The MUHC Foundation's Health Matters

Running blindfolded to raise awareness for vision loss

September 04, 2022 The McGill University Health Centre Foundation Season 2 Episode 48
The MUHC Foundation's Health Matters
Running blindfolded to raise awareness for vision loss
Show Notes Transcript

This week on Health Matters, Tarah Schwartz speaks with the MUHC’s Physician-in-Chief Dr. Marc Rodger. Discover the fascinating work done in the pathology department with Dr. May Chergui. Dr. Hady Saheb shares what inspired him to launch a blindfolded running challenge fundraiser in support of eye health. We reconnect with Sharon Steinberg who is a participant in the “Heart in a Dish” project. She describes the experience of seeing her heart cells beating in a dish.  

Cette semaine à Questions de santé, Tarah Schwartz s’entretient avec le médecin en chef du CUSM, le Dr Marc Rodger. Découvrez les travaux fascinants effectués au service de pathologie avec la Dre May Chergui. Le Dr Hady Saheb explique ce qui l’a incité à lancer le Défi de la course les yeux bandés pour recueillir des fonds pour la santé visuelle. Et nous discutons avec Sharon Steinberg, une participante au projet "Cœur miniature", qui décrit les émotions qu’elle a vécues en voyant ses cellules cardiaques battre dans une boîte de Petri.

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Tarah Schwartz:

Hello there. Thank you for joining us. I'm Tarah Schwartz and this is Health Matters on CJAD 800. On today's show, a few months ago, we introduced you to an incredible study known as Heart in a Dish. This futuristic research project takes a blood sample from a patient and transforms it into heart cells that beat just like a patient's heart in a petri dish. Later in the show, we speak with a patient who is participating in this study and came to the hospital to see her own heart cells beating. Plus, we introduce you to a glaucoma specialist who was so touched by the challenges faced by people with vision loss. It inspired him to do a blindfolded running challenge. But first, the MUHC treats thousands of patients every day at the Glen. There are multiple care centers, numerous departments, countless physicians, nurses and health care workers. One of those is the Physician-in-Chief at the MUHC and his name is Dr. Marc Rodger, and he joins me now. Thank you for being with us. Dr. Rodger.

Dr. Marc Rodger:

Absolutely. It's a pleasure.

Tarah Schwartz:

So tell us what do you do in your role as a Physician-in-Chief at the MUHC. Tell us about that?

Dr. Marc Rodger:

Sure. The MUHC organizes care along missions. The medical mission, the surgical mission, cancer mission and others. And the Physician-in-Chief is the physician lead for the medical mission. In a partnership model, in a dyad model, looks after the medical mission with an Associate Director of Nursing who is Lucy Wardell.

Tarah Schwartz:

How many people are we talking about when you say you're in charge of the medical mission?

Dr. Marc Rodger:

Sure. We've got 230 specialized medical physicians in the medical mission; and thousands of nurses and other allied health care professionals.

Tarah Schwartz:

Now, it is such a large hospital, you mentioned that, Physician-in-Chief of the medical mission. What are the most challenging parts of your job?

Dr. Marc Rodger:

It is such a large mission. It's the busiest of the missions. It's the biggest of the missions at the MUHC. We look after roughly 200 beds in our three MUHC sites; the Royal Vic at the Glen, the Montreal General and l'Hopital Lachine. We also have outpatient visits. Over 200,000 outpatient visits across those four facilities. And we provide consultation services on the wards to the other missions, the other specialists.

Tarah Schwartz:

That sounds like a lot happening all at once.

Dr. Marc Rodger:

It sure is. We've got 17 Clinical divisions. All of the ologies- allergy, immunology, hematology, cardiology and I could go on and on.

Tarah Schwartz:

So the challenging part is keeping everything running smoothly. Would that be what I'm

Dr. Marc Rodger:

Yeah, keep running it smoothly. Making sure inferring? that the patient experience is as positive and seamless as possible, which is a challenge in today's health care resources and personnel challenges that we've got. We've got a very busy emergency room, the busiest in the province. Our roles to try and keep things flowing smoothly.

Tarah Schwartz:

And what is it that you love most about it? When someone obviously you, you worked very hard to get to this position of Physician-in-Chief now you're there, what do you love about it?

Dr. Marc Rodger:

Building things. Building things that allow patients to get better care, building research programs that allow us to identify the next advances to improve patient care. Building high level teaching programs that allow us to develop the next generation of providers and leaders. At the end of the day after having worked hard to establish a program, seeing it come to life, building things. It's probably the greatest pleasure.

