Kaitlin’s Story

Innovative care to reach patients wherever they are

While Kaitlin Fairman was in university, she began experiencing unexplained bouts of fainting and fatigue. A generally healthy and active young woman, her symptoms progressed until she felt light-headed almost every time she stood up.

“I knew something was wrong,” says Kaitlin. “My symptoms were vague but very debilitating, and my doctors struggled to find a diagnosis.”

After years of appointments and tests, Kaitlin finally received the diagnosis she had been searching for: Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, also known as PoTS.

Primarily affecting premenopausal women, PoTS impacts a patient’s heart rate and blood flow, leading to dizziness, light-headedness and fainting, among other symptoms. Sadly, delayed diagnosis is common. In fact, it takes on average seven specialists before patients receive a proper diagnosis.

While PoTS remains vastly under-researched, Women’s College Hospital (WCH)’s Cardiology Program has been investigating ways to better support these patients, including the development of a first-of-its-kind PoTS Self-Management and Peer Support Program.

Housed within the Women’s Cardiovascular Health Initiative – the first and only cardiac rehabilitation centre designed specifically for women – the six-week program provides patients with invaluable information about their condition, and the opportunity to meet and hear from other women who are also living with PoTS.

Now in its fifth year, the program has grown and evolved thanks to the team’s commitment to finding new and better ways to serve these hard-to-reach patients.

“Because of their postural intolerance, coming into the hospital is no small feat for PoTS patients. Many of our patients also travel from outside the greater Toronto area so, in 2019, we made the decision to move the program online, hoping we could support more women.”

Debbie Childerhose, registered physiotherapist and program coordinator of the Women’s Cardiovascular Health Initiative

The move to virtual was a huge success: attendance jumped to over 80% and the team was able to reach patients as far as Ottawa and Elliott Lake. Earlier this year, the team’s innovative approach was recognized globally following their receipt of the Healthcare Pioneer and International Centre of Excellence Status for 2022, one of only five worldwide.

For Kaitlin, whose care was transferred to WCH in early 2022, being able to access the virtual program from her home in Kingston has been nothing short of life changing.

“It’s made such a huge difference in my life,” she says. “I never would have been able to attend in person but now, thanks to the program, I’m back at work and I finally feel like I am getting the care and support I need.

Having a diagnosis and accessing this specialized care has made a world of difference.” 

Earlier this year, Dr. Paula Harvey was recognized for her leadership in dysautonomia care and research when she was named a Syncope Healthcare Pioneers of 2022 by the Syncope Trust and Reflex Anoxic Seizures (STARS) program out of the United Kingdom – one of only five awards presented worldwide. Congratulations, Dr. Harvey!

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