Lobby of Kelowna cardiac care centre named for doctor who lobbied long and hard for the facility

Cardiologist Dr. Richard Hooper pushed the province and health authority for years to build the Interior Heart and Surgical Centre.

Dr. Richard Hooper (right) shares a laugh with former Central Oknagan Regional District board chairwoman Sharon Simpson (left) and former Okanagan-Westside Liberal MLA and cabinet minister Rick Thorpe Tuesday at a ceremony to name the lobby of the Interior Heart and Surgical Centre in Kelowna after Hooper. Hooper was the driving force behind getting the long-awaited facility built here.

The man who spearheaded the drive to bring full cardiac care services, including open heart surgery, to Kelowna has had the lobby of the facility he fought for years to have built in Kelowna, named after him.

Cardiologist Dr. Richard Hooper was praised Tuesday as a man who would not give up on his dream of seeing Kelowna General Hospital become just the fifth site in B.C. to offer full cardiac care. Three of the other facilities are in the Lower Mainland and the fourth is in Victoria.

Hooper said he was driven to push for cardiac centre here after seeing patients, wait—and in some case die while waiting—for beds to become available at the Lower Mainland hospitals that offered heart surgery.

“I don’t think you ever expect something like this,” said Hooper of the naming of the lobby after him.

On Tuesday he was credited with vision, relentless effort and single-minded purpose for close to 20 years that resulted in the Interior Heart and Surgical Centre at KGH being built.

After years of lobbying, and, in the words of his admiring colleagues, talking to anyone who would listen, the B.C. government announced in 2010 that it would build the $381 million IHSC, one year after the KGH started offering angioplasties.

Construction of the heart centre started in 2013 and it opened on March 6.

Asked if it was what he had dreamed of all those years ago, Hooper said it was what he hoped for.

“You always ask for a little more,” he said with a smile.

The local facility has become one for the entire B.C. Interior and Hooper credited the work being done there with helping cut in half the number of heart-related deaths in this region.

But when it came time to accept the honour of having part of the building named after him, Hooper was quick to credit others for playing major roles in helping see the dream to reality.

“This was not my project alone, he said. “There were many who played significant roles.”

Hooper came to Kelowna in 1990 after working in the cardiology department of St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver.

Of  late he has developed a new passion – delivery of cardiac service to rural communities.

For the last four years, he and his wife Heather have regularly headed out to rural communities across the B.C. Interior in their own vehicle to help doctors, patients and communities with their cardiac care needs.

He said he would like to see a larger, more organized program offered by Interior Health in future.

“The doctors in these small towns really need the help,” he said.

And, like an image of an ambulance stuck in a snowstorm on the Coquihalla Highway that he regularly used during his years of lobbying for the IHSC to show the challenge of getting patients to Vancouver, he said he and his wife has also had to brave the weather to get to communities throughout the southern Interior over the last four years.

Despite that, the only trip he missed, he said, was one last year when the wildfire near Rock Creek closed the highway.

“And its a good thing we did not get through because we would not have got back,” said Hooper.