Tarah Schwartz:

I love that. I love that description, building things. We're speaking with Dr. Marc Rodger, and we're talking about his unique role as Physician-in-Chief at the MUHC. The Glen is such a beautiful state-of-the-art hospital. What is it like to work at the MUHC?

Dr. Marc Rodger:

I came to McGill two and a half years ago from Ottawa. I do have to say that working and seeing this world-class facility was one of the reasons why I came to McGill. Another reason was to come back to a great city of Montreal that I grew up in. But, it's an absolute pleasure to work in these very modern and world-class facilities.

Tarah Schwartz:

Now, you are also a researcher into something called venous blood clots my pronouncing that right?

Dr. Marc Rodger:

Yeah, that's right. We have two sort of broad categories of blood vessels, arteries that take blood from the heart and lungs and bring it to the tissues and the vital organs. Then veins that take blood from the tissues and the vital organs and return them to the heart and lungs. I do research and provide clinical care and teach in venous thrombosis or blood clots that develop in the veins. Most commonly, those blood clots occur in the legs and cause leg pain and leg swelling and sometimes they break off and go to the lungs and cause something called pulmonary embolism. And those two entities deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism are this broader group of venous thromboembolism.

Tarah Schwartz:

You mentioned most of them occur in the legs, blood clots, swelling, pain, like is that the main impact that these kinds of venous blood clots could have on a person's life? Or does it get more complicated than that?

Dr. Marc Rodger:

From a deep vein thrombosis; and again classically, these are in the legs, but they can be in other veins. What causes like pain and swelling and usually just one side, one leg and that's kind of the cue to call in, or to get it checked out. If you get pain or swelling in one leg that doesn't go away after you put it up for an hour. It needs to get checked out. The danger from the blood clot is that it damages the valves of the veins that ensure that blood returns towards the heart and that sort of acute pain can become a chronic pain and chronic swelling of the leg. The other major complication is the blood clot can break off and go to the lungs and cause pulmonary embolism and that can be in its most extreme form immediately fatal. It can cause death, but it can also cause quite serious illness where you need to be hospitalized and put on ventilators etc.

Tarah Schwartz:

Are there some people who are more susceptible to these types of blood clots?

Dr. Marc Rodger:

There are populations that are more likely to get blood clots. People that are in casts, people that have had surgeries, people that are immobilized in bed for three or more days, and people that have cancer. There are also hereditary conditions that predispose people to develop these blood clots. And they're called thrombophilia, which comes from a Latin word of lover of clots. And, about one in 10 of us in the general population have one of these clotting tendencies; hereditary cloning tendencies.

Tarah Schwartz:

We're speaking with Dr. Marc Rodger; we're talking about his role as Physician-in-Chief at the MUHC but also his role as a researcher into venous blood clots. Now, you also run an international network of venous thrombosis research networks. Tell us a little bit about that.

Dr. Marc Rodger:

Clinical trials or randomized trials are the gold standard to provide evidence to change practice. And they're tougher and tougher to do. So there's increasing recognition that scientists need to work together. There are many national networks of scientists and variety of areas, including venous thrombosis that work together. In Canada, we have a network called the Can Vector Network, as an example. What we're doing with Invent the international network of networks is to get national networks to work together. So we've got 10 networks across the globe, from North America, to Europe, to Asia, and down under in Australia, with over 1000 members and scientists in over 200 sites that collaborate on these research projects so we can answer questions faster and move on to the next question. It's a wonderful collaborative experience.

Tarah Schwartz:

I think the average person is learning more and more about how vital this kind of collaborative research is, in light of how the world dealt with COVID-19. Is, in your opinion, collaborative research and collaborative clinical trials, the way of the future for all medical research?

Dr. Marc Rodger:

Absolutely. In medical interventions, only about a third have this very high quality evidence from randomized trials and two thirds don't. So we may be potentially wasting scarce healthcare resources. Doing clinical trials to know for sure that an intervention works is absolutely key to advancing science, to providing better care, and to being responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars. And certainly with COVID, we saw through the remap cap initiative in the UK; incredible speed of completion of trials and moving on from hydroxychloroquine trials, to dexamethasone trials. One intervention after the other. Answering very quickly and narrowing down those interventions that really do work and that we should be using. And absolutely this needs to spill to all areas of medicine.

