How Sandra is helping Heart & Stroke set a course for greatest impact

Unique initiative brings people who have lived with heart disease and stroke to the centre of our thinking
Sandra Thornton stands on a rocky hilltop surrounded by forest.

Sandra Thornton hiking in British Columbia 

Sandra Thornton knows heart disease. The Edmonton businesswoman had a heart attack at age 51. Then she learned that she had been living with a faulty heart valve all her life. Seven years later, she had surgery to replace her aortic valve. 

This history puts Sandra at risk for heart failure, a condition she knows all too well: her mother had heart failure at a relatively young age.

Now Heart & Stroke is tapping Sandra’s lived experience — along with her 30 years of leadership in strategic communications — to help us make the biggest impact we can against heart disease and stroke.

A voice of lived experience

Sandra is part of a groundbreaking initiative to place people who have lived with heart disease and stroke, and their families, at the centre of Heart & Stroke’s mission. 

She is the co-chair of the new Heart & Stroke heart failure council. It is one of six such groups established to help us answer the most important questions about heart disease and stroke, and apply those answers to prevention, treatment, recovery and public policy. 

“I’m so excited to be serving Heart & Stroke again,” said Sandra. “I’ve always felt that by being open and sharing my experience, it could have a positive impact on somebody else.”

New framework, new ideas

The six councils are part of a new framework adopted by Heart & Stroke to drive progress in what we are calling mission critical areas or MCAs. 

These are the six heart and stroke disease states that together represent the biggest burden — on Canadians’ health, on the economy and on society. 

I think this will enhance everybody’s understanding and help us do a better job.

Sandra Thornton

The MCAs are not the only areas where Heart & Stroke works, but they reflect where we believe we can have greatest impact. The six MCAs are:

An advisory council of 10-12 members will tackle each area. Each council is made up of an equal number of researchers and community members, such as Sandra. The community members bring a range of backgrounds including lived experience of the disease (either themselves or in a loved one), policy, philanthropy, technology, health care and more. Each council is led by two co-chairs: one researcher and one community member. 

“This innovative approach will help us generate impact from the research lab bench to the bedside and beyond,” says Yves Savoie, Heart & Stroke CEO. “The work of the MCA councils over the next two years will lead to greater impact and improved lives for the 1.6 million Canadians living with the effects of heart disease and stroke.”

Two sides, one goal

Sandra sees her new role as an opportunity to make an impact against a disease that has affected her life and her family. 

“I really like the approach these councils are taking — bringing together the research and medical side, with the survivor and caregiver and community side,” she says. “I think this will enhance everybody’s understanding and help us do a better job.”