Virginia’s Story

Virginia Nordlee is extremely grateful to donors like you for your role in helping mend her broken heart in Saskatoon rather than in Toronto.

Thanks to your support of the Royal University Hospital Foundation and our ongoing investment in physicians wishing to pursue advanced subspecialty training like interventional cardiologist Dr. Janine Eckstein, Virginia was able to receive her lifesaving procedure at Royal University Hospital.

On January 12, 2023, the 83-year-old great-grandmother arrived at RUH for her transcatheter mitral valve repair (TMVr) procedure and made history that day by becoming the first patient in the province to receive the minimally invasive MitraClip heart treatment here in Saskatchewan.

“I am very, very, very grateful to have had my procedure done by Dr. Eckstein and her team at RUH,” says Virginia. “I am so thankful for the outcome and that I didn’t have to spend a lot of money having to go to Toronto, paying for airfare, hotel, and taxi costs for me and my daughter.”

Royal University Hospital surgical team that performed the first transcatheter mitral valve repair (TMVr) procedure in Saskatchewan

Virginia, who lives independently in a seniors’ complex, experienced the first signs of a potential health problem in 2021. Following visits with her healthcare providers and undergoing various tests, Virginia was diagnosed with mitral valve regurgitation, a common valve disease affecting approximately 10% of people over the age of 75.

Mitral valve regurgitation occurs when the flaps of the mitral valve don’t close tightly, causing blood to leak backward resulting in the heart working harder to push blood through the body. Left untreated, this can damage the heart and lead to congestive heart failure.

Two treatment options were discussed—intrusive open-heart surgery that could be done at RUH or the less invasive MitraClip treatment performed by Dr. Eckstein in Toronto where she received her sub-specialty training and had regularly travelled to since 2019 to maintain her skills and qualification to perform TMVr procedures.

“The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to say ‘no’ to both options,” Virginia said. “I am 83 and I’ve lived a good life. I didn’t want open heart surgery and I didn’t want to go to Toronto for the other procedure.”

However, following a discussion with her children, Virginia agreed to pursue the minimally invasive procedure.

“They said, ‘We need you, Mom. Dr. Eckstein’s procedure, if it works, will give you a few more years with us.’”

Thus began an anxious wait for a date when Virginia would have the procedure done in Toronto.

A few days before Christmas, Virginia got an unexpected call from Dr. Eckstein’s office.

“‘I think we have a Christmas gift for you. We have just gotten word that Dr. Eckstein can do this procedure here at RUH.’ I was speechless.”

Virginia’s two-hour procedure performed in RUH’s cardiac catheterization lab in January was a success. She was discharged as planned the next day. During her first week at home, supported by family, she began to regain her strength. By Easter weekend she was hosting family and friends.

Virginia is often asked what it was like to have the procedure and if she can show them her stitch marks or scars.

“It didn’t hurt. I went home the next day. And I don’t have any stitches or scars to show.”

The positive patient outcomes associated with the TMVr procedure, the value of having it done in Saskatchewan, and the local expertise of Dr. Eckstein and her colleague RUH cardiovascular surgeon Dr. Max Buchko, have been noticed by healthcare decision-makers in our province.

The provincial government stated in its 2023-24 budget new funding to establish a MitraClip program in Saskatchewan, the only one in the Prairie provinces. On June 6, the government announced funding of $330,000 in 2023-23 to support the program at RUH. Ten procedures will be performed in 2023-24 for priority cases currently on the wait list.

All this is in part because you cared enough to donate to RUH Foundation and help fund advanced training for our world-class individuals and teams at RUH.

Read more stories about the impact of your donations in our 2022–2023 Annual Gratitude Report.