Waters: Man who lobbied for Kelowna’s heart centre has lobby named after him

Dr. Richard Hooper was relentless in his years of pressing for the Interior Heart and Surgical Centre.

Alistair Waters

Back in the far reaches of time—probably close to 15 years ago now—I used to cover the battles between the Kelowna Medical Association and the, then, relatively new Liberal government of B.C.

The association, now a shadow of its former self, was pretty active back then and very vocal when it came to local doctors voicing their concerns about the state of health care in this province, particularly here in Kelowna and the Central Okanagan.

At the time, the president, and the man leading the charge, was Kelowna cardiologist Dr. Richard Hooper.

Not one to hold back, Hooper had no compunction about blasting his friend, and former Vancouver neighbour, then-premier Gordon Campbell over what doctors here felt was a lack of funding for health care.

As a cardiologist, Hooper wanted full cardiac services in the Okanagan. A cardiac centre here, he argued, would save patients time, money and waiting, and possibly their lives, because they had to travel to the Lower Mainland or Victoria where, at that time, the only cardiac centres in B.C. were located.

To say Hooper worked tirelessly and hard to make that happen would be an understatement.

With the ear of both Campbell and the late Kelowna-Mission MLA Sindi Hawkins, who was, at one time, minister for health planning in B.C., Hooper was instrumental working behind the scenes in helping realize that dream, as well as getting a whole series of multi-million dollar improvements to Kelowna General Hospital, including a new patient care tower, a new laboratory building, introduction of the cardiac revascularization program that opened at KGH in 2009 and, the crown jewel, the $381-million Interior Heart and Surgical Centre.

Construction of that building started in 2013, three years after Campbell, as premier, limped onto a stage in Kelowna—he was wearing a boot cast on a broken foot at the time—and announced funding for the long-awaited cardiac centre at KGH. It was completed three years later.

The addition made Kelowna just the fifth centre in B.C. to offer full cardiac services, including open heart surgeries. Three of those centres are located in the Lower Mainland and one is in Victoria.

The Kelowna centre was exactly what Hooper envisioned, a state-of-the-art cardiac facility serving the entire B.C. Interior, staffed by a top-notch team of heart specialists. The doctors, nurses and staff of the IHSC will help save hundreds of lives every year.

When it opened in March of this year, I saw Hooper for the first time in years.

We reminisced about when we used to talk about his dream of seeing such a centre here, and despite trying to stay in the background, he was justifiably proud.

On Tuesday, he wasn’t able to avoid the spotlight. A naming ceremony was held at the IHSC, honouring Hooper for the work he did in bringing full cardiac services to Kelowna and the B.C. Interior.

It was a fitting tribute to a man who, as a professional, worked to fix ailing hearts, and he showed a lot of heart himself in pushing to have a facility the calibre of the IHSC built here.

Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Kelowna Capital News.