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Labatt Family Heart Centre
Labatt Family Heart Centre

Our History

In 1938, Dr. John Keith was named physician-in-charge of the cardiac department, an area of paediatric medicine that had been virtually non-existent before his arrival. It was by no means the first of its type however. Dr. Helen Taussig had earlier established a cardiac clinic at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and in Canada, Maude Abbott working in Montreal had published her Atlas of over 1000 cases of congenital heart disease in 1936. Dr. Keith’s appointment coincided with the beginning of the era of congenital heart surgery. Dr. Gross, of The Children’s Hospital in Boston, successfully ligated a patent ductus arteriosus in 1938 and a series of palliative procedures were developed throughout the 1940’s, most notably the Blalock-Taussig-Thomas shunt first performed at Johns Hopkins in 1945. However, it was not until the 1950’s and 60’s that the Cardiac Department at The Hospital for Sick Children Toronto, truly established its international reputation.

Dr. William Mustard abandoned a promising career in orthopedic surgery to assume the newly created position of Head of the Section of Children’s Heart Surgery. In 1955 he attempted the first anatomic repair for complete transposition of the great arteries, but was unsuccessful. It was not until May 16th, 1963 that his eponymous physiologic repair of transposition was performed. During the late 1950’s, Dr. Keith recruited Drs. Richard Rowe and Peter Vlad to the Division of Cardiology. In 1958 their classic text book “Heart Disease in Infancy and Childhood” was published in its first Edition, with its third and final Edition published in 1978. Dr. Keith’s tenure as Division Head extended to 1973.

He was succeeded by Dick Rowe, who by then had succeeded Dr. Helen Taussig as Chief of the Division of Pediatric Cardiology at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Dr. Rowe further increased the staffing of the Division and established sub-specialty sections, including heart station and electrophysiology, echocardiography, and the cardiac catheterization laboratory. In the year of Dick Rowe’s appointment, Peter Olley, who had been appointed by John Keith in 1967, working with Flavio Coceani, published their first experimental paper showing modification of ductal patency with E-type prostaglandins. Their first clinical paper was published in 1975 and the world of paediatric cardiology and cardiac surgery was never to be the same. This simple palliative therapy has saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of children worldwide and continues to be the mainstay of treatment of many critically ill neonates, prior to surgery. Dr. Olley was later to be named the first Head of the Cardiovascular Research Focus in the Research Institute at The Hospital for Sick Children, a position that he retained until 1981 when he relocated to The University of Alberta in Edmonton as Professor and Chair of Paediatrics.

The 1980’s were a period of continued growth. Dr. Marlene Rabinovitch joined the Division of Cardiology in 1983 and assumed the position as Head of Cardiovascular Research. Lee Benson joined the Division of Cardiology in 1982 as Head of the, then, Variety Club Cardiac Catheterization Laboratories, and Dr. Jeff Smallhorn was appointed in 1983 to lead the burgeoning area of Diagnostic Echocardiography. Together they both established international reputations in innovation and training which persists until the current day.

In 1985, the titanic Bob Freedom, who had been recruited by Dick Rowe from Johns Hopkins University in 1974, succeeded Dr. Rowe as Division Head. Working with the then head of Cardiac Surgery, Dr. George Trusler (who succeeded Bill Mustard in 1976), and latterly with Dr. Bill Williams, who succeeded Dr. Trusler in 1989, the “modern era” of the Cardiac Program was   established. The international reputation of the program was sustained and enhanced by the combination of basic science contributions, clinical innovation but perhaps most particularly by the large scale outcomes data that was emanating from the program. The quality of this data was underpinned by the statistical expertise of Dr. Brian McCrindle who joined the Division in 1991, and was endorsed by the relocation, from Birmingham Alabama, of the Congenital Heart Surgeons Society Study Database to The Hospital for Sick Children in 1999.

In summer 2001, Dr. Glen Van Arsdell succeeded Bill Williams as the Head of Cardiovascular Surgery, and Dr. Andrew Redington was appointed as the Head of Cardiology, following Bob Freedom's retirement. Their mandate was to reorganize and modernize the ‘Cardiac Program’, and significant new resources were provided by the Hospital, the Departments of Paediatrics and Surgery, and the Hospital Foundation.

Throughout the 21st century, the Labatt Family Heart Centre has grown significantly and there are now currently 24 full-time cardiologists, six cardiovascular surgeons and eight cardiac critical care physicians. 

Upon Dr. Redington leaving the Labatt Family Heart Centre in the fall of 2014, Dr. Jennifer Russell provided interim support as the Head of Cardiology, until Dr. Mike Seed started as Division Head in August 2017.