Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Women’s Cardiovascular Health Initiative at WCH!

2021-02-18 10:33:35 AM

This February, we are thrilled to celebrate Heart Month at Women’s College Hospital with a special anniversary – the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Women’s Cardiovascular Health Initiative (WCHI), Canada’s first cardiac rehabilitation centre solely for women.


The opening of the WCHI was generously made possible through a donation by Canada Trust (now known as TD). On February 13, 1996, WCH was excited to announce a $400,000 grant from TD to develop Canada’s first cardiac rehabilitation centre solely for women. On September 27, 1996, Canada’s first cardiac rehabilitation centre for women officially opened its doors at WCH.

The WCHI was developed out of an absence in our healthcare system of gender-specialized care for women with heart disease. As Dr. Leonard Sternberg, WCHI’s first Medical Director explained, “Women not only present with different symptoms, but they are often more difficult to diagnose and treat – therefore they require different rehabilitative care.”

In 1996, the year WCHI opened, Dr. Sternberg published a five-year study in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology showing that heart disease is not just a man’s disease. He warned “too many women and their doctors continue to underestimate women’s risk for developing and dying from heart disease.”

Wide acceptance of this common myth about women and heart disease was evident in the results of WCH’s 1995 Women’s Health Test - a Canada-wide survey for women on their knowledge and attitudes towards women’s health issues. One of the most alarming findings of the survey was the lack of knowledge of women’s health risks associated with cardiovascular disease. Surprisingly, while heart disease was and remains the leading cause of death for women in Canada, only 16% of women surveyed identified heart disease as a health threat to women.

The WCHI was co-founded by Dr. Sternberg and Jennifer Price after years of planning and the support of WCH’s Chief of Medicine, Dr. Anna Day. The program developed from input from WCH departments as well as from working groups and advisory panels comprised of patients and numerous health professionals. Under the Division of Cardiology, the WCHI was established as a unique multidisciplinary program for women to provide risk identification and modification, health promotion, disease prevention, outpatient care, and research.

On the WCHI’s 10-year anniversary, Dr. Sternberg and Jennifer Price were the recipients of the first Canadian Women’s Heart Health Advocacy Award in 2016 to recognize their outstanding commitment to improve the heart health of women in Canada.