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November 20, 2023
Through the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) Foundation, the Montréal General Hospital (MGH) Foundation, and the Jewish General Hospital (JGH) Foundation, the Estate of Herta Vodstrcil is benefiting nursing, heart health, surgical techniques, mental health initiatives and much more.
Herta Vodstrcil’s story is straight out of a Hollywood movie.
She was born in Czechoslovakia in 1916. She married Tomas Vodstrcil, who was from a prominent family, and they lived with their two young sons in Belgrade. When the Nazi Party came into power in the late 1930s, Hitler invaded. Facing arrest or worse, the Vodstrcil family fled.
Fearing for their lives, the family left their home. They narrowly avoided capture: when they called for a car to leave the country, two arrived. The first was a real taxi; the second was the Gestapo. They were lucky to escape to India before finally immigrating to Canada.
Herta, Tomas and their infant sons, Andrew and Peter, eventually settled in Montréal, where Tomas began working in the dental supply business. They were proud members of the city’s German community, and demonstrated great resilience despite all they had faced.
Herta called Montréal home for the rest of her life. She was a devoted volunteer at the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts and known for her talent with languages—she spoke half a dozen at least. She passed away in 2014 at the age of 98. When her will was read, the family’s remarkable generosity came to light: Herta left $15 million to three hospitals in Montréal, including $5 million each to the MUHC Foundation, the MGH Foundation and the JGH Foundation. This extraordinary gift is having an immense impact on health care in the city and beyond.
(Photo credit: FamilySearch)
The Legacy of Herta Vodstrcil
Herta Vodstrcil, August 6, 1916 - April 15, 2014. Image source: Montreal Gazette
$3.7 million of Herta’s gift is supporting nursing enhancement through simulation training for nurses. Simulation training uses lifelike, high-tech manikins to teach nurses to respond to medical emergencies in simulated environments that feel real. Simulation training is incredibly important because it allows nurses to become comfortable with high-stress situations and ensures they can practice lifesaving procedures in a controlled environment before trying them on patients.
$3.5 million is being used to propel the JGH’s advanced nursing standards to the next level through the Magnet Recognition Program®. The prestigious program recognizes health care organizations that provide quality patient care, nursing excellence and innovations in professional nursing practice. To become a Magnet hospital, known for better patient outcomes and high job satisfaction among nurses, requires significant data collection and benchmarking against other institutions. The process of certification can take several years. Among other initiatives, Herta’s gift is funding JGH employees who are supporting the process of certification, with the aim of making the JGH the second hospital in Canada to achieve Magnet Recognition Status.
$250,000 created the Women’s Health Heart Initiative (WHHI) endowment. The WHHI is a nurse-led initiative that provides individualized, specialized care to reduce a woman’s overall risk for heart disease. Participants are monitored and given strategies to make lifestyle changes to improve their heart health. Thanks to the endowment, the WHHI will now have a stream of funding to ensure it can continue to save lives.
The Patient Connect system automatically records patient vital signs and transmits the data to the patient’s electronic record. With the push of a button, nurses can easily collect patient data, saving time and ensuring every individual in their care is closely monitored. $1 million was designated to this important technology to help optimize workflow for MGH staff and improve patient safety.
$1.3 million benefits the Vascular Surgery Prehabilitation Program at the MUHC’s Glen site. Most of us are familiar with rehabilitation, the process of recovery after surgery. Dr. Kent MacKenzie and Dr. Heather Gill flip this idea on its head, helping patients improve their fitness through exercise and nutritional support before they have surgery. This program is revolutionary for patients, allowing them to recover in a fraction of the time normally required. In some cases, patients for whom surgery is too risky become candidates thanks to the program.
An aortic aneurysm occurs when the aorta—the large artery through which blood travels out of the heart—becomes enlarged, less flexible and more susceptible to damage from the pressure of the blood pumping through it. Aortic aneurysms are like ticking time bombs—they could rupture at any time, an event that can be fatal. The prevalence of aortic aneurysms has doubled over the last 15 years, and they remain silent until a life-threatening rupture occurs. $500,000 is supporting cardiologist Dr. Kevin Lachapelle and his research team to use artificial intelligence (AI) to predict which patients are at high risk of aortic aneurysm rupture. This allows the medical team to make informed decisions about whether the patient needs surgery. This ongoing research will lead to improved patient care by allowing physicians and patients to make better informed decisions about treatment of aortic aneurysms.
$1.25 million is supporting several projects related to improving surgical techniques and outcomes at the MUHC’s Glen site. Funding for therapeutic endoscopy allows the MUHC’s gastroenterologists to pioneer new minimally invasive techniques for everything from removing colorectal tumours to relieving blockages in the intestines. On the cardiology side, the new cardiac surgery database provides a one-stop resource for information on both individual patients’ response to surgery and aggregated data on how age, medical history and other factors can affect surgical outcomes.
$1.5 million is supporting multiple mental health initiatives at the JGH, including the Trauma-Focused Therapy Program, which is a specialized psychotherapy program to help people overcome the impacts of childhood and adult trauma. Through group and individual therapy, the program aims to enhance resilience and promote recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder and complex post-traumatic stress disorder, in order to allow people to reconnect with themselves and their communities.