“People Shouldn't Have to Travel for Heart Surgery”

Published Monday, March 16, 2020

“People Shouldn't Have to Travel for Heart Surgery”

Jim Fry shouldn’t have needed quadruple bypass surgery. But he did – and he had to travel to Toronto to get it. Today, he’s helping ensure all patients have access to heart surgery right here in Thunder Bay.

Jim Fry Tells His Story about His Quadruple Bypass – and Why Surgery Here Will Be So Much Better

by Graham Strong

For many who are told they need emergency heart surgery, fear can be overwhelming. But Jim Fry said he wasn’t worried for himself. His biggest concern was the affect it had on his family.

“The hardest part for me was knowing I was putting my family through this,” Jim said. His wife Donna and their grown son and daughter were all in different places in Canada when he was admitted to the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre last July.

To complicate matters, Jim had to travel to Toronto for surgery. Getting there was relatively easy – Ornge air ambulance medivacked him – but he had to get home on his own.

“It’s so important to have a support person with you down there,” Jim said. Luckily, he had Donna who made all the travel arrangements for their return trip. Then there is the cost. Jim believes that after the Northern Health Travel Grant, they are almost $3,000 out of pocket. He wonders how patients who don’t have family members locally or the money to cover costs manage on their own.

Jim also felt disconnected from his health team in Toronto. Although he said the patient care was excellent, it’s harder to get follow-ups with your surgeons when they are a thousand kilometres away.

Having these services closer to home in Thunder Bay would make things so much easier for patients and their families. That’s why Jim feels the Our Hearts at Home Cardiovascular Campaign is so important.

“I’m really a strong supporter of the campaign,” Jim said. “People shouldn’t have to travel out of town for this kind of bypass surgery.”

“Not Your Typical Heart Surgery Case”

Jim’s story is unique. The long-time Nordic skier, mountain biker, and past triathlete is more active than most people half his age. In retrospect, he did have mild warning signs. Jim would feel out of breath for the first half-hour of his two-hour bike ride, and then feel fine. It happened again when he and Donna skied the 20k event of the Sleeping Giant Loppet last year on his 61st birthday. Jim never had pain, numbness, or other typical symptoms.

There were other signs including a high-stress job and slightly high blood pressure. But, given his active, healthy lifestyle (no drinking, no smoking), those symptoms did not add up to a quadruple bypass.

Except that in Jim’s case, they did. Four arteries leading to his heart were between 50 and 90 per cent blocked by the time he was diagnosed in July 2019.

“They told me if I hadn’t have come in, there was a good chance I wouldn’t have lived through the fall.”

Today, Jim says he feels great and is fully recovered. In fact, he will be skiing the Sleeping Giant Loppet 20k again this year.

“I always looked at myself as bulletproof,” Jim said. “But at the same time, I was sure to get myself checked out when I felt something wasn’t right. That’s the biggest lesson for me. Take an active part in your health care, and if things don’t feel right, see a doctor and get some answers.”

You can help make it easier for thousands of patients in Northwestern Ontario to have their heart surgeries right here in Thunder Bay. Your donation to the Our Hearts at Home Cardiovascular Campaign will ensure we get the cardiovascular surgical services we need. Donate online at healthsciencesfoundation.ca/donate or call our Donation Centre at (807) 345-4673.


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