"Yes, we can do that!” 

PEI surgeon trained to install pacemakers to save Islanders from travelling

“I know this often gets debated in political circles but it’s just not possible or safe for us to offer every healthcare service right here on the Island,” said Dr. Michael Gardam, CEO of Health PEI. “Which is why we will often send patients off-Island to bigger centres to receive the care they need with specialists who work embedded within a larger community with colleagues. All that said, there are a lot of things we can and should offer here, and the installation of pacemakers is one of them.”  

The insertion of a pacemaker is a special skill, which is typically done in larger centres by cardiovascular surgeons or cardiologists.  

“PEI doesn’t have vascular surgeons,” said Dr. Alex Gillis, a general surgeon based in Stratford, PEI. “Historically, the job of inserting pacemakers has been done by surgeons like me who have sought out special training. Until recently, PEI had two surgeons doing these procedures, which was enough to keep up with the demand. When my colleague recently retired, it left just me to cover the entire Island.”

“We can certainly send people off-Island for this procedure. But this is one of those services we really felt it was reasonable to offer here. When someone needs a pacemaker installed, we don’t want to have to send them to Saint John or Halifax. I want to say ‘yes, we can do that!’”  

     – Dr. Michael Gardam, CEO of Health PEI

Dr. Gardam made some calls to former colleagues with University Health Network in Toronto to see what training could be made available to PEI surgeons.  

“They immediately offered us an opportunity to train our surgeons with their cardiologists,” said Dr. Gardam. “The rest of their training could be done right back here on PEI.”  

“One of our newer surgeons, Dr. David Isa, took them up on that opportunity,” said Dr. Gillis. “He spent a week in Toronto and trained the rest of the time with me. He assisted me on several procedures and eventually took the lead himself on the insertion.”  

“It’s not reasonable to expect an Island of 170,000 souls to have a full cath lab staffed with cardiovascular surgeons. It is completely reasonable to expect us to be able to insert a pacemaker, given how common a procedure it has become,” said Dr. Gardam. 

“It’s not easy get training in pacemakers outside of the cardiology specialization,” said Dr. Gillis. “This opportunity means we can continue to offer this service right here at home. I think that’s important.” 

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Published date: 
May 1, 2023
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