By Moneca Jantzen

As February is Heart and Stroke month, it seems fitting to catch up with Al Patel, owner of Scott’s Inn and Restaurant and one of the founders of the ICCHA/Wish Fund. Established in 2007 in an effort to improve healthcare excellence in Kamloops and at Royal Inland Hospital (RIH), ICCHA means “wish.”

“When someone is sick, we wish them well, but that is not good enough. We must do more!” implores Patel, reciting part of the organization’s mission statement.

The founders of ICCHA/Wish Fund were partly inspired by a sense that RIH was being left behind in comparison to Kelowna. Not only had Kelowna been given the once promised to Kamloops cancer clinic, they had also won the specialized cardiac program.

“This made me and Dr. Bas Gowd furious. Thus started our journey to give our community what Interior Health failed to provide,” said Patel.

Each year the fund focuses on a specific fundraising project and in ten years has been responsible for such things as the establishment of an education room for cancer patients; setting up a video link between cancer patients and their remote oncologists; replacement of 20-year-old equipment in the Post Anesthetic Recovery Room (PAR) with new heart monitors; new colonoscopy equipment and most recently a new electromyography (EMG) machine for detecting abnormal electrical activity in muscles to help diagnose such things as ALS and muscular dystrophy.

While fundraising for specific projects, