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MONTREAL – When it comes to matters of the heart, the Montreal Heart Institute (MHI) is celebrating a big milestone. The hospital has just completed its 500th heart transplant.

"Seventeen years ago, I underwent a heart transplant and I will forever be indebted to them [the MHI]," said Jean Gravel, chairperson of Transplant Quebec's board of directors.

"I would also like to recognize the generosity of donors and their families who have helped save the 500 lives we are celebrating today."

To applaud the hearty occasion, Transplant Quebec awarded Sylvain Bédard, a double heart transplant recipient, the 2019 Ambassador Award as a way to recognize his commitment to the cause of organ donation.

Heartwarming history

The first heart transplant in Canada was performed on May 31, 1968 at the MHI.

“This first surgery, unprecedented in the history of Canadian medicine, was performed only a few months after the first heart transplant in the world,” the MHI recalls.

The life-changing surgery was not without its complications. After the bodies of several patients rejected their new hearts, cardiac transplants were paused.

In the 1980s, physicians had a change of heart after witnessing several medical innovations and resumed the procedure.

"The technical fundamentals of heart transplantation are still very similar to those used during the very first transplant," explained Dr. Normand Racine, cardiologist and medical director of the heart transplant program at the MHI. 

"Medicine has made tremendous progress that now allows us to choose heart transplantation as a medical approach for more patients and to have an excellent 84 per cent success rate in patient survival after one year.”

Cardiovascular disease is the second leading cause of death in the world, and the leading cause of death among Canadian women. The average wait time in Quebec for a heart transplant is 200 days.