A Gift of More Time

At the age of 31, Chantal was a healthy expectant mother who was ready to begin a new phase in her life. But when she could not feel her child moving a day after her due date, she knew that something was terribly wrong.  

Chantal was completely shattered when she and her husband were informed by their obstetrician that he could not find their daughter’s heartbeat, and that the baby had passed away before being born.

Overwhelmed with grief at this terrible news, Chantal screamed, and instantly felt a tearing sensation in her chest and between her shoulder blades. 

“I couldn’t breathe, I was in so much pain,” she recalls. “We were overcome with despair, but I knew that my shortness of breath and the pain represented something more than just grief.”  Chantal’s doctor initially attributed this to her heartbreak and sent her home.  

Hours later, her condition had worsened. The burning sensation increased, nausea set in and Chantal ultimately collapsed from a lack of oxygen. Returning to the emergency room, a cardiologist’s assessment delivered a second blow. Chantal was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect; her aortic valve had not developed properly. But even more critically, the shock from her daughter’s passing had caused her aortic lining to tear all the way down to her kidneys.

She required emergency open heart surgery immediately to fix the torn artery. An operation was scheduled for 8 p.m. the following day. Chantal was given a mere 20 per cent chance of surviving the 10-hour procedure.

Chantal beat the odds. Her doctor later told her that had her baby been born as expected, or had her surgery been delayed for more than two hours, she would have died. Chantal was given more time to live.

“I made a bucket list in those first weeks of recovery,” says Chantal. “I promised myself that I would take steps to make an impact on my own lifestyle and the lifestyles of others. Heart disease does not discriminate, and if I can help people by offering support, giving advice, or even just lending an ear to listen, then I feel that I am making a positive difference in my world.”

Chantal has followed through on her commitment, becoming a spokesperson and volunteer for the Heart and Stroke Foundation. She has shared her experience with audiences across the Lower Mainland, become a voice for congenital heart patients, and a reminder of the mission work that the Foundation has ahead.

This Fall, she openly challenged Canada’s leading cardiovascular researchers to continue their quest for answers, as a guest speaker at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in Vancouver.  She explained she will need open heart surgery once again in 10-15 years, to replace the valve in her heart. She challenged researchers to advance cardiovascular knowledge within that timeframe, so that her next surgery might be performed closed heart, saving her the lengthy and complicated recovery she experienced the first time.

At the Heart and Stroke Foundation, Dr. Phillipe Pibarot is looking at revolutionary treatments for valve disease. Valve replacement surgery is the second most frequent heart surgery, after coronary artery bypass. For some patients requiring valve replacement, his promising research could provide the first possible drug therapy that would replace the need for open heart surgery.

With further funding and research in the years ahead, the challenge Chantal issued to researchers may be answered and accomplished.