Tarah Schwartz:

Dr. Mark, Rodger, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us on Health Matters. It was really interesting. Thank you.

Dr. Marc Rodger:

Absolutely. My pleasure.

Tarah Schwartz:

Coming up hundreds of patients are diagnosed every day, thanks to this department of the MUHC it is a critical part of our healthcare system, but it isn't often talked about. I'm Tarah Schwartz, welcome back to Health Matters on CJAD 800. Every day there are 1000s of samples from sick patients that are sent to the pathology department at the MUHC. Thanks to the hard work of this department, patients are able to receive the diagnoses that helps them to get the care and the treatment they need to get better. It really is a critical part of our health care system. Dr. May Chergui works in the Department of Pathology at the MUHC and she joins us now. Thank you so much for being here.

Dr. May Chergui:

I'm glad you called me.

Tarah Schwartz:

So Dr. Chergui, can you explain what pathology is?

Dr. May Chergui:

Pathologists are doctors, like surgeon or orthopedist. But we don't see patients. We're diagnosticians. So we see bits of patients under the microscope and we analyze tissue.

Tarah Schwartz:

And what interested you about this field?

Dr. May Chergui:

I loved the detective work and the intellectual stimulation. All doctors are intellectually-stimulated, but the attention to detail, the minutiae. We are really detectives. When no one else knows what it is, we step in and try to do our best and tell clinicians what it is.

Tarah Schwartz:

Essentially that's what a pathologist does; they get a sample of a patient, whether it's cells or blood or some type of body fluid and then you figure out what is wrong with that patient is that what it is?

Dr. May Chergui:

We don't get fluids; we only get cells and tissues; cytology and histology. Blood and everything else, urine, goes to biochemists. We only get tissue. Whatever comes out of the patient, for example, a sample of breast or colon, a skin biopsy, which is my specialty, would come to pathology, and we analyze the tissue. Let's say a patient has a rash, and we're not sure what it is. We take a skin sample, send it to the department, we process it, and then I get to look at it under the microscope to say what it is. There's our routine stains, but there's multiple markers we could do as well to help us out.

Tarah Schwartz:

Tell us a little bit more about that detective process. You said, that's what kind of fascinated you about the field from the get go. So what kind of detective work goes into figuring out what is wrong with a tissue sample or cells tell us about that?

Dr. May Chergui:

There's a lot of bread and butter, if I could say. Some diagnoses that we just put under a microscope, and we know exactly what it is. But especially the fact that we're in a sub-specialized center, a very advanced center, we get more complex diseases. And so there's what I see under the microscope, but then I have to correlate with the clinical information, talk to the clinicians. It's that back and forth, that's really helpful. I can't do my work by myself; we're a team. There's also the bloodwork, the tissue examination, what the patient looks like clinically, their history, all that put together is like a puzzle, and that's what attracted me. It's a very visual field and I'm a very visual person. So it's all of that attracted.

Tarah Schwartz:

So interesting. We're speaking with Dr. May Chergui, and we're talking about The little known and rarely discussed department of the MUHC, pathology. Now I want to share some numbers that I found particularly interesting. So over the span of one year, the pathology team of the McGill University Health Center examines 75,000 adult and 7000 pediatric surgical specimens as well as over 70,000 cytology specimens, more than 400 diagnoses are made each and every day. That is quite a significant number.

Dr. May Chergui:

Yes, we get a lot of volume, a lot of work. But it's good. It's challenging. And whenever I get a diagnosis, and I can be helpful, it's really rewarding.

Tarah Schwartz:

Are there any diagnoses that are tougher to come by? Like, what happens if you get something and you can't figure out what it is? What do you do?

Dr. May Chergui:

For sure, we can open the books for things that are more difficult. Like I said, going back and forth with the clinician is often very helpful. And also we're a team, we're about 20-25, pathologists at MUHC. I have some senior colleagues. So we get consensus, I show my case to people around me to try to get a consensus going for the more challenging cases.

Tarah Schwartz:

Now, I was reading also that there's some type of tubing within the walls of the hospital that make delivering these transactions. I guess we could call them easier. A bit about that.

Dr. May Chergui:

And I've heard about it as well. I don't know if it applies to pathology. I think it's mostly for blood and urine and stuff like that for rapid shipping of the specimens to the labs.

Tarah Schwartz:

So there are tubes within the wall?

Dr. May Chergui:

it's almost like... it's kind of a funny analogy to do. But like, your Hoover?

