I am the I in IWK — Gina O’Leary

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February is Hearth Month in Canada and nurse practitioner, Gina O’Leary, is using the opportunity to help others take care of their hearts.

As a pediatric nurse practitioner on the Cardiac Care Team at IWK Health, O’Leary provides care to patients being admitted to hospital from the time they arrive until the time of discharge, and sometimes beyond. On a typical day, she visits all cardiac inpatients to examine them, make a plan for them and their family, and then make sure those plans happen smoothly. At the end of the day, O’Leary always checks back in to see how the day’s plans went.

“I love the heart; I find it so fascinating and I love watching people discover what their heart can do, figuring out how it works and seeing them have those ‘ah-ha’ moments,” says O’Leary. I also really love how resilient our cardiac patients are. “One of the best parts of my job is helping nurses, families and other health care professionals understand the nuances of cardiac care because the heart is so complicated and intricately tied to other functions of the body.”

While O’Leary cares for her patients year-round, each February she makes an effort to care for her colleagues too. Nine years ago, O’Leary started an initiative called Fit Feb at the IWK. During Fit Feb, participants are challenged to do 30 minutes of physical activity every day in February. When they accomplish that day’s exercise, they put a sticker on a tracking calendar. Annually, Fit Feb has seen approximately 200 staff and physicians take part.

“This year we’ve gone through over 6,000 stickers and that makes me so happy,” O’Leary says. “In all those hundreds of people, if even one of them is moving more than they would have, that to me is a huge success. I just think of all the extra heart beats that are happening because of this!”

It’s important to care for our hearts all year round but Heart Month can be a helpful motivator to take the first steps.

“So often we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be perfectly healthy but small changes definitely add up. Even just making one healthy choice a day that you might not have otherwise made — taking the stairs, choosing a healthier food, finding ways to destress — can impact your heart,” suggests O’Leary. “Another thing that everyone can, and should do, to celebrate Heart Month is to learn CPR. Sudden cardiac arrest, although rare, still happens. A life can be saved because of good CPR in the field. It’s a really easy skill to learn, you can go on YouTube and find videos for hands on CPR. Just learning the basics can go a long way in helping somebody.”