Cardiac patients lifted by big hearts

St. Michael’s kind and confident doctors—together with a generous donor—are helping patients battle life-threatening heart valve infection.


(Left to right) Donor Ky Luu, of Sure General Contractors, and Dr. Bobby Yanagawa, the Head of the Division of Cardiac Surgery and holder of the Professorship in Endocarditis at the Schroeder BRAIN&HEART Centre.

When bacteria make their way into your bloodstream, they can attach themselves to damaged areas of the heart—potentially leading to heart valve infection. This is known as infective endocarditis (IE).

If bacteria break down the heart valves, they can cause heart failure. And if clumps and cell debris break loose from the valve, they can cause stroke. This is why endocarditis is linked to high rates of illness and death.

The good news is that St. Michael’s is a leader in IE surgery. The hospital’s cardiac team are also the go-to experts for doctors treating this life-threatening condition. And now, thanks to a $550,000-gift from Ky Luu, of Sure General Contractors, St. Michael’s is building a dedicated, multidisciplinary IE team that includes infectious disease, cardiology, neurology, cardiac surgery and addictions medicine experts, as well as physiotherapists, occupational therapists, nurses and social workers. The lead is Dr. Bobby Yanagawa, the Head of the Division of Cardiac Surgery and holder of the newly established Professorship in Endocarditis at the Schroeder BRAIN&HEART Centre.

The professorship—along with Ky’s partnership with the hospital—will be a game-changer for heart patients, Dr. Yanagawa says.

“We are contending with a growing number of IE cases in our hospitals because the population is aging, the use of medical instrumentation and procedures is increasing, the implantation of heart devices is more common, and IV and street drug use is on the rise,” he says. “So, we need to advance IE care, research and education, and make heart valve treatment safer and more effective.”'

The reason is that about 30 percent of endocarditis patients require high-risk surgery, with up to a third of those dying, according to Dr. Yanagawa.

But he points to the successful case of Terry Tait, a 60-year-old former National Hockey League player from Sault Ste. Marie, who had a triple valve IE and a hole in his heart. Dr. Yanagawa says Terry’s recent surgery at St. Michael’s was “extensive and high-risk” but had an “excellent outcome.”

During their time at the hospital, Terry and his wife Chantal say they were struck equally by the heart team’s confidence and kindness.

“They knew what they were up against (surgically), but weren’t afraid to take on the challenge,” Terry says.

St. Michael’s Hospital’s endocarditis patient, Terry Tait, and his wife, Chantal.

St. Michael’s Hospital’s endocarditis patient, Terry Tait, and his wife, Chantal.

Chantal adds that Dr. Yanagawa went “above and beyond,” reaching out to her by phone, the night after her husband’s surgery, just to let her know that Terry was doing well and starting on the road to healing.

Today, Terry’s heart valve infection is under control, and he is completing his rehab back in Sault Ste. Marie. Though he no longer strives to be “as strong as can be,” he is intently focused on his cardiovascular fitness.

“I just have to remember I now have physical limits—where and how far I can go,” Terry says, adding that he hopes to continue his favourite pastime: river fishing in northern Ontario.

Looking back at their experience at St. Michael’s—from the critical IE surgery to day-to-day nursing support—Terry and Chantal say “no dollar is better spent than what is spent on cardiac care at the hospital.”

St. Michael’s advancement of infective endocarditis education and research is all part of the evolution of The Schroeder BRAIN&HEART Centre, where we are bringing together leading healthcare practitioners and researchers to treat the most challenging brain and heart cases, together. To support brain and heart care, donate online or contact Ashley Downey at

Donate to St. Michael's Foundation.

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