May 15, 2024

Founding gift sparks two decades of improving heart health at Libin Cardiovascular Institute

Libin family’s vow to develop world-class cardiac research and care in Calgary helped surgery patients like Dave Deveaux get home to his family faster
Dave Deveaux
Dave Deveaux is back to cycling after receiving minimally invasive cardiac surgery (MICS). Adrian Shellard, for the University of Calgary

When Dave Deveaux, an active father of four and a Calgary airline pilot, learned he needed heart surgery he was in shock.

Despite having no symptoms, a medical test showed he had mitral regurgitation — a condition in which the left mitral valve doesn’t close properly, causing blood to leak backward into the heart. If left untreated, it can lead to heart failure.

Deveaux wanted to be proactive without putting his family life or career on hold to recover from open-heart surgery, so he underwent minimally invasive cardiac surgery (MICS). Historically, valve replacements required open heart surgery. MICS techniques, first brought to the Libin Cardiovascular Institute in 2012, allow surgeons to repair or replace valves through a small incision made on the patient’s side between the ribs. It means a smaller scar for patients and a shorter recovery time.

“I wanted to take care of it now versus later in life — you're younger, you're healthier. The recovery was very quick. I was home easily in four days,” says Deveaux.  

“The multitude of tests I've had post-surgery are saying my murmur is gone, my condition is better, my heart is functioning great.”

This revolutionary procedure is just one of many examples of how the Libin institute has contributed to healthier lives.

On March 6, 2003, the Alvin and Mona Libin Foundation donated to Alberta Health Services (AHS) and the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine (CSM), establishing the Libin Cardiovascular Institute in January 2004.  

Mona and Alvin Libin

Mona and Alvin Libin

The Alvin and Mona Libin Foundation has since made several gifts to the institute, including a commitment in 2022 to support the institute over the next decade.

“It was important for them to give back to the community,” says Eda Libin, BComm'12, Alvin and Mona’s granddaughter, and executive director and vice-president of the Alvin and Mona Libin Foundation.

“I remember when I was growing up, how often my grandparents would say, ‘We love Calgary, you're so fortunate to live in Calgary. Calgary is the best city.’ And as soon as they were able to give back, they did.”

Alvin Libin, LLD'98, experienced a heart attack in the early ‘80s. Without a cardiologist at the time, he was matched with a renowned cardiologist named Eldon Smith who had recently joined Calgary’s Foothills Medical Centre. The pair, along with their wives, became close friends and decided to start a research institute.  

“They were focused on achieving excellence for cardiovascular care in southern Alberta. They wanted people to be able to access quality care, right from Calgary. And they did that. The Libin Cardiovascular Institute is world renowned, because of the quality of our people,” says Eda.

More than 20 years after the Libin’s foundational gift, the institute is a national leader in precision cardiovascular medicine, women’s cardiovascular health and MICS — like the one that changed Deveaux’s life.

“It’s excellent to have this in your own back yard,” he says. “I'm 15 minutes away. It was a relief to know I could get it done here and I can be close to home.”

A national leader in cardiovascular research and education

The Libin Institute is one of seven research institutes at the CSM and brings together members with research expertise from across the university.

Dr. Paul Fedak, MD, PhD, director of the institute and a cardiac surgeon, says what sets the institute apart from others around the world was the decision to establish a cardiovascular institute — not just a heart institute.  

“Our membership includes nephrologists, endocrinologists, diabetes researchers, people who study the psychology of cardiac disease, and more. Twenty years ago, this multidisciplinary approach was very cutting edge,” says Fedak.  

Libin members started the MICS program more than a decade ago.

“MICS is a really important program, and we are at the forefront. We have surgeons coming from around the country to learn from us now.”

Several advanced heart surgeries can be performed in this minimally invasive way including mitral and aortic valve surgeries and atrial septal defect closure. Innovation at the institute also led to Alberta’s first minimally invasive surgery for coronary bypass in 2023. 

The Libin Institute’s MICS program has been supported by Doc Seaman and his family.

Closing the gap in women’s cardiovascular health  

Libin is also a leader in women’s cardiovascular health. With cardiovascular disease being the No. 1 cause of premature death for women in Canada, the institute has made women’s heart research a priority through the establishment of the Women’s Cardiovascular Health Initiative. The initiative focuses on risk factors for women. It’s also identifying ways to target diagnostic tests for cardiovascular disease specifically to women, considering most were developed for men.

“We're building a specialized clinic for women in our community, where they're going to receive the very best precise, individualized, personalized care for their cardiovascular health. It's going to have an enormous impact,” says Fedak.

A generous donation from an anonymous southern Alberta donor allowed the institute to establish the Martha Brauer Chair in Women’s Cardiovascular Health to further advance this research.

Harnessing data to transform health care

The Libin institute is leading research with The Precision Medicine Initiative. This program combines data from the Cardiovascular Imaging Registry of Calgary (CIROC) to support research in personalized cardiovascular care. The initiative has curated cardiac imaging testing with matched electronic health information for more than 25,000 patients with heart disease.  

With expansion of this initiative to include other forms of cardiac testing, the Precision Medicine Initiative now supports a broadening range of investigators focused in the field of precision health care, with a rapidly expanding focus on the ethical use of artificial intelligence (AI).  

Celebrating 10 Years and Beyond

“We can analyze all your testing and all your data against our big data, and really be predictive to say, ‘Well, you came in and we found something on your ECG (electrocardiogram), or we think you should get a followup earlier rather than later, because you may be at higher risk for certain conditions,’” says Fedak.  

“This is really going to change the trajectory of medicine and keep people out of hospital, which is what we need.”

This initiative has been generously supported by gifts from the Mozell and Stephenson families as well as Canadian Pacific Kansas City (CPKC). 

Quicker recovery gives quality time back to cardiac surgery patients and their families  

For Deveaux, the option of having a minimally invasive procedure made for an easy decision.  

A shorter recovery time meant returning more quickly to activities he loves, like flying planes, cycling and most important, spending time with his family. 

Dave Deveaux standing in front of airplane

Pilot Dave Deveaux can get back to the things he loves like flying after recovering quickly from heart surgery.

“I wanted to be healthy for my family and my kids. That was the priority,” he says.

The visionary generosity of Alvin Libin and his wife, Mona, who passed away in 2006, has sparked hundreds of examples like Deveaux’s over the years.

Fedak says the support from the Libins and the Alvin and Mona Libin Foundation has been crucial, adding there would be no institute without the operational funding the family has provided.

Their generosity has also motivated thousands of others to invest in the institute — through large and small gifts — all contributing to healthier lives.  

Not surprising to Eda Libin, who says her grandparents’ desire to lead is inspiring.

“We live in a very generous community where people care about health care, and they are all doing their part to make it the best that it can be,” she says. 

In 2024, the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) at the University of Calgary is celebrating 10 years of shaping healthier lives sparked by philanthropy, thanks to Geoff Cumming’s historic $100-millon gift. The medical school’s seven research institutes are marking up to three decades of national and international excellence, powered by the generosity of their founding families and support of CSM donors both large and small. Groundbreaking discoveries by each institute have directly benefited children, youth and adults in Calgary, across the country and around the world. Together, our community has helped propel UCalgary to its ranking as a top research university in Canada while strongly positioning the university on the global map for health research.

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