Paul MacAulay

Undergoing Open-Heart Surgery, During a Pandemic

Paul MacAulay

For the past 12 years, Paul MacAulay and his doctor had been monitoring his heart. They both knew that a surgery would be needed at some point in Paul’s life, but neither of them could have imagined the circumstances under which this would take place.

In December of 2019, Paul’s latest echocardiogram results showed his aortic stenosis had progressed from moderate to severe, and he was put on a waiting list for surgery. But when Paul’s shortness of breath became worse in late March, he followed the advice of his cardiologist and his daughter, Dr. Jill Colbert (also a cardiologist in Calgary), and headed to the nearest emergency department.

Within the coming days, Paul would be transported from Prince Edward Island to Saint John, New Brunswick, where he would undergo bypass and valve surgery on his heart. The catch, given COVID-19, was that he would need to wait two weeks in hospital—in isolation—before being operated on.

“One of the hardest things about this experience was that my wife, Rita, and my daughter, Maribeth, couldn’t be with me while I was in hospital,” says Paul. “They were isolating at an Airbnb in Saint John, while I remained in hospital for a month. I also had two sons at home, running the family farm. This was so stressful for them, even more than for me.”

While isolating in hospital prior to his operation, Paul remembers worrying that if the COVID-19 situation in the Maritimes became bad enough, his surgery might be cancelled altogether.

“I had two blockages in my heart, on top of having severe aortic stenosis, so not having the surgery could have been fatal based on my condition,” says Paul. “I’m so lucky that we were able to proceed.”

Dr. J.F. Legare

Paul is deeply grateful to Dalhousie researcher and cardiac surgeon Dr. Jean-Francois Legare for his outstanding care, particularly under such incredible circumstances. Thanks to Dr. Legare’s research in care management, including how to identify and prioritize which patients need the most urgent attention in overwhelmed systems, Dr. Legare was able to treat Paul as quickly as possible, even amidst a global pandemic. 

“Dr. Legare and his team were unbelievable, and I sing my highest praises to them. I’ve read about Dr. Legare’s research in national papers, and I am fortunate to have been in such great hands for this important moment in my life.”


Today, Paul is doing well. Back home with his wife in PEI, he is enjoying walking everyday, farming, golfing and making the most of his “second chance.”

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