March 28, 2019 5:00 pm
Updated: March 28, 2019 5:40 pm

New, specialized lab at Kelowna hospital will complete cardiac program

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Matt Huff was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) 18 years ago.

“It’s like a thickening of the heart muscles,” the West Kelowna man said. “It constricts your blood flow and so, under heavy exertion or at certain times, your heart will throw itself out of rhythm.”

To prevent sudden cardiac arrest, Huff, 44, lives with a life-saving device in his chest called an ICD, an implantable cardioverter defibrillator.

“It shocks my heart back into a rhythm. Or if my heart stops from the medical condition that I have, then it’ll start my heart again” he told Global News. “It keeps me from dying.”

Recently, the alarm on Huff’s ICD went off, prompting him to go to Kelowna General Hospital (KGH).

It turned out that Huff needed to replace the device, but the procedure isn’t available at KGH.

Matt Huff had to spend six days at the Kelowna hospital waiting for a bed to become available in the Lower Mainland so that he could have his ICD replaced

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Because Huff’s condition is life-threatening, doctors didn’t want to take any chances and decided to admit him to hospital until he could be transported to the Lower Mainland, where the procedure is offered.

“I’m actually living on the second floor of the hospital,” he said. ” I can’t go anywhere, I can’t leave.”

Because ICD replacement and other advanced arrhythmia services aren’t provided locally, cardiac patients often have to endure long waits for treatment elsewhere.

“I’ve been here for 20 years, so I have seen it, the waits being from two days to a month. And it’s very frustrating to everybody, patients of course,” cardiologist Petr Polasek said.

Huff is one of hundreds of patients that every year have to be transported to hospitals elsewhere for advanced heart rhythm services.

“We’ve been sending people mainly to Victoria,” Dr. Polasek said. “Some of the patients travel to other hospitals, St. Paul’s Hospital, VGH and Royal Columbian, who do have those services.”

But recently, a $7 million campaign was launched by the KGH Foundation in hope of bringing those services to KGH.

READ MORE: Kelowna General Hospital announces $7 million campaign to keep heart patients in Interior

Called ‘Right Here at KGH,’ the campaign will lead to the creation of an electrophysiology lab, where doctors will be able to examine the heart’s electrical system to determine why a patient has an abnormal heart rhythm and what treatment is best.

“You can have an electric problem because you are born with one, or you can acquire one,” Dr. Polasek said.

Being able to study the electrical current of the heart at KGH will mean being able to treat complications from abnormal heart rhythms or cardiac arrhythmia locally as well.

“Electrical disturbance or arrhythmia issues are very common and it’s mostly because we are getting older. As you know, this is a very old area. Interior Health as you know, I believe over 20 per cent of people are over 65.”

The goal is to have the new lab up and running by the summer of 2020.

Huff, a father of three, said it can’t come soon enough.

“If the lab was up and running, and they could do my surgery six days ago when I first came in, I’d be home and probably almost be back at work right now,’ he said.

Click here for more information about the ‘Right Here at KGH’ campaign.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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