Matters of the Heart



It was a gorgeous spring afternoon in Penticton, BC. Dan Colbeck, aged 40, had just finished a mountain bike ride with a friend and was sitting in his car. Something didn’t feel right. And his chest hurt.

Active and leading a healthy lifestyle, Dan Colbeck never suspected that he would have heart issues.

Dan was sweating from more than just the ride, he looked so unwell that his friend called 9-1-1. Paramedics arrived and quickly determined that Dan was experiencing a serious cardiac crisis. 

The ambulance was equipped with an ECG (electrocardiogram) machine which meant paramedics were able to perform this critical diagnostic test and send it to the Penticton Regional Hospital Emergency Department while en route. They were able to confirm that Dan was experiencing a full blockage in one of his major coronary arteries. The paramedics were instructed to take Dan directly to Kelowna General Hospital (KGH), the Interior Health region’s cardiac referral hospital, home to the specialized Cardiac Catherization Lab (Cath Lab). 

Upon arrival, Dan was rushed to the KGH Cath Lab, considered one of the most advanced interventional cardiovascular operating environments available today. Dan would later learn that he had suffered three cardiac arrests that day. The specialized care he received at KGH may well have saved his life. He has since made a full recovery. 

Young, healthy, active men like Dan shouldn’t be having heart attacks. However his case, though puzzling to Dan, wasn’t altogether unusual. It was discovered that he has a hereditary risk factor for cardiovascular disease. It was then that Dan was enrolled in a cardiac health program and learned about SAVE BC. 

SAVE BC, the Study to Avoid Cardiovascular Events in British Columbia, aims to identify and support people like Dan who are at risk of premature cardiovascular disease through early detection, intervention, and education. It began at Vancouver General Hospital and St. Paul’s Hospital in the Lower Mainland, and was trialed at KGH in 2019 through the support of Sharon Varette and her family. The Varettes lost their son to a cardiac event in 2017. Their resolve to help ensure that no family has to suffer the tragic loss of a loved one has fueled their mission to bring SAVE BC to KGH. 

Sharon explains, “Our hope is that the applied knowledge from the research being done with patients and their first degree relatives will help to improve current practices for family physicians, patients and members of the public, advocating for the SAVE BC protocol to become the standard of care in British Columbia.” Today, SAVE BC has a permanent team at KGH including Dr. Frank Halperin, KGH’s Medical Director of Cardiology. 

Dr. Halperin shares a compelling perspective on Dan’s story.

“Without question, donors saved Dan’s life, and may even save his children’s lives. When Dan experienced his first cardiac event that day in Penticton, the paramedics were able to administer an ECG in the ambulance and as a result, he was immediately rerouted to Kelowna, saving precious time when every moment matters,” shares Dr. Halperin.

 “The ECGs in ambulances and the training required for paramedics are part of the PCPCHAMP (Primary Care Paramedics Collaborative Heart Attack Management Program)—a regional initiative funded through donors to the KGH Foundation, Vernon Jubilee Hospital Foundation, and the South Okanagan Similkameen Medical Foundation, in partnership with the Provincial Health Services Authority and BC Emergency Health Services.” 

“KGH is also home to the Interior Heart & Surgical Centre (IHSC) which, thanks to donors to the KGH Foundation’s $12 million Be a Lifesaver campaign (2015), contains some of the most advanced cardiovascular interventional equipment and operating environments in the country,” adds Dr. Halperin. 

“And finally, donors are actually contributing to the prevention of future cardiac events — for people like Dan, and his children, who also qualify for SAVE BC screening. The bottom line is, donors save lives and we are immeasurably grateful for their support.” 

Allison Young, CEO of the KGH Foundation, stresses the importance of SAVE BC‘s mission. “Sharon’s family loss and Dan’s journey from near tragedy to recovery are powerful calls-to action for all of us,” she says. “These stories highlight the dangers of undiagnosed cardiovascular disease and the lifesaving potential of this type of early detection and intervention. Thanks to the incredible generosity of donors like the Varette family, the Foundation is able to support SAVE BC’s mission to protect our community’s cardiac health.

Dan’s ECG indicated that he needed to bypass Penticton and get to KGH for treatment in our Cath Lab.”
— Dr. Frank Halperin, Medical Director of Cardiology at KGH and SAVE BC Principal Investigator

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