St. Paul’s Hospital holds a special place in Vancouver actor Jason Gray-Stanford’s heart — his new heart.
Gray-Stanford, who received a lifesaving heart transplant at St. Paul’s in 2020, wanted to show his appreciation for the incredible care he received at the Vancouver hospital. So when he won a gold medal in a cycling race, he decided to donate it to the doctors, nurses and other patients on the fifth floor.
The 52-year-old actor, who was in the film A Beautiful Mind and was a lead on the award-winning TV series Monk, is also an avid cyclist and sports enthusiast. So he was shocked — as someone who eats healthy, doesn’t smoke and exercises a lot — to learn that he had heart failure.
Gray-Stanford is at home with his family in Vancouver, where he is staying for the holidays. He said he splits his time between New York and Vancouver, and will be filming in his home town again next year for the series Percy Jackson and the Olympians.
He underwent the surgery at St. Paul’s, which is the B.C. centre for heart transplantation, in November 2020. He had been managing the heart failure for two years before the surgery, but late that year, in the middle of the COVID pandemic, his condition became severe.
“I wasn’t feeling great, but I thought I was just tired. I thought I was just burning the candle at both ends working and I was I wasn’t working out as strongly at the gym. And I didn’t really think anything of it. And then just something in my back of my mind triggered me to go to the to the doctor, and then the next thing I knew I was in St. Paul’s,” he said in an interview on Friday.
To this day, he said, doctors don’t really know how he developed heart failure.
“Then I started to get worse and I went downhill really fast and there I was back at St. Paul’s getting a new heart.”
He went through some dark times, but ultimately he said being able to laugh and being fit and healthy helped him recover. Under medical supervision, he began training for the cycling competition at the Transplant Games of America in California, which he won earlier this year.
Dr. Jamil Bashir, a heart transplant surgeon at St. Paul’s, said Gray-Stanford’s heart failure is considered idiopathic cardiomyopathy, which means they don’t know why his heart muscle failed. He said that is the case for about half of heart failure patients.
“When the muscle of the heart goes, we don’t have a way to replace the muscle, like we would with a valve or with bypasses for blocked arteries, which are really common. So when the muscle goes, the only way to replace the muscle is to do a heart transplant.”
He said the actor was an amazing patient, and always very kind to staff and smiling. Bashir added that the most gratifying part of being a heart surgeon is seeing people, like Gray-Stanford, who come in really sick and sometimes near death, recover in a short period of time.
“The patients just have such a huge change in how they feel. They go from being able to do nothing and feeling terrible, and short of breath all the time, to feeling completely normal, like being able to win a gold medal in a cycling race,” he said. “It really shoes you how powerful the treatment is.”
Gray-Stanford said he knew when he received the gold medal for the race that he wanted to give it to St. Paul’s, with a dedication to the staff and the other patients on the fifth floor, which is where the heart patients reside.
“It’s an incredible pleasure to give props to St. Paul’s Hospital. You know, not only for the work they did for me, but just for the work they do in British Columbia as a whole,” he said. “I mean, the hospital staff are the unsung heroes. They certainly were invaluable in my journey.”
Less than two years after the surgery, he won the cycling competition at the Transplant Games of America in California.
“My St. Paul’s health-care team got me to the point where I could compete,” he said.
Gray-Stanford presented the medal, framed along with race mementos including his bib number, recently to St. Paul’s cardiologists Dr. Margot Davis and Dr. Andrew Ignaszewski, transplant surgeon Bashir, Medical Director of the Heart Transplant Program Dr. Mustafa Toma, and Patient Nurse Educator Josie Mackey.
Along with the framed medal, he wrote a note to all the patients on the fifth floor:
“I wanted to say to all those who may be going through their own journeys to inspire each other, be strong, have a laugh, and stay the course even in the darkest moments. Remember, one more step forward, the possibilities are endless.”
Gray-Stanford has been invited to compete at the World Transplant Games next year in Perth. He doesn’t know if he will go because of his acting schedule, but says if he does compete and wins again he will give another medal to St. Paul’s.
St. Paul’s Hospital has performed 22 heart transplants so far this year, compared to 22 for all of 2021, according to Providence Healthcare.
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