When Dr. Jennifer Higgins was a teenager, she witnessed footage of a heart transplant on television and knew then and there what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.
“I told my parents that I was going to be a heart surgeon that same day, and I’ve never wavered from that. Not once,” she says.
“What I love about heart surgery is that I get to actually fix something. You can’t live without your heart and so I need to make it work. That is very challenging and rewarding to me,” says Dr. Higgins. “When my patients first come to see me, they are struggling to maintain their quality of life. When they see me after surgery, they are physically and psychologically improved. It’s a better life for them and I love that.”
After training at McMaster, London Health Sciences and UBC in Vancouver, Jennifer, her husband and their daughter moved to Chicago to complete her one year fellowship at Northwestern University, specializing in heart valve surgery. They wanted to keep Jennifer but she was keen to come home. She chose St. Mary’s. “I love the sense of community and safety in KW. It is a great place to raise my family.”
Dr. Higgins is the newest cardiac surgeon to join St.Mary’s. With her help, the cardiac team performed by-pass surgeries and complex valve replacements and repairs on nearly 900 patients last year.
“When I first came to St. Mary’s, I thought perhaps the caseload would be less complex than the teaching centres I was used to; in fact the opposite is true. We see some of the most complex cases in Ontario and the surgical outcomes we have here at St. Mary’s are not only better than those teaching centres, they are the best in the province. I chalk that up to the quality of the people and the great work environment. St. Mary’s staff are very collaborative and collegial. We are all working together and in the end, it is our patients who benefit most.”
Jennifer recognizes that a well-supported hospital is an ideal place for young physicians to choose when deciding where to practice. “I could tell right away that the community was behind St. Mary’s when I first arrived. That made a difference to me.”
“The Heart Rhythm program is really poised to grow. With the support of donors, we will finish building and equipping a new operating room that will allow us to do more state-of-the-art and much less invasive surgery than we do now. Our outcomes will be even better and our patients will be able to go home sooner.”