Heart Institute establishes "super chair" to improve care for patients with heart valve disease

June 23, 2022

Despite continuous improvements in the diagnosis, evaluation, and treatment of patients with valvular heart disease, cardiologists believe heart valve disease represents the next cardiovascular epidemic.

The University of Ottawa Heart Institute (UOHI) is establishing an endowment fund for heart valve research with an initial amount of $4M, making it one of the largest chairs dedicated to a cardiovascular research program in Canada.

Named in honour of the UOHI’s president and CEO, the Dr. Thierry G. Mesana Endowed Team Chair in Heart Valve Disease will be held and co-chaired by one cardiologist and one cardiac surgeon: David Messika-Zeitoun, MD, and Vincent Chan, MD are the first to serve five-year mandates.

Dr. David Messika-Zeitoun, a cardiologist and director of the Centre for Valvular Heart Disease (CVHD) at the UOHI, said heart valve disease is all too common, affecting nearly 25% of patients admitted to hospital for cardiovascular reasons.

“Patients with valvular heart disease are underdiagnosed, referred late in the course of the disease, and are often undertreated, leading to increased risk of complications and mortality,” said Messika-Zeitoun. “It’s awfully sad because most valvular heart diseases are treatable.”  

Whereas some heart conditions may be effectively managed with drugs, there is currently no known medication capable of curing valvular heart disease on its own. Without research, Messika-Zeitoun’s fear is a growing subset of the population will develop severe progressions of the disease that will eventually need intervention.

Dr. Vincent Chan, a cardiac surgeon at the UOHI, has operated on hundreds of patients with such progressions. Expert in valve repairs, replacements, and minimally invasive treatments, Dr. Chan said medical research has a crucial role to play in the operating room, catheterization lab, and in the examination room.

“There are a number of techniques we use for which there is limited data available,” said Chan. “In addition to improving surgical techniques and outcomes, research helps care teams identify the ideal strategy to manage each pathology of disease. Researchers analyzing valve disease provide surgeons with nuanced guidance in the OR, as well as an indication of the outcome they may expect.”   

Thierry Mesana, MD, is a specialist in repairing failing heart valves, a surgeon world-renown as much for his technical skill and ability as his leadership in academia. Under his tutelage, the UOHI’s surgical and valve repair program has expanded dramatically, now recognized as one of the best in the world. Mesana’s emphasis on repairing heart valves (rather than replacing them with artificial or biological alternatives) helped to establish this approach as the gold standard for treatment.

“Many do not realize research is where care begins,” said Mesana. “An endowment such as this provides the essential framework to ensure funding for life-saving research in valvular heart disease exists now and for many more years to come. In establishing this team chair, our hope is to enhance research, innovation and care for so many patients with valvular heart disease, and that is truly a special honour.”

Messika-Zeitoun and Chan will steer a wide range of research projects and provide academic leadership and direction in keeping with the vision and objectives of the Division of Cardiac Surgery, the Division of Cardiology, and the UOHI.

Their work will support the “heart team” concept Mesana established during his tenure as president and CEO, an approach which allows for interdisciplinary and personalized care for each patient.

John Bassi, a former patient of Dr. Mesana, and a prominent developer in Ottawa, has been leading the effort to secure donations for the initiative alongside his wife Maria, and with support from the University of Ottawa Heart Institute Foundation. Together, the Bassis and the UOHI Foundation have raised over $3.6M to date, which leaves about $400,000 to be raised with support from the community.  

“I am eternally thankful and grateful to John Bassi and his wife Maria for all their efforts. John is a big supporter of the Ottawa community, a lover of our city, and we sincerely appreciate having people like him and Maria supporting the Heart Institute,” said Mesana.

To coordinate an interview with Drs. Thierry Mesana, David Messika-Zeitoun or Vincent Chan, please contact the liaison below. Interviews are available in both English and French.

Media contact

Leigh B. Morris
Communications Officer
University of Ottawa Heart Institute
613-316-6409 (cell)

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