June 21, 2021

“We call ourselves the heart twins now"

Sisters undergo heart surgery on the same day with the same surgeon
Eveline Thibault and Lise Thacker
Eveline Thibault and Lise Thacker share a moment at the Foothills Medical Centre. Photo courtesy of Lise Thacker and Eveline Thibault

As sisters, Lise Thacker, 59, and Eveline Thibault, 62, have a lot in common. But the duo never imagined that they would one day undergo heart surgeries on the same day with the same surgeon.

On Oct. 22, 2019, Thacker headed to the Foothills Medical Centre (FMC) for a scheduled surgery on her aortic valve with cardiac surgeon Dr. Teresa Kieser, MD.

It was while being prepped for surgery that Thacker learned her sister, who had been admitted to FMC a week earlier with severe chest pain (angina), had just received emergency open-heart surgery, with Kieser as surgeon.

It was a surprise for both the sisters and Kieser, who learned she had unknowingly performed back-to-back surgeries on the siblings.  

“This was a very surprising day for all three of us, as I also only found out that I had operated and was about to operate on two sisters on the same day from the ‘afternoon’ sister, [Thacker], during the preoperative briefing for her surgery,” says Kieser. “There are no coincidences in life. Everything has a reason, but I am at a loss to explain why all our angels arranged this chance encounter. Maybe perhaps to let us know that they watch over us always.”

Thacker first learned she had a heart murmur during a routine physical exam at age 18. Her family doctor kept an eye on the problem during her annual checkups, but her heart issues did not appear to be serious enough to treat. 

That changed as Thacker neared her 50th birthday, and her cardiologist Dr. Patrick Ma, MD, ordered a battery of tests, which showed that her aortic valve was diminishing in size.

Over the next few years, her condition worsened, and Thacker developed more severe breathing issues that progressed to the point that she was often out of breath while exercising or doing simple everyday activities like climbing stairs.

In June of 2019, she had an angiogram, and the doctors determined that she needed surgery to replace her aortic valve which was functioning at approximately 33 per cent, and she also needed bypass surgery. Thacker was told the damage may have been caused by rheumatic fever, which she may have contracted unknowingly as a child. 

Thibault’s journey was a bit different. 

As a proud grandmother of six boys, Thibault has always been active, but she began feeling unwell during the summer of 2019, and had angina in early October.

She had a stress test and her cardiologist Dr. Patrick Champagne, MD, immediately sent her to FMC for further testing and an angiogram. Thibault stayed in the hospital while awaiting triple bypass surgery, and ended up in the operating room on the morning of Oct. 22. 

“I knew my sister was in the hospital waiting for her scheduled surgery but didn’t realize that Dr. Kieser had performed both of our surgeries until I woke up,” says Thibault. 

The sisters embraced the coincidence and encouraged one another throughout their recoveries, and both are doing well. 

Thacker is grateful for the care she and her sister received from Kieser, saying she could not have asked for a better experience from the whole team.

“[Kieser] is such a wonderful surgeon with so much energy and positivity. I thank this very skilled woman every day I wake up. I have so much to be grateful for. I’ve been given a whole new lease on life,” says Thacker. “I have never seen anyone work harder than all the nurses in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit. They gave it 110 per cent and that level of care never waivered. The love of the nurses in Unit 91, the positivity, was just so amazing.”

Today, both Thacker and Thibault live active lives and are extremely close, speaking almost daily. 

Thacker has taken part in the Great Cycle Challenge for the SickKids Foundation, raising more than $3,200 in three separate challenges. She has cycled a total of 850 kilometres. Thibault cycles for her health and has completed a total of 2,147 kilometres over the past year.

“We call ourselves the Heart Twins now,” says Thibault. “I think it’s because we both had big challenges to overcome, but we did it and it brought us closer together.”

Dr. Teresa Kieser, MD, is a professor emeritus in the departments of Surgery and Cardiac Sciences at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine (CSM). She is also a member of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute and Hotchkiss Brain Institute.

Dr. Patrick Champagne, MD, is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Cardiac Sciences at the University of Calgary’s CSM and a member of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute.

Dr. Patrick Ma, MD, is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the departments of Cardiac Sciences and Medicine at the CSM and a member of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute.