It was in February 2020 that Brendan Havisto got this “hard-to-describe” feeling in his chest.
Havisto, a Surrey resident, is a mechanic with Coast Mountain Bus Company, and he was finishing up some paperwork for an inspection when he “got dizzy in my chest, just a whirling feeling inside my chest.”
“Like you would be dizzy in your head, but it was in my chest. I was focused on that, I didn’t even realize that my right arm and right leg, my whole right side was limp.”
A first-aid attendant as well, Havisto said it “didn’t even click” that he was having a stroke because his brain was so foggy.
He was only 35 at the time.
While his symptoms dissipated within five minutes, Havisto said he ended up in the hospital. However, it wasn’t a full blockage and there was an assumption there would be no damage.
Then a few days later, he had what he calls “after-strokes, apparently what it is is your body normalizing to the damage … so it’s less severe version of what happened before.”
An MRI found damage, he said, but “fortunately the deficits were not much.” Havisto said he’ll mix up words from time to time.
“”I’ll be talking about a dishwasher and I’ll say fridge, and I firmly believe that I said fridge … You wouldn’t really notice except I didn’t make any of those mistakes before.”
But also with that MRI, Havisto said they found there had been a stroke prior to this one.
“I’ve had two strokes, none of which had an explanation or a cause. The first one I didn’t even feel.”
From there, Havisto when through a “battery of tests.”
It was about a month ago that Havisto was given two different options: he could do another two-week halter monitor or he could be put on a wait list for a permanent, embedded monitor. That wait would be about six to eight months.
Then Havisto found out he could be part of a six-month pilot project at Surrey Memorial Hospital, following the Surrey Hospitals Foundation investing $25,000 toward Western Canada’s first injectable loop cardiac monitor.
The project is focusing on high-risk cryptogenic stroke (strokes of unknown origin) patients, using the recorders and monitoring them continuously and virtually with a specialist team. The electrocardiographic (ECG) heart-monitoring device that records heart rhythm continuously in non-invasively inserted via injection just under the skin of their chest area.
“I was a good fit because I was too young to have had two strokes, especially one where we don’t even know when it was.”
Havisto points to his three children, a six-year-old, a three-year-old and a five-month-old as part of his reason to join the project.
“I don’t know what a third one would look like and if we don’t find a cause, I might have a third one. And having a six- to eight-month wait to get one of these embedded in a normal process, that six-to-eight months could have meant a third.”
That timing could be “game-changing,” he said. For so many people, especially those that have had more than one stroke, those months could be “catastrophic.”
“I’ve been looking for answers for more than a year now, almost two full years and I still don’t have an answer.”
The whole process took about 45 minutes, and Havisto said he was back to “light duty” work the following day. He has a home kit, with a device plugged in on his nightstand, and from midnight to 5 a.m. it will update.
However, this isn’t brand-new technology.
Dr. Tarun Sharma, the lead cardiologist at Surrey Memorial Hospital, used it before as part of his training in the United States. But he said it hasn’t been commonly used in Canada, “so it was exciting to be able to do that and bring that for the patients in Canada.”
The purpose of the pilot project, which started on Wednesday (Oct. 20), is to “use it in a select population of patients where the neurologist … they suspect that there’s a stroke that they think may be coming from the heart and we haven’t been able to find the reason,” said Sharma.
The hope, he said, is that they can extend the pilot project to improve workflow and access to the device.
Meantime, Oct. 29 is World Stroke Day.
Strokes, or a sudden loss of brain function caused by a brain blood vessel blockage or rupture, is the third leading cause of death in Canada, according to a release from the hospitals foundation.