For 54-year-old retiree John Lawrence, heart disease has always been a family affair. At an early age, he learned the importance of managing the risk of heart disease, through healthy eating and exercise, after his father and three uncles experienced heart attacks — all under the age of 40.

Despite an active lifestyle, John couldn’t change his genetic history. At 27 years old, he suffered his first attack while pushing the stroller that carried his newborn daughter. What followed was a diagnosis of coronary microvascular disease, sometimes referred to as small artery disease — a condition in which the walls of the small arteries in the heart are damaged.

“Once my care team identified the problem, we were able to treat and manage it with cholesterol medication,” says John, who’s been a long-time heart health patient at the QEII Health Sciences Centre.

According to John, he was heart incident-free for more than two decades until danger struck again.

“In 2014, I had my second heart attack,” he says.

It was a scary experience for the now father-of-two, who had recently lost his own father and cousin to heart failure.

“It was then that I realized I wasn’t taking care of my heart as much as I should’ve and had developed some issues as a result,” says John. “During my three-week hospital stay, there was a lot of talk of open-heart surgery, which was hard for me and my family.”

Fortunately, a safer and far less invasive solution was recommended by the QEII’s heart health team.

In fall 2014, John underwent an angioplasty procedure to open the narrowed and blocked vessels supplying blood to his heart. Three stents were inserted as part of the procedure, which was performed in one of the four labs in the QEII’s cardiac catheterization suite.

Within two short days, John returned home with his family.

The most innovative care is reliant on state-of-the-art equipment and technology, which is why a community of donors is ensuring Atlantic Canadians have access to the best available care.

To date, the QEII Foundation and Maritime Heart Centre’s From the Heart campaign has raised more than $4.5-million to transform cardiac and vascular care at the QEII. This includes a $1-million gift from the Joseph Shannon Family in honour of their late wife, mother and grandmother, Ruth Shannon.

In addition to fueling groundbreaking research, the From the Heart campaign will ensure that all four cardiac catheterization labs (cath labs) at the QEII can deliver the highest-level diagnostic imaging. This includes rebuilding and reopening Cardiac Cath Lab D, which was closed last year when its aging equipment became unserviceable.

Such initiatives would not have been possible without the extraordinary generosity of donors, including the Roy Steed Family, the Joseph Shannon Family, the David and Faye Sobey Foundation, Dr. Roy & Gertrude Bishop, the Larry Swinamer Family, the McCain Foundation, Barrie Fraser, Peter Kohler, and the John McLennan Family.

For patients like John, he knows firsthand the difference their generosity will make in the lives of Atlantic Canadians touched by heart health.

This June, he will walk his oldest daughter down the aisle on her wedding day — a moment he credits the QEII’s heart health team for making possible.

“The QEII saved my life,” he says smiling. “I feel like I got a second chance — I’m grateful for every moment they gave me with my family.”