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What it's all about

by Ivan Berkowitz, September 29, 2013

In 1965, my family began to learn the hard way that heart diseases were BAD.  We lost my uncle who had collapsed in his doctor’s office. The next year my mother was immobilized in hospital; we were told “she looks like she is going to have a heart attack”; and she died that day. In a continuing series of tragedies, heart attacks took my father, another uncle, my mother’s cousin with whom we were very close, two fathers-in-law, my special friend Myles Robinson (in whose memory we created a fund which we built to $500,000 and have been able to help I A C S) and a tragic loss one morning of our friend who had been treated for breast cancer but was felled by a blocked artery.

I have learned that CVD Research and translational training have made it possible now for people to survive even more dangerous conditions and carry on to healthy and fulfilling lives.

The most intimate for me was the experience of my grandson Christopher. When he was born, he was rushed into intensive care where they discovered he has Down syndrome and, as is often the case, he had a hole in his heart. I was able to build possibly the best team in history to study the DVD of the echo of his heart and advise on his treatment including Drs. Lois DeBakey, Sir Magdi Yacoub, Alan Menkis, Jamil Tajik and Navin Nanda. At home, in California, Christopher was also blessed by the care a number of great people. Their assessments led to the conclusion that he required surgery to close the hole which was growing. Fortunately the California system made available one of the best pediatric cardiac surgeons in the world – Stanford’s Dr. Frank Hanley.

Through a 3 cm incision, he was able, as I am told, to provide the only cardiac treatment which completely fixes a problem. Indeed Christopher is quite amazing as evidenced by his conducting an orchestra of their friends which he requested for his 6th birthday - you can enjoy it on my blog:

As I have accumulated information for this article, I am delighted that I was able to chat with one of Winnipeg’s most precious assets, Kathleen Richardson who is a Canadian philanthropist and supporter of the arts. It is amazing that she sounds so vigourous and continues to be so full of optimistic enthusiasm. She told me that in 1980, she underwent successful surgery to replace a heart valve. Subsequently, several people asked why she hadn’t gone to Minneapolis or Dallas where she would have had excellent surgeons and th best care. She always replied that there were surgeons here that were the equal or better than those anywhere.

Her surgeon at St. Boniface Hospital was Dr. Morley Cohen. He was born at Winnipeg on November 18th, 1923. Dr. Cohen received his undergraduate and medical school education at the University of Manitoba (1948). He then went to the University of Minnesota for post graduate surgical training, completing his residency and PhD in Surgery before returning to Winnipeg in 1955. He joined the Department of Surgery at the University of Manitoba where he performed Manitoba’s first open-heart surgery in 1959. As the driving force behind the introduction of cardiac surgery to the Province of Manitoba, he served as head of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery from its inception in 1967 to 1984. He retired in 1987. In 2002, in recognition of his contributions to the province’s medical community, he received the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal. He died at Winnipeg on 18 August 2005.

Kathleen changed her post-op lifestyle, diet and engaged in caring for her own heart health. Obviously, her health 33 years later is proof of “WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT” right here in Manitoba.

I recently read about Kristin Millar, who was just 18-years-old when she was diagnosed with heart disease, in a publication of the St. Boniface Hospital Foundation: 

“’During a regular workout, I suddenly collapsed. This had never happened to me before. I immediately met with my doctor, and received news that would change my life forever,’ says Kristin. Kristin was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a serious heart condition that can cause sudden death.

Despite her condition, she continued to live a healthy, active life until a few years later when she began to develop flu-like symptoms. ‘I began to feel nauseated, weak, and tired,” says Kristin. “I couldn’t even climb the stairs to my apartment. I thought I was coming down with the flu. After six weeks of symptoms, I realized it was much more serious.’

During a routine visit to St. Boniface Hospital, Kirstin went into cardiac shock. Her heart was functioning at less than six per cent; she had no measurable blood pressure; her organs were failing. St-Boniface Hospital’s incredible cardiac team saved her life by implanting a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) into her heart. For two years, the LVAD pumped blood throughout Kristin’s body, keeping her alive until she could receive a heart transplant. That day finally came in January 2012. ‘I finally got the phone call I had been waiting for,’ says Kristin. ‘I heard the words I had been hoping to hear for two years: Kristin, we have a heart for you.’ After successful heart transplant surgery in Ottawa, Kristin immediately returned to St. Boniface Hospital, where staff were there post-surgery to help her recover from the operation.

Three years after her live-saving surgery, Kristin is an accomplished public speaker, and recently received a B.A. in Sociology from the University of Winnipeg. She is currently enrolled in Red River College's Creative Communications program and also works with Literacy Partners, a not-for-profit aimed at supporting learners and practitioners in their efforts to improve literacy and essential skills in Manitoba.”

I also have a link to an interview with Kristin on our web site:


With over 35 years experience, Gary Bachman, a long time Winnipegger, is not just a real estate professional, he is a professional negotiator, an entrepreneur and a good listener. He has the unique ability to apply common sense solutions to business and real estate issues. Undoubtedly, the pressures of that career contributed to problems and Gary had open heart surgery. But it has not slowed him down. Indeed, his surgeon Alan Menkis chuckles that Gary is his first patient who was talking as soon as he awoke from the operation.

Local realtor Peter Kaufmann who earlier endured stressful careers as a grocer and municipal politician shared with me:  “I had the heart attack in my friend’s cottage on McKenzie Portage on Lake of the Woods.  I drove myself to the Kenora Hospital. And even though it was the May long week-end two years ago (the hospitals were busy) I was transported by air ambulance to Winnipeg. And got to the St. B at 6:00 P.M. and the life-saving procedure was underway.  When I woke up the nurse showed me the result of the stent that opened up one of my main arteries that had been completely blocked. Four ambulances in one day and a miraculous procedure later … I am very grateful for the terrific service and care provided.”

Sheila Wolfe has always been slim, active and healthy BUT she developed blockages in her arteries and needed open-heart surgery. She said: “Just after my heart surgery I imagined that I would have to change my lifestyle. Before my cardiac event I was a very active senior.   I was an active golfer and enjoyed many energetic activities with my four grandchildren.  My husband and I also had a full social calendar. Six years have passed since my surgery and I can say that I am even more active and involved than I was before having my surgery. I have the deepest appreciation of my good health and I am indebted to the care and treatment that I received as a patient of the St. Boniface Cardiovascular Unit and for my physician, Dr. Wayne Poon.”

Sid Halpern spent too many years working in the clothing industry – long hours, high stress and no thought of healthy living. He has become my “Poster Boy” for secondary prevention (to avoid further heart problems). I asked Sid to share his epiphany:

“Sixteen years ago, at age 63, when I was diagnosed with quadruple artery blockages, (the main “widow’s artery” 95%) was the luckiest and happiest day of my life, in retrospect, that was my epiphany moment to wake up from the arrogance of invincibility, the false illusion of immortality and to start smelling the roses.That was the moment of introduction to the wonderful Health Care System in Manitoba:Dr Sheldon Permack – my family doctor who alerted me; Dr John Rabson – my cardiologist who diagnosed the illness and recommended; Dr Alexander Hamilton – the cardiac surgeon whose excellence discharged me from HSC in four days, and whose 1% mortality bested that of The Minneapolis Heart Centre’s 2.5%; the Step Down Nurses who “cared for me better than my mother would have”; the Reh- Fit Centre who educated me and motivated me to alter my life style and enjoy the best Golden Years of our lives; snd Esther Halpern – MY gorgeous wife – emotionally, physically and strategically whose unconditional love, with my family, nursed and nurtured me back to excellent health.

I thank them each and every day.

February 16 1999, the day of my surgery, was the date my life changed and my lifestyle has become one of great pleasure and a goal of developing a quality as well as quantity to enjoy the third quartile from age 65 to 98 and then I will slow down a bit to enjoy the fourth quartile from 98 to 120.My current lifestyle of a balanced exercise regimen, balanced diet, good social interaction, and great family relationships and interactions has resulted in a lifestyle that I look forward to daily, rising at 6 AM with enthusiasm and energy and optimism.

My results to which I can attest include:

  • A fitness level that enables the performance of my exercise routine with a minimum of exertion and effort – it’s actually so enjoyable and addictive that I now do it 5 days a week for 1 ½ hours each of those days.
  • A productivity level that I know is at least 50% higher than when I worked full time, and is reflected in results in the businesses I still attend to
  • An energy level that enables– both intellectually and physically – to interact with my grandchildren and children – resulting in marvelous pleasurable experiences
  • With the capacity in my energy I am able to spend many pleasurable hours in volunteering:
    • Mentoring young business people
    • Leading discussions with residents in The Simkin Centre Personal Care Home
    • Co- Chairing the fund raising for two organizations celebrating their 50th Anniversary
    • Assisting two young people in career counselling


And my most rewarding project:

  • Being asked by my very good friend Ivan Berkowitz, the Heart Health Scholar of the International Academy of Cardiovascular Sciences, and Dr. Naranjan Dhalla to participate in a Think Tank to develop heart health prevention strategies and to co-chair  the annual Harold Buchwald Heart Health Luncheon  to remember a very dear friend who counselled me through my surgery .I can honestly declare that I am in the happiest period of my life, enjoying life beyond my wildest dreams with my wife of 55 years. I wish the same for all my friends, whom I encourage and motivate to follow my lead. Not only did it result in Heart Health, but almost all arthritic, bursitis and sciatica pain has disappeared.”

 I have been blessed by Sid’s total commitment to honour our mutual friend Harold Buchwald at our annual Heart Health Luncheon. Sid is again the Co-chair for our annual Luncheon sponsored by Manshield Construction on Oct.3 at the RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg highlighted by our 5th Lecture by Dr. Salim Yusuf who will address the subject on which he is probably the world's leading cardiologist:



Dr. Yusuf, a cardiologist who did his post-doc as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, is President-Elect of the World Heart Federation and Professor of Medicine and Executive Director of the Population Health Research Institute at McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences, where he has established an international program of research in CVD and prevention involving 85 countries.

He is the catalyst of the International Academy of Cardiovascular Science launch of the Manitoba Heart Health Think Tank for which the Luncheon will be the first initiative of a powerful collaboration with the St. Boniface Hospital Foundation, led by Chuck LaFlèche and the Myles Robinson Memorial Heart Trust. As well support is forthcoming from the Cardiac Sciences Program, Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences, Heart & Stroke Foundation of Manitoba, the Reh-Fit Centre, the Rady JCC, the St. Boniface Women’s Heart Health Initiative and the Mature Women’s Centre at Victoria Hospital.

All funds raised will support the launch of this collaboration to encourage individuals to become engaged in protecting their own heart health. Learning from Dr. Yusuf is a good way to start!

An outstanding addition to the Luncheon program is our M C. CBC Manitoba’s beloved morning man Terry MacLeod. Terry is recovering from a quintuple bypass at the St. Boniface Cardiac Sciences Program. As he told his co-host “I think of the day of his surgery as my new birthday!” The interview on CBC is available online at: .

On Aug. 30, 2013, Terry was interviewed again by Marcy. He was delighted to report he feels better than ever!  He is biking outside and rowing inside. On Aug. 31, he started a new assignment hosting CBC Winnipeg’s Weekend Morning Show, Saturdays and Sundays from 6 – 9 AM.

Chuck LaFlèche encouraged me to read Jeffrey Simpson’s “CHRONIC CONDITION – WHY CANADA’S HEALTH-CARE SYSTEM NEEDS TO BE DRAGGED INTO THE 21ST CENTURY”. I decided it was appropriate to conclude this effort to encourage readers with the advice quoted from Emmett Hall, CC  QC,  author of the Royal Commission that gave rise to Canada’s Medicare: “Individual responsibility was crucial in health care”. Although the system he designed imposed no penalties on those who failed to shoulder such responsibility, he wrote: “Positive and enlightened attitudes towards their health and habits to promote it are part of individuals’ responsibility which cannot be replaced by compulsion or by public health measures”.




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