A few days before CANet spoke to Diane Strachan, she had just finished a 3600-kilometre trip across Ontario on her motorbike.
This would have been an insurmountable task a few years ago for her.
“When I was first diagnosed with arrhythmia, I thought I would have to sell my bike,” Diane – an avid biker – recalls. Between medication, fear, and not knowing what to do or expect to lead a normal life?
But over time, working with CANet investigator, Western University professor, and cardiologist Dr. Allan Skanes, first as his patient and now as a Patient Partner, Diane is not only in control of her medical condition but is also working to empower others in similar situations such as hers.
Diane has had three ablations – one for ventricular tachycardia and two for atrial fibrillation. Allan, her cardiologist throughout, suggested Diane participate in CANet’s VIRTUES program, which was developing an app to support atrial fibrillation patients.
“He felt that I would have perspective and bring balance to a team of medical professionals who were designing the app for patients and physicians,” Diane says. “I did not know what I was getting into, but I was committed to trying to put the patient’s voice in this process.”
She has been a CANet Patient Partner for almost a year now.
“In my mind, it is a large opportunity to support people through their diagnoses, empowering them to take care of themselves instead of going to Emergency, and knowing when to reach out for help,” Diane explains. “The app will also help them manage their relationship with their cardiologist in a way that feels more safe and informative.”
In fact, in her discussions with CANet CEO and Scientific Director Dr. Anthony Tang, she has reiterated the importance of an offering like VIRTUES which provides specific tools and educational materials for patients, caregivers, and medical professionals.
Diane feels this will help them better understand the purpose and intention behind VIRTUES and how to use it. By including arrhythmia-specific information such as follow-up schedules for health checkups after procedures, proper medical dosages for various drugs, and ways to provide emotional support to patients, the hope is to make better clinicians and help them provide more accurate care to patients.
“For patients to have a supportive experience, doctors need to be on board,” Diane emphasizes.
But from Diane’s own medical experiences and her long career as a registered nurse, she knows that it is an uphill climb.
The healthcare system has been under strain, especially in the last two years. Medical professionals are often overwhelmed with not only the volume of patients but the complexity of ailments as well.
Patients often long for emotional support or the correct information about their medical condition.
As a CANet Patient Partner, Diane is helping fill those gaps and lessen a bit of that burden by providing critical insights – both as a patient and a nurse – which are then being incorporated into VIRTUES. For one, using VIRTUES will help alleviate an already overburdened Emergency care system in Canada, especially in rural areas and small centres.
Her own experiences with Allan are telling.
“As I was having arrhythmias, Allan was kind enough to tell me what exactly was going on with me at all times,” Diane remembers. “At the end of the day, it helped me to accept my condition, take a little bit of control for myself, and even how to evaluate and diagnose an oncoming attack. I did not need to go to Emergency. I had a choice of what I could do. It was going to be okay.”
That realization was life-changing for her.
For example, she recently had a few episodes during her long bike trip.
“You wouldn’t even know I was having it – I was calm,” Diane says. “I knew, going by past experiences, I was going to be ok. My interactions with Allan taught me to accept my own heart’s deficiency and get on with my life – this is huge and cannot be overstated.”
And it all began with a doctor who was willing to listen to and support his patient.
“As a registered nurse, it breaks my heart to know that patients are sitting in fear somewhere, afraid to ask questions, just doing what they’re told,” Diane says. “I’ve seen way too many situations where the patients are victims – they think like a victim and are treated like one.”
Her advice – be discerning about who you allow making decisions about your body. Know your body. Take care of it. And use your voice.
Diane Strachan is doing exactly that.