Wrapping up Heart Health Month: Profile on Cardiologist Dr. Andrea Lavoie
While obviously drawn to the science as a physician, Dr. Lavoie very much embodies a heart-centered approach to both her clinical work and research.
“I love being able to help someone in the middle of the heart attack and completely alleviate their pain in minutes. It’s very satisfying knowing you can take someone who is on death’s door and completely fix it in minutes.
“We’re literally changing their stories,” she explains with passion that’s contagious. “Compared to other areas in medicine, we have such a robust, evidence-based medicine for cardiology that I can say to someone, ‘If we start you on these meds, you might be able to live 20 years longer.’ That’s incredible.”
Dr. Lavoie’s roots begin in Melfort, Saskatchewan. She earned her undergraduate and medical degree from the University of Saskatchewan before doing first an Internal Medicine and then Cardiology residency at Dalhousie University in Halifax, and from there two fellowships: Interventional Cardiology at the University of Calgary and Intravascular Ultrasound Research at the Cleveland Clinic.
“I remember the first day we learned about heart sounds,” recalls Dr. Lavoie. “For some reason, I was just absolutely fascinated and hooked from the very start.”
Now she practices, teachers, researches, and volunteers in Regina, with the support of her husband and two sons. Because her husband, Gabriel, is a computer scientist with a specialty in artificial intelligence, he has been able to help with research and the foundation. Dr. Lavoie half jokes her two sons, Joshua and Mateo, give her research ideas.
Upon returning to Regina, Dr. Lavoie was instrumental in establishing Prairie Vascular Research Inc., noting a great deal of time was spent building the infrastructure to support research.
“There is a lot of people doing heavy clinical work so then it’s hard to sit down and do research, but we knew it was important.”
Dr. Lavoie and other cardiologists began learning from, working and mentoring with other researchers across the country. It highlighted to her how much needed to be done in terms of educating the community, which led to the development of the Prairie Cardiac Foundation. The foundation increases awareness on education around heart health, with a recent focus on women’s heart health.
“With the understanding of the education that was needed for people in Saskatchewan, we decided to try and increase people’s understanding that women could still get heart disease” through educational sessions, media campaigns, and working with the Heart & Stroke Foundation, Wear Red in Canada and the Canadian Women’s Heart Health Alliance.
“What’s unique about women’s hearts is young women can get heart attacks that are different than the average one we think about. These are 30, 40 year old women coming in with heart attacks,” she explains. “When we imaged the inside of the arteries, we could see there was a tear, not a build-up, as one might see with a ‘typical’ heart attack.”
From that research, a Canadian registry was developed to help better understand the disease. Dr. Lavoie says 90 per cent of those affected by this particular heart disease are women, who have typically been under-studied.
Thanks to the passion of Dr. Lavoie and other cardiologists, Regina is one of four places in Canada that has begun microvascular testing to explore microvascular disease where there are no major blockages, but the artery is functioning differently – another cardiovascular disease more prevalent in women.
Other exciting research includes testing best drug treatments for heart attacks.
Dr. Lavoie is also passionate about working with the province’s First Nations communities. She admires the research and work Dr. Stu Skinner has performed in communities, creating health clinics to address accessibility issues. One of her projects is taking monitors directly to First Nations, which makes it much easier to facilitate the diagnosis of heart arrhythmia. Notably, this February she and her team received a grant to take a portable ultrasound to look at people’s heart pumps, which on a broader level is re-imagining the delivery care model.
One other trial of Dr. Lavoie’s is exploring special devices on how to monitor patients remotely. “Stick-handling research through these past two years has been a challenge,” she acknowledges.
Dr. Lavoie has taken to heart her role on social media: like so many clinicians across the province, she has stepped up and become more active to try and educate people.
“I’ve really felt the need to try and be an accurate and positive source of information for people in the community.”
She views this way of disseminating information as medicine on a public health scale.
“This is the only way we have to help people understand prevention of COVID-19 - this is our medicine, information. This is our prevention.”