May 2 – 8, 2021 is National Perfusion Week!
Perfusion Week recognizes and brings awareness to the perfusionist’s crucial role within cardiovascular surgical teams and in providing high-quality patient care. Join us in showing appreciation to all perfusionists for their ongoing efforts over the past year through a pandemic.
To kick off our highlight of Perfusionists at Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), we are introducing Matt who is a Cardiovascular Perfusionist at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH). At VGH, Matt works in the operating room, intensive care unit, cardiac catheter laboratory and occasionally in the emergency department. For Matt, National Perfusion Week is a time to promote the profession to the public, especially since the group is small and specialized many people are not aware of the great work perfusionists do.
Perfusion at VGH
Matt explains that perfusionists “set up and operate the heart-lung bypass machines, ECMO circuits and intra-aortic balloon pumps. Our primary job is circulating blood outside the body and assisting or replacing the role of a patient’s heart and/or lungs”. At VGH, perfusionists specialize in complex aortic procedures, difficult mitral repairs, lung transplants and veno-venous ECMO.
What Matt most enjoys about his role is working “on a highly skilled team to save or drastically improve a patient’s life”. Many of the patients Matt sees have medical issues that will imminently end their life without intervention. He, along with the team, fight to change that outcome for the patients and in most cases, it’s a success.
Matt previously worked as a cardiovascular technologist and this is where he first learned about the perfusion profession. “I was attracted to the high level of responsibility and critical role that perfusionists take on,” he says. Matt has worked in perfusion at several hospitals around Canada but says a return to Vancouver was always in the cards as he grew up in West Vancouver and most other cities just didn’t quite feel like home.
“Perfusion has frequent inspiring and high-stress moments,” Matt says. As an example of this, Matt tells us about a time when he was working with a patient with a dissecting aorta who immediately went into cardiac arrest on arrival. “This meant we needed to ‘crash’ onto bypass as fast as possible. Once on bypass, we could stabilize the patient and initiate the massive surgery needed to fix an aorta. A few days later I saw him sitting up and chatting in the CSICU. So I knew he had not just survived, but would do great,” Matt explains.
Working through a pandemic
Working through the COVID-19 pandemic has, and still is, difficult and tiring. Matt explains that he and the team “directly care for the sickest COVID patients – the ones who’ve been placed on ECMO because a ventilator was inadequate to keep them alive. The added workload has been difficult because it’s on top of the usual caseload”. That said, Matt acknowledges the great work of the ICU nurses who have shouldered a lot of the worst COVID cases in the hospital.
Matt says that as a group, the team at VGH tries to support and help each other whenever possible. If someone has worked on a difficult case or had a busy weekend being on-call, others will try to help them out. “For example, if I did a monster aortic case yesterday, a colleague will usually step in and take the difficult case today,” Matt tells us.
When asked how Matt incorporates the VCH Values (We Care for Everyone, We are Always Learning, We Strive for Better Results), Matt says that he believes these values to be those of all medical professionals. “We provide care to all the patients we interact with, we earn continuing education credits through conferences and providing education to other professions and students. We set professional goals and strive for best practice on all our cases,” he says.
When Matt isn’t at work, you can find him racing in triathlons – he even competes internationally! Matt also enjoys sailing, kayaking and open water swimming. Fun fact, he can also speak Japanese.
Interested in learning more about Perfusion and career opportunities with Vancouver Coastal Health? Head to our Perfusionist page to learn more!