National Heart Failure Awareness Week: Prioritizing Heart Health

Heart failure, a condition in which the heart doesn’t pump blood efficiently throughout the body, has rapidly become one of the fastest-growing cardiovascular conditions globally. According to the Canadian Heart Failure Society, in Canada alone, it’s projected that over 100,000 new cases will be diagnosed this year, adding to the 800,000 Canadians already living with heart failure.
During National Heart Failure Awareness Week (May 5-11), the importance of prioritizing heart health resonates louder than ever.

"It's not normal to be breathless," said Dr. Elizabeth Swiggum, a heart failure cardiologist at the Victoria Heart Function Clinic. This sentiment encapsulates the central message of the week-long awareness campaign - heart health demands attention long before it becomes a crisis. Early detection and intervention can be pivotal, even lifesaving.

The stories of individuals like Doug Kobayashi, Lyle Eide, Erik Eide, and Craig Bell from Victoria and Nanaimo serve as poignant reminders of this reality. These individuals, spanning different ages and backgrounds, found themselves unexpectedly diagnosed with heart failure.

Doug Kobayashi, Mayor of Colwood (Age 67): From Triathlons to Cardiac Rehabilitation

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Doug Kobayashi

Doug Kobayashi, a former military man and fitness enthusiast, led an active life until his 50s. He didn't suspect he would have a heart issue as he's always been healthy, looked after himself, was a non-smoker, and athletic. Yet, a pivotal moment at a Victoria Shamrock's lacrosse game changed everything. 

"I was spectating when I felt dizzy, short of breath, and vomited," Doug recalled. Seeking medical help led to the discovery of a genetic cardiomyopathy. Doug underwent a surgical procedure and received a defibrillator. Reflecting on his journey, he emphasized, "If you experience shortness of breath, don't ignore it!"

Doug was impressed with the compassionate care provided to him by heart clinic staff. They took the time to listen to his concerns and involved him in decision making about his care, which really picked up his spirits, he said.

"The whole medical team had a commitment to excellence and patient safety,” said Doug. “They were just phenomenal and went above and beyond."

Doug is no longer running up hills, but he walks every day and lifts weights. "The dedication of the Victoria Heart Function Clinic staff has been instrumental in my recovery," he said. "They saved my life." 

Lyle Eide (Age 85): Navigating Cardiorenal Syndrome

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Erik and Lyle Eide

Lyle Eide's heart journey began unexpectedly during a North Atlantic cruise. Feeling unwell, tired, and breathless, he was diagnosed with heart and kidney failure in Norway. Despite never experiencing health issues before, Lyle found himself hospitalized there for a month before being strong enough to travel home to Victoria.

Reflecting on his journey, Lyle recalls feeling like he had pneumonia before the diagnosis. "I recall tiring easily when doing yard work, but I just shrugged it off as aging," he said. Prior to his diagnosis, Lyle felt lucky in that he'd never had any serious health issues. "I appeared fit, I was slim, and active for someone in their eighties."

After participating in the 12-week cardiac rehab program at the Victoria Heart Function Clinic, Lyle has become conscious about the importance of prioritizing his health and exercising more. His health is steadily improving, and he's planning a cruise to Alaska.

Erik Eide (Age 55): From Swim Meets to Cardiac Rehabilitation
Erik Eide, Lyle's son, initially brushed off his recent symptoms of shortness of breath and weight gain as typical signs of aging. An athlete in his youth, he had been a competitive swimmer, but as he entered his 50s, he noticed changes in his health. Erik attributed his breathlessness to his weight gain and experienced additional concerns like trouble sleeping, puffy legs, and swollen ankles.

Reflecting on his symptoms, he asked himself, "Is this what aging is all about?"

Erik credits the Victoria Heart Function Clinic for his recovery and encourages others to seek medical help if uncertain. Initially feeling out of place at the clinic due to his age, Erik found camaraderie with fellow patients, even those much older than him. "The program at the Victoria Heart Function Clinic was the most intriguing part of my recovery," he said. "It was a mix of excitement, confusion, and being overwhelmed. Although it didn't feel like the right fit initially, it turned out to be exactly what I needed!"

Craig Bell (Age 66): Recognizing the Unexpected Signs


Mary and Craig Bell

Craig Bell's heart journey began with what he initially thought was indigestion. However, this discomfort led to three heart attacks, two of which required defibrillator paddles to bring him back to life. His initial sensation felt like a knot beneath his rib cage. Despite not experiencing typical heart attack symptoms, such as intense pain, Craig knew something wasn't right.

Before his heart attack, Craig wasn't overly active, but did enjoy working around the yard and playing golf. Since then, he has made significant lifestyle changes, such as shedding 50 pounds and committing to daily walks. Craig credits much of his recovery to his wife, Mary, who has been a steadfast advocate and support system, helping him navigate the challenges of being a patient.

"Never ignore symptoms; it's a matter of life or death," Craig emphasized. His experience underscores the critical importance of seeking prompt medical attention and recognizing the signs of a heart attack, even when they don't fit the typical profile.

Mary Bell, Wife and Caregiver: Advocacy in Times of Crisis
Mary Bell witnessed firsthand the impact of heart failure on her husband's life and is an important advocate for her loved one. Craig loves her cooking, but Mary has learned about nutrition, that food is medicine, and you need to know what you're putting in your body. She has also educated herself about Craig's condition and all of the medications he's taking.

"We both come from large families, and everyone was obviously concerned, but I was exhausted. I set up a Facebook page where everyone could turn for answers," Mary said. Her proactive approach highlights the critical role of support systems during challenging times. 

The common thread among these narratives is the tendency to downplay symptoms, attributing them to aging or other factors. Women, too, face challenges in identifying symptoms. Dr. Swiggum stresses that indicators such as shortness of breath, unexplained weight gain, fatigue, and discomfort in the chest or abdomen should never be dismissed. "These signs frequently indicate underlying heart problems," Dr. Swiggum emphasized. "Seeking timely medical attention can greatly impact treatment outcomes and overall well-being."

Island Health operates heart function clinics in Victoria, Nanaimo and Campbell River. As we observe National Heart Failure Awareness Week, remember that heart health knows no boundaries of age, fitness level, or family history. Your heart matters – listen to it.

For additional resources and information on heart health, visit:

Island Health - Heart Health Services
Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada
The Heart Hub – Our Heart Hub
Heart Life