Ottawa Heart Institute sees dramatic spike in heart attacks over past two days; Ottawa councillor Jeff Leiper among them

Joanne Schnurr, CTV Ottawa


Published Thursday, February 14, 2019 5:30PM EST


Last Updated Thursday, February 14, 2019 6:34PM EST

The Ottawa Heart Institute has seen a dramatic spike in the number of STEMI-related heart attacks over the last 48 hours as residents shovelled themselves out.

One of those rushed to hospital was Ottawa Councillor Jeff Leiper. Leiper is recovering tonight at the Heart Institute after suffering a heart attack while shoveling; one of 17 so called ‘STEMIs’ in two days.

As one heart specialist told CTV News, shovelling with any risk factors is a recipe for disaster.

Nice and easy; that’s the key Mitch Plouffe says, to clearing his driveway.

“It’s all about doing it slow,” he says, as he moves a small mountain of snow.

The right tools and the right mindset keep him upright after shovelling.

“You just got to take your time,” he says, “I did four hours yesterday, three today. Just pace yourself, you know.”

It’s advice Ottawa councillor Jeff Leiper wishes he had heeded.  Leiper, who is 48, 

had what’s called a “STEMI” or ST-Elevation Mycordial Infarction yesterday after shoveling, a serious type of heart attack where the full thickness of the heart wall has been damaged.

“I feel great, the doctors are positive, and I’m looking forward to resuming my duties soon,” he wrote in a note to constituents.

Leiper said that he had been a smoker since he was 18, adding “My first step to complete recovery is to quit smoking.”

Leiper wasn’t the only one to end up at the Ottawa Heart Institute during the aftermath of the recent snowstorm.  The hospital has seen a spike of late; 17 code STEMI’s in two and a half days. That compares to 20 in all of last week.

“There’s a huge metabolic demand in snow shovelling and most Canadians are blissfully unaware,” says Dr. Andrew Pipe, Chief Division of Prevention and Rehabilitation at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.  Dr. Pipe says if you have a family history of heart disease or have a risk factor such as smoking, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, don’t shovel snow.

“I think we have to make sure we don’t become snow dopes,” he says, “and realize that going out and trying to shovel massive amounts of snow can be a recipe for disaster and we’ve seen 17 of those disasters in the past 48 hours.”

Leiper was noticeably absent at the Planning meeting at city hall today.  He’ll be off for a few weeks while he recovers.

“I spoke to Jeff last night,” says fellow councilor and friend Catherine McKenney, “He’s in good spirits, no damage. They caught it in time but he needs rest.”

Councillor Stephen Blais knows all too well how important THAT is.

Six years ago, Blais went into cardiac arrest at the age of 32.  His advice to Leiper?

“Listen to your health care providers and take it easy and don’t go rush to shovel some snow.”

Which brings us back to folks like Michael Sarazin who figures he’s got this shovelling thing all figured out.

“The trick?” he says, “Go down south.  Real quick.”

Clearly, we can’t all afford that.  But Dr. Pipe says it’s worthwhile hiring some local teenagers to shovel.  He says often the first experience Canadians have with heart disease is their sudden death.





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