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From heart attack to transplant: How a northern Ont. man survived health scare

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Guy Labine, the former CEO of Science North in Sudbury, has a new reason to smile these days.

Labine recently moved to Arizona with his wife Michelle for a new career as the head of the science centre in Phoenix.

He is also the recipient of a new heart following a major health scare.

His ordeal started after moving down south.

The couple was trying to get in shape as part of their new routine, keeping in good health, while adjusting to life in their new home.

Labine said he was at a spin class when he felt 'off' and determined he was having a heart attack.

“I was doing quite well, but then I got really dizzy and I realized that things were going to go bad really quickly and left the spin class," Labine told CTVNewsNorthernOntario.ca in an online video interview.

"I’m actually the one who told staff that I thought I was having a heart attack and to call 911 and to get Michelle and the rest is history after that."

He was rushed to hospital, but what was more baffling to him was that he had no underlying or pre-existing conditions.

“In fact, I had a check-up before taking on the role in October of the previous year, 2021, before coming here,” Labine said.

“My father died at a young age of a heart attack, so I’ve always been conscious of that. I remember pretty well everything up to getting to the hospital.”

He said he considers it a series of 'short miracles' that he suspected he was having a heart attack and fears had he waited, it could have been too late.

Labine said he was texting his colleagues the next day thinking he would be back to work shortly and then things went badly from that point on.

“I was unconscious for almost three weeks while I went on a waitlist,” he said.

"I was on life support for I think about eight days and then slowly my recovery had started to know what had happened."

His heart wasn’t functioning very well, so he needed mechanical support from what’s called an inter-aortic balloon pump, Dr. Frank Downey told CTV News in an interview.

Downey is the surgical director of heart transplantation and mechanical circulatory support at Mayo Clinic Arizona.

"This is a catheter put in through the artery and the groin that unloads the left ventricle or decreases the workload of the heart," Downey said.

"Everyone at that time from a cardiology standpoint thought that he would recover from this because the artery had been opened up expeditiously and he was then taken to the intensive care unit."

But over the next three days, Labine's heart never really recovered or improved.

He had a repeat catheterisation to make sure that the artery stayed open, which it had, but his heart function was still down, so he was upgraded to a different mechanical support device called an Abiomed Impella 5.5, the doctor said.

"It is the latest and best available device that goes through a graft of the artery,” Downey said.

Cardiologists and heart surgeons were expecting his heart to improve over the following days, but they had two questions, do we go to urgent transplantation or do we go to a more durable mechanical circulatory support device?

“I was doing a transplant myself on the Friday night and he became unstable in the ICU, so we got another team, another surgeon who came in from home and placed him on ECMO, (venoarterial extra corporeal membrane oxygenation),” said Downey.

“It’s mechanical support where the blood is circulated outside the body, oxygenated and then sent back in after being filtered to take over the function of the heart and lungs so the heart and lungs can both rest.”

Downey said with that decision they were then committed to transplantation.

“He was ultimately listed for transplant, looks like he waited about a week and then a suitable donor was identified,” the doctor said.

According to Downey, with Labine being on ECMO, it’s a short-term option that put him as priority No. 1 because those circuits can’t last forever.

“It took about five weeks of rehab and recovery, some of that is medical, and then I always say to the patients, 'At some point, it switches to the physical side and it becomes working out and getting your physical strength back,'” he said.

Guy Labine suffered a heart attack then needed a transplant. (Supplied)Downey said Labine is an incredible success story.

 

Labine had incredible support from his family and friends and everything worked out the way it should have in his case.

“It’s very fast. I’ve been doing this since 1991 and for everything to fall in place in a positive way was extraordinary,” the doctor said.

Labine said he’s been given a new lease on life and he’s grateful for the gift of life he received from the donor and their loved ones.

“My family and friends are the most important things in my life. I was so fortunate to have them, you know Michelle was fortunate to have as well, the support of our four boys, my siblings and friends in the community who were cheering me on,” he said.

"I was going through some difficult moments."

A year and a half later, he said he's still reminded of how precious life is, how quickly things can change and that he said he doesn’t take anything for granted.

“Organ donation is important in the medical field of providing opportunities for that ultimate gift and allowing individuals to benefit from it,” Labine said.

He said he’s hoping others will keep organ donation in mind.

Labine said he’s thankful for the world-class support he received from the Mayo Clinic in Arizona and his wish is that everyone should be able to benefit from that added level of care.

“And I appreciate, I have a lot of notes and calls through me directly or through Michelle and through some of my siblings, and I certainly appreciate all those get well soon messages,” he said.

Every year, National Organ and Tissue and Awareness Donation Week is held the last full week of April.

As of December 2022, more than 3,700 Canadians were on waitlists to receive a transplant. 

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