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Local photographer's book presents 'artful' look at cardiac surgery

With consent from a patient, Ann Gilchrist captured a common heart procedure at Health Sciences North

Coronary artery bypass grafting is a common, life-saving cardiac surgery for people who have severe coronary heart disease.

A healthy artery or vein from your leg, arm or chest is grafted to the blocked coronary artery, bypassing the blocked portion of the artery.

But what exactly happens during that surgery, and what does it look like?

A self-published photo book called “The Art of Healing – A Glimpse of Cardiac Surgery” put out by a local photographer gives people a view of one of these procedures being performed by the medical team at Health Sciences North.

Ann Gilchrist — this is a pen name, as she prefers to remain anonymous — has worked for local cardiac surgeon Dr. Avinash Garg, who's the chief of cardiac surgery at HSN, for the nearly quarter-century he's been in practice.

A keen artist, she said she got into photography about eight years ago to create her own source material for landscape art.

Gilchrist said when patients come into Garg's office for a consultation, they're always very nervous. 

That's why she decided to create the photo book — so that patients and families understand more about what happens during cardiac surgery.

With millions affected by cardiac disease and it being the most common cause of death in North America, this book offers a unique opportunity to follow cardiac surgeons as they perform surgery.

“My whole intention was to better inform the lay person like you and what it means to have heart surgery,” Gilchrist said.

She said she wanted to make the process “less scary” to patients. “If I know exactly what's going to happen in the OR, I'm less anxious,” Gilchrist said.

In 2014, one patient who was getting triple bypass surgery gave his consent to have the surgery photographed, and Health Sciences North also agreed to let Gilchrist into the operating room.

Gilchrist's book brings readers through the entire five-a-half hour surgery and beyond, starting with anesthesia, the surgery itself, the use of the cardiopulmonary bypass machine, what happens in the ICU and recovery.

With help from Garg, she describes the whole procedure in a simple, comprehensible way.

Although the photos definitely show blood, Gilchrist said her goal was to take “artful” rather than anatomical images.

“The Art of Healing – A Glimpse of Cardiac Surgery” is available through online book retailers such as Amazon for $63.45 for the hardcover and about $45 for the paperback.

You can learn more about the book online here.