Dr. Arun Natarajan is the resident cardiologist at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital.

New Nanaimo-based cardiologist signals health expansion plans

NANAIMO – Dr. Arun Natarajan is first-ever heart specialist to be based in Nanaimo

Heart patients north of the Malahat will see services expand closer to home, beginning with Nanaimo’s first-ever cardiologist.

Nanaimo is home to Dr. Arun Natarajan, the first cardiologist on Vancouver Island outside of Victoria.

The change is considered a “huge” and “positive” step, with health officials anticipating a higher-level of local cardiac care, new infrastructure and the eventual-shift toward Nanaimo becoming a tertiary care centre.

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital hasn’t been without health services, with a heart function clinic and electro-diagnostic services, but it’s lacked a heart specialist and dedicated infrastructure.

Until now, anyone requiring a higher-level of care had to be referred to Victoria.

Dr. Manjeet Mann, medical director of heart health and department head of cardiology in Victoria, said there has always been a need in the city and this had to happen.

The senior population between Nanaimo and Qualicum Beach is growing and there is a trend toward seeing patients looked after closer to home.

Standing in the way of improved cardiac care has been a lack of infrastructure, which isn’t attractive to prospective cardiologists, according to Mann, who believes the stars were aligned with the specialist in Nanaimo and anticipates it’s a step toward NRGH becoming a tertiary hospital.

“We already have a fair amount of cardiac activity and it stands to reason  there should at least be a hub in Nanaimo where you could have cardiac care provided by cardiologists,” he said.

“Without the expertise locally everybody has to be transported to Victoria and that puts unnecessary pressure on families and loved ones.”

Natarajan, who was trained in the United Kingdom started in Nanaimo last September, said he fell in love with the Island during a fellowship in Victoria and liked the challenge of setting up a department from scratch.

Natarajan is in the process of setting up a new stress echocardiograph lab, another way to look at the heart, and transesophageal echocardiogram – services he hopes shortens wait lists.

His vision is to create a regional cardiac centre, with a coronary care unit where trained doctors and nurses would look after cardiovascular patients.

There’s also plans for a cardiology floor at NRGH.

“I just want to raise the bar on the standard of care,” he said of a coronary care unit. “We need a specialized unit set up … and once that happens we’d be able to take care of all the acute cardiac patients in Nanaimo and we don’t have to send everybody down to Victoria.”

Major operations or invasive procedures will still be done in the province’s capital.

Dr. Drew Digney, executive medical director for the central Island region, calls having Natarajan “huge,” adding it’s hard to get the first of anything. He says the idea is eventually have one ward dedicated to cardiac care, but said the hospital has infrastructure issues to address before any changes can be made – including the fact that it’s hit maximum power use.

Nanaimo heart patient Rowena Dagley, 37, says its “fabulous.” She currently goes to Vancouver once a year to see a cardiologist and this could save the trip.

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