Here’s a startling truth: Almost half of Canadians have been touched by a fatal disease that most of us know little about.

Heart failure is a growing — but largely silent — epidemic in Canada.

Depending on the severity of their symptoms, half of heart failure patients will die within five years, and most will die within 10 years.

Heart failure is the focus of the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s 2016 Report on the Health of Canadians. I hope this report will wake up more Canadians, policy makers and healthcare providers to the urgent threat of this devastating condition.

As we learned in a poll conducted for the report, almost half of Canadians have either been diagnosed with heart failure themselves or have a family member or close friend with the condition.

"Let me be clear: Heart failure is not a normal part of aging."

Think about that — half of us have direct experience with heart failure!

Yet, our poll showed that many Canadians understand little about heart failure and its impact.

Almost one in five believe that heart failure is a normal part of aging.

Almost half mistakenly think it can be cured.

Let me be clear: Heart failure is not a normal part of aging.

It’s a chronic condition that gets worse over time. The heart starts to deteriorate after it has been damaged by a heart attack or other disease. Eventually it becomes unable to pump blood as well as it should.

There is no cure for heart failure yet. While lifestyle changes and medications can help many people manage their symptoms, advanced heart failure will leave you exhausted and breathless, unable to carry out the simplest task. You may be in and out of hospital, with your family struggling to manage your needs.

That’s why finding a cure is critical.

It’s also why I’m excited about the promise of regenerative medicine. The research Heart and Stroke Foundation donors are funding in this field is showing promise.

Simply put, regenerative medicine is about finding ways to repair or even replace damaged cells. For example, the work of Dr. Paul Fedak  focuses on the heart matrix, the proteins that glue heart muscle cells together. Dr. Fedak and his team are working to create an organic “patch” that could heal and strengthen a damaged heart.

At the same time, Dr. Kim Connelly is investigating how to teach the heart to heal itself by using a patient’s existing cells to grow new, healthy ones.  
I urge you to read the previously mentioned report for a critical look at the burden of heart failure, on Canadians’ health and on our healthcare system.

You’ll meet people whose lives have been changed by heart failure. Plus you’ll hear from some of the 69 top heart failure experts we surveyed, whose insights will help us address the urgent threat of heart failure. 

Right now 600,000 Canadians are living with heart failure. Another 50,000 will be diagnosed this year.

We need to do everything we can to beat this death sentence.