Tarah Schwartz:

Your vacuum cleaner?

Dr. May Chergui:

Yes, the tubes in the wall, it kind of takes the specimen in the container, of course, neatly packed. And it goes in the wall, it goes to the lab. But I don't I don't think we get our specimens that way in pathology, but I think maybe for the blood bank and stuff like that it's more used.

Tarah Schwartz:

So what does it feel like to discover and diagnose a patient sample? Does it ever gets sort of run of the mill? Or is it an exciting moment, every single time you figure something out?

Dr. May Chergui:

For sure, there's more routine cases, like age spots, and little beauty marks. Those we get, cosmetic stuff. Those are easier, but it's good to have easier cases once in a while to relax our brain. But when we get the more complex cases, and we actually get to an answer. Even if like sometimes we don't have a specific diagnosis. But when I talk to the clinician, and some I saw more of this type of inflammatory cell instead of that one. That was really useful for my dermatology colleagues. She said- well, I could try to use a treatment that targets that type of cell more instead of the other. And then she called me back a few weeks later -by the way, that patient, she responded super well, even if we didn't have a specific diagnosis. So I was really happy.

Tarah Schwartz:

That is wonderful. We are speaking with Dr. May Chergui. She's a pathologist at the MUHC; it's not a department we really know about. We don't often hear about it. I think it's a really important department because you play such a key role in all this diagnosis and helping physicians do their work and helping patients get better. What would you want our listeners to know about the work that you do and that your colleagues are doing?

Dr. May Chergui:

That we're always there. We're team players. We work really hard and because we're not very much seen people think it's almost like magic. You put tissue into a machine and there's an answer that comes out. But it's really more complex. There's a lot of steps that go into it. And like I said earlier, we're part of a team. We communicate a lot with the clinicians. I even reach out to my clinical colleagues, don't hesitate to contact us even though you don't see us we're there and we're not anti-social, we like talking to our colleagues. So reach out whenever you want.

Tarah Schwartz:

You said that your expertise is in skin so what kinds of things would you be diagnosing? Some of the more difficult or challenging ones?

Dr. May Chergui:

I see a lot of melanoma and so skin cancer due

Tarah Schwartz:

We've heard from doctors that we've spoken to on to sun I see a lot of that. So those are very challenging. But the show before that melanoma cases are on the rise then any rash that a patient gets also. I see that so like significantly across Canada. Do you find that you are seeing psoriasis or eczema, stuff like that I see a lot of as well. more and more of those of those cases?

Dr. May Chergui:

I'm seeing a lot of them and even in younger patients. I don't know if we're biased because we get the most advanced cases as well at McGill. It is somewhat frightening. It reminds me and I tell my husband all the time, put your sunscreen on. I'm a bit like a military at home now.

Tarah Schwartz:

I think since I've started doing this show and I've been learning more about these things, I feel like I'm that way now too. Like wear a hat, put sunscreen on, buy a rash guard!

Dr. May Chergui:

Yeah, definitely.

Tarah Schwartz:

It's good to have you corroborating that kind of information for us. Dr. May Chergui, it's been absolutely a pleasure to talk with you and to learn something brand new at the MUHC, so thank you so much for your time today.

Dr. May Chergui:

Thank you.

Tarah Schwartz:

Next up on Health Matters. He wants to raise awareness for vision loss, and we'll be running 50 kilometers blindfolded to make that happen. I'm Tarah Schwartz and this is Health Matters. Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in Canada. Do you know if you're at risk, and what are the warning signs for glaucoma? Doctor Hady Saheb understands how devastating blindness can be. He is participating in a blindfolded running challenge, all while raising $50,000 to support glaucoma services at the McGill Academic Eyes Center. Dr. Saheb is an ophthalmologist in the Department of Surgery at MUHC, and an investigator at the Research Institute of the MUHC. Dr. Saheb, thank you for being with us on the show today.

Dr. Hady Saheb:

Thank you, Tarah, and thank you for spending some time to highlight this important and exciting project.

Tarah Schwartz:

It is important and it is exciting, a blindfolded run. So what inspired you to want to do that?

Dr. Hady Saheb:

My very good friend and cousin, Dr. Sherin Al-Safadi, had given herself a challenge to run blindfolded and ended up achieving the Guinness Book of World Records for her blindfolded marathon run some time ago. I was just listening to her journey and was so inspired by her determination and commitment to this cause. For me, as someone who takes care of patients at risk for going blind, and unfortunately, some patients who have gone blind, I felt very drawn to do my part to understand at least in some way, would it be like to be without vision. Initially, this started as a personal journey and challenge. Then I realized it was also a really good opportunity to raise awareness and inspire others to challenge themselves.

