Taking Care of Our Community's Hearts
Published Thursday, February 25, 2021
Dr. Andrea MacDougall is one of the Hospital’s Interventional Cardiologists. She provides immediate action to save people’s lives when they are having a heart attack.
Getting to know Interventional Cardiologist Dr. Andrea MacDougall
By Heather Vita
Like many Interventional Cardiologists, Dr. Andrea MacDougall didn’t grow up knowing she wanted to spend her days in the Cardiac Catheterization (Cath) Lab. However, during her time at medical school in Edmonton, cardiology really spoke to her in the classroom. “I like math and physics,” she said, “and the way the heart operates as a pump with electrical circuits - it just made sense to me.”
She continued to pursue electives in cardiology, and in her residency in Saskatoon, she found her way into the Cath Lab. The rest is history.
“I like that in the Cath Lab, we can make an acute difference and instantly make someone better,” she said. “So after my residency, I spent two years at the Ottawa Heart Institute pursuing a fellowship in Interventional Cardiology.”
It was directly after that, in 2011, that Dr. MacDougall came to Thunder Bay to join two other Interventional Cardiologists – Dr. Mark Henderson and Dr. Ian Billingsley. At the time, they were getting ready to open a second Cath Lab to provide 24/7 services; a huge milestone in cardiac care in Northwestern Ontario.
Since then, Dr. MacDougall has been involved with the introduction of code STEMI, which is activated within the Hospital when a patient is on their way with a blocked artery (i.e. a heart attack). Even prior to arriving at the Hospital, paramedics are involved in preparing the patient for a direct transfer up to the Cath Lab. As Dr. MacDougall said, “Time is muscle and the faster we are at clearing blocked arteries, the more heart muscle we can save. We’re actually one of the fastest centres in the province at getting patients up to the Cath Lab.”
The next big milestone for the cardiac program will be the introduction of cardiac surgery at the Hospital. “We’re all very excited for this,” enthused Dr. MacDougall. “Right now there are certain procedures we’re unable to do in the Cath Lab as we need surgical backup, so with the addition of surgery on site, we’ll be able to expand the services we can offer here.”
One of those procedures is called TAVI (Transcatheter aortic valve implantation). In instances where a patient may require a new aortic valve, traditionally they would have had open heart surgery to replace the valve. However, with TAVI, Interventional Cardiologists, along with cardiac surgeons, can insert a new aortic valve through a catheter, which is a much less-invasive approach, and can be extremely helpful for patients who may not be able to withstand open heart surgery.
“As well,” continued Dr. MacDougall, “it will be wonderful to have surgical colleagues present so we can discuss cases and we can meet with patients in real time. It’s going to be a tremendous change and one we are all looking forward to. We have an exceptional team in the Cath Lab already, and adding to it is only going to be beneficial for our patients.”
Having been practicing in the field for over a decade, Dr. MacDougall reflected on what it was like to get to where she is today. “The path to becoming an Interventional Cardiologist is all-consuming and especially, for a woman, difficult. There were many times where various people tried to dissuade me from the profession mentioning the terrible lifestyle that comes with it. They also told me I’d never find a job, and, I will admit, there were moments I had doubts. However, if you love what you do, and I really do love it, then you continue to pursue what you want and things tend to work out. I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I had given up. It’s fun for me to come to work because of the great people I work with and the work I’m honoured to do. It’s also a field that’s always changing and improving and I’m excited for what the future will bring.”
Your donation to the Northern Cardiac Fund provides Dr. MacDougall and her colleagues the equipment they need to provide world-class cardiac care here at home. Donations welcomed at healthsciencesfoundation.ca/cardiac-donate or by calling (807) 345-4673. Together we’re Healing Our Hearts at Home.