur was cleaning his house back on Jan. 20th when he felt a tightening in his chest.

“It progressively got worse,” McArthur told Global News.  “I went to lay down in bed still experiencing a high heart rate that wouldn’t slow down.”

He called 9-1-1 and was shocked to learn later on at Kelowna General Hospital (KGH) he had suffered a heart attack at the age of 41.

“Quite alarming, especially at my age,” the Kelowna man said. “I didn’t think it was real.”

McArthur is now enrolled in what’s called the SAVE BC program, which allows more research to be done on heart disease among younger, otherwise healthy people.

It was designed to help patients and health-care professionals better identify, treat and prevent premature cardiovascular disease.

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SAVE BC was started by two physicians in the Lower Mainland who felt there was a gap in catching the disease based on family history.

The donor-funded program was launched at KGH in 2019 and has ramped up thanks to the ongoing support from a Kelowna family personally affected by premature cardiovascular disease.

“They have been the catalyst for this program,” said KGH Foundation CEO Allison Young.

The family lost a 41-year old loved one to  a fatal heart attack and have now donated roughly a quarter of a million dollars to get the program off the ground.

“They’re really passionate about seeing this become more than a research protocol or trial here at KGH,” Young said. “They want to see the way care is provided throughout the province change and this has meant everything to them. It’s the legacy of their son. It’s his memory.”

SAVE BC allows tests to be done to determine what factors pre-dispose patients to the early onset of cardiovascular disease.

“We do some additional testing above and beyond the typical standard for these patients, including blood tests, and then genetic testing as well and then use that information to guide their therapies,” said Dr. Jordan Webber, a KGH cardiologist, who is also involved in the SAVE BC program.

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The patient’s first-degree relatives — parents, siblings and children — can also opt in and have critical testing done because heart disease can be hereditary.

“Their families would benefit by understanding their own risk to a better degree, diagnosing diseases that they may not have been aware of beforehand to initiate earlier treatments and intervention to prevent bad outcomes down the road,” Webber said.

Amanda Annett is a former cardiac nurse who got involved with the program after witnessing time and time again situations that could be preventable.

“I was seeing patients come through time and time again with a family history of heart disease and, you know, saying that they were just waiting for it to happen to them. It had happened to their dad, and it already happened to their brother. They knew they were next,” said Annett, lead study coordinator for SAVE BC Kelowna site.

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Annett stated that with the program offering early detection, it has the potential to save lives.

“Knowledge is power, ” Annett said. “If you know that you are at risk of having a heart attack,  you have a family history, we do a Lipoprotein (a) test on you. You have high levels of Lipoprotein (a), we know that’s going to greatly increase your chances of having a heart attack, especially at a young age.

“So because of that we can watch you a lot closer. We can intervene more aggressively.”

There are about 100 people, including both patients and family members, currently enrolled in SAVE BC at KGH, allowing clinicians to gain an even better understanding of premature cardiovascular disease.

“We think it’s going to have a major impact on people now, as well as the population in the future,” Webber said.

Those people include McArthur’s direct family members, some of whom are now also enrolled in the program.

“It probably will benefit them in some way,” McArthur said. “My sister is a marathon runner, so she could be susceptible to having, you know, a cardiac event while running a marathon.

The potentially life-saving program will be front and centre at a free forum being held in Kelowna on Tuesday, April 16.

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It’s being hosted by SAVE BC and will include a panel of cardiologists, experts and patients from SAVE BC sharing stories and the results from all the research conducted through the program so far.

“This can happen to anybody. It can happen at a young age, it can happen to young, vibrant, healthy people. Genetics aren’t modifiable via life changes, right?” Annett said.

“We want people to identify themselves or a loved one as somebody at risk. We want to empower them with the tools necessary to go to their primary care providers and get appropriately screened and tested for early onset of cardiovascular disease.”

The forum takes place at the main branch of the Okanagan Regional Library in downtown Kelowna from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m.

For more information or to access the forum virtually, you can go to the KGH Foundation website. 

SAVE BC is not provincially-funded, something that advocates hope changes in the future.

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