Tarah Schwartz:

It certainly is. And I mentioned in the introduction that you're committed to running 50 kilometers blindfolded, you have a sighted guide when you're running. What has that experience been like so far? Is it? Is it difficult? Is it harder to find your balance? Is it uncomfortable? Tell us a little bit about how you've been experiencing the run so far.

Dr. Hady Saheb:

Yeah, oh my goodness. I'll try to be positive because that's generally my approach. I'll focus on what's been positive so far. Overall, I'd say it's been quite transformative. Once the blindfold went on the first time, I really felt the need to focus on what I still had, as opposed to what I have lost, which was my sight. I realized I was counting on trusting my guide who I was relying on to keep me safe. I still had my sense of balance, my sense of hearing, smell, and all those are really, really accentuated. And I also felt very focused on maintaining that stamina that was necessary to get through the various runs.

Tarah Schwartz:

So interesting. So how has it changed your perspective? Or has it changed your perspective running without sight?

Dr. Hady Saheb:

100%. 100%. I can't pretend that this experience actually simulates living with blindness. As in my case, it's short lived, of course and by choice as opposed to our patients who unfortunately, lose this permanently and not by choice. That being said, it is the longest I've gone simulating moving around without sight. And so that connection to some of my patients living without vision was really really powerful. Sight is just so instrumental to feeling safe and enjoying your surroundings and being independent and losing it is really frightening.

Tarah Schwartz:

We are speaking with Dr. Hady Saheb; we're talking about his blindfolded run to raise money and awareness about glaucoma. So let's step back from the run just for a moment doctors to have and let's talk about your specialty. So tell us about glaucoma. What are the warning signs?

Dr. Hady Saheb:

So first of all, it's important to know that glaucoma is one of the leading causes of irreversible blindness; both in Canada and worldwide. It's certainly a very important and unfortunately common condition. And one of the scary things about glaucoma is it often doesn't have symptoms in the early stages. So really the only way to detect and diagnose glaucoma at an appropriate early stage is doing regular screening. So seeing a health care, vision care professional every year, throughout your adult life to make sure that you don't have any early signs of glaucoma.

Tarah Schwartz:

And are there some people who are more susceptible to getting glaucoma than others?

Dr. Hady Saheb:

Yes, so it's the most common risk factors age. So that's why after the age of 50, it's particularly important. And then other common risk factors are family history. So anybody with anybody in their direct family with a diagnosis of glaucoma should be screened even earlier than the age of 50. And then also some ethnic groups, particularly anyone of African descent. So people originally from Africa or Afro-Caribbean, or Afro-Canadian populations are more at risk and should be screened earlier than 50 as well.

Tarah Schwartz:

And if you catch it early, is it curable, treatable? What happens once it's been caught?

Dr. Hady Saheb:

Thankfully, there's so much that we can do for glaucoma and so curable is not currently possible, but definitely treatable. We have drops, we have lasers, we have surgeries. And so certainly the key is to have the early diagnosis. And then once that diagnosis is made, an ophthalmologist or glaucoma specialist can go ahead and give a recommendation for treatment. And in the majority of cases, we're able to halt the disease progression.

Tarah Schwartz:

We've spoken to eye specialists on the show before and I never tire of hearing about what it's like for doctors like you who work with eyes. And the relationship that you have with your patients in terms of helping them see can you talk a little bit about that?

Dr. Hady Saheb:

Patients come to us with huge levels of stress about losing vision. So one, it reminds us why patients can sometimes be so worried about losing vision. Two, it makes what we do more rewarding if we're taking care of something that's so important to patients. And so the sense of sight is so important to the majority of patients that it makes us realize that their concerns about losing vision are valid, of course, and we have to make our best efforts to diagnose your eye conditions and treat them at the earliest stages possible.

Tarah Schwartz:

And I hear you say that in the same time, I'm feeling great compassion, for the people who have lost their vision that life is, you know, is wonderful. Like you said, you get to embrace all the other senses that you have when you've lost one. So I certainly don't want to diminish anybody's life who has who has lost their vision. And I know you share that feeling Dr. Saheb.

Dr. Hady Saheb:

Of course.

Tarah Schwartz:

Now I want to get back to your blindfolded run, because this is fascinating. So you're running 50 kilometers, but you're running it over the course of these next few weeks. And then your final five kilometers will be done on October 7. So where are you in the 45 kilometers that you have to get to by October?

Dr. Hady Saheb:

I'm halfway through and I think 50 kilometers is a long way to go in one shot. So it's been it's been nice to be able to spread it along the two months of preparation. And it's nice to live this over a period of time so that it's something that I continue to live through. And I continue to think about, essentially, every week, I'm thinking about this in some way, and continue to practice. And it's also giving me this nice build up to the final event where I'm hoping to run with patients and friends to come and support the cause. I'm about halfway through and it's become easier with time as the first time was really, really hard to run blindfolded. So I am getting used to it and I'm getting more and more excited about the final goal.

Tarah Schwartz:

Do you think this is something that you'll do more than once I'm putting you on the spot here? I don't know. Maybe you're doing enough to want to make it an annual thing. What do you think?

Dr. Hady Saheb:

I think that would be great. The challenge, of course, is it requires for somebody to come with me right? I always need a sighted guide. I think if I find a volunteer who's willing to run with me at any time. Every run is invigorating in some way. Every run is such a nice reminder, a sad but nice reminder of what so many people worldwide are living on a daily basis. And so this has been wonderful for me as an individual and as an ophthalmologist to go through it. So I would love to find a way to continue doing this.

Tarah Schwartz:

What would you like people who are listening to know about supporting this cause and supporting you? How would you encourage them to get involved?

Dr. Hady Saheb:

Yeah, I think the first message would be that blindness is absolutely frightening. And it's more common than we think. And glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness worldwide. So, of course, I want all our listeners and I want to inspire them to donate, I think that's so important and so needed. But I do have one request for anybody before they click the donate button. I'd love for everybody to just go for a walk, even if it's in the room that you're in on your computer and close your eyes for just five seconds. I think you'll help you realize just how powerful and essential the sense of sight is. I remember the first moment that I put the blindfold on, and it's just you feel your heart rate going up and your heart racing and, and it's so frightening to lose that sense of sight. So, so I do encourage everybody to at least feel that for a few seconds. I'm sure that anybody who goes through that will recognize how frightening it is to lose your sight. And finally, for all of you who have supported this cause so far and will support it moving forward. I'm so grateful. You're helping raise awareness, you're helping being our cheerleaders, and of course donating and helping the MUHC continue and improve their world class care. So thank you so so much.

Tarah Schwartz:

I really, really love what you said Dr. Saheb. And I promised to do that today after the show's over because I want to feel that I want to feel that sensation to remind myself and to think about what you're doing. So I do thank you for that. And I thank you for coming on the show and talking about this and for doing this blindfolded run because it really is a wonderful thing that you're doing. So thank you so much.

Dr. Hady Saheb:

Thank you. Thank you to everybody listening.

Tarah Schwartz:

And if you want to support Dr. Hady Saheb on his run, it is taking place on October 7, you can head to the MUHC Foundation dot com website. You'll find his photo, his story, his fundraising page, so you can read all about it and you can donate to his cause. Coming up on Health Matters, we spoke about the futuristic heart in a dish project, we'll catch up with a patient who got to see her heart cells beating in a dish. I'm Tarah Schwartz, you're listening to Health Matters. We spoke to Sharon Steinberg a few months ago after she had made a significant donation to the MUHC Foundation in support of the heart in a dish project. A project that she is also a participant in. It is a fascinating study that comes from a patient's blood sample, just a regular blood test. From this sample, heart cells are created in a petri dish and the cool thing about heart cells is the beat just like a regular heart. Each patient's heart cells will beat differently. Sharon was at the MUHC last week and was able to see her heart in a dish beating Sharon Steinberg joins me now. Thank you so much for coming back on the show.

Sharon Steinberg:

Oh, you're very welcome.

Tarah Schwartz:

So tell us what was it like? We've been we've been waiting excitedly to talk about this story and to have you meet to your heart cells, what was it like to see your heart beating at a dish?

Sharon Steinberg:

It was very interesting and amazing. I actually look through a microscope at the cells in this tiny little dish, and it vibrates it. You can just feel the motion that you feel when you touch your own heart. And, like if you put your hand to your chest, you can feel a motion where your heart is. Well, this is what I saw with my own eyes and it was extremely exciting.

Tarah Schwartz:

Wow, that is amazing. Now I heard the doctors telling you that each heartbeat has this signature beat. And you could see it; you could see sort of this beat happening. Were you able to sort of put your hand on your chest, feel the beat and watch the beating happening at the same time?

Sharon Steinberg:

That's exactly what I'm trying to explain. It really is the same as my heart. And they're able to map the rhythm. You can you can just see the rhythm on a graph. So it's really amazing. And then they're going to be able to take that and experiment with different potential ways of treating it. And hopefully they'll find either why I got the problem in the first place. Or what they can do to cure it even? It's amazing what research can do these days.

Tarah Schwartz:

It really is. Now, how special was it for you to see all the doctors who are a part of this project and to get to speak with them?

Sharon Steinberg:

I really felt like a celebrity. With the researchers, it was my first time meeting them. But the doctors were the doctors that I already know. And they're very nice, interesting people. And we're having fun working together.

Tarah Schwartz:

Was there anything that surprised you about your day? Or what you saw? Was there something that you walked out after seeing your heart cells and thinking I didn't expect this?

Sharon Steinberg:

No, they really explained it very, very well. I knew what to expect. I mean, there was it their research lab looks kind of like, you know, the high school chemistry lab that I remember. And but it's a beautiful place. They have all the different research offices when next to the other, so that the various researchers can communicate. And no, I wouldn't say I was surprised, I was impressed is better.

Tarah Schwartz:

That's wonderful. We were speaking with Sharon Steinberg. And we're talking about the heart in a dish project, where she actually went to see some of her own heart cells beating in a dish as doctors are able now to try to figure out what's wrong with her heart, how to find a cure or figure out wonderful new research that will impact not just Sharon's life, but many others. Now, in our last interview, Sharon, you spoke about that the importance of education to ensure that you and your sons are educated citizens, can you tell us why education is so significant for you?

Sharon Steinberg:

Oh, education is everything. First of all, because I got a good education, I was able to make some money that I was able to donate. It's terribly important. And the amount of education that people get to become doctors and researchers, and to potentially help other people's lives is amazing. And yes education is extremely important.

Tarah Schwartz:

What does it mean to you, I wonder to know that you are playing a role in something that could change the way we care for heart patients in the future?

Sharon Steinberg:

Oh, I'm not conceited enough to think that.

Tarah Schwartz:

But I mean, this research study is something right at the beginning, it's cutting-edge medicine. And you're right in there. So I think it's true. How does it (laughs) make you feel?

Sharon Steinberg:

Oh, it's very gratifying. It's a wonderful feeling. And, I grew up in a family were being charitable was extremely important. My father was very grateful all his life, for the good things that happened to him. And it was very important to him to share what he had with other people with various forms of charity. And it's what I was taught, he always gave away more than he earned and that's what he taught me.

Tarah Schwartz:

It sounds like it's a wonderful lesson. How did you explain it to your sons? When you when you told them what you had lived? Were you able to describe it accurately? It's so hard to describe because you want to see it, you want to see the heart beating in the dish, but were you able to explain it to them so that they were really, really well.

Sharon Steinberg:

I have a son and a daughter. I just got off the phone with my daughter. And, I was telling her about the heart in a dish project. But they're used to me getting involved with things and getting excited. My daughter lives in New York and my son lives in Vancouver. And he's coming in at the end of September. And I've saved DVDs of the broadcasts from television for him. So he can see what I saw. I think the television because it's visual, really showed. Like I looked in the microscope to see the cells, but they also had it enlarged on the TV screen in the room. So I was able to see exactly, yeah, they able to show what the cells beating look like. And it's amazing because you really see the rhythm.

Tarah Schwartz:

You really see them beating. That is the whole point, right? The heart is beating in a dish.

Sharon Steinberg:

That's because the doctors have done such a good job to do this research and make it happen.

Tarah Schwartz:

Yes, they have but it took people like you as well to participate. So I want to I want to highlight you as well. Sharon Steinberg, I want to thank you so much for telling us your story and for joining us on the show today.

Sharon Steinberg:

Oh, it's my pleasure.

Tarah Schwartz:

I'm Tarah Schwartz. Thank you for tuning in. What would you like to hear about on the show? Write to me at health matters at MUHC Foundation dot com. You can also follow us on social media or sign up for our newsletter at MUHC Foundation dot com I hope you'll join me again next Sunday. Thanks so much for listening to Health Matters and stay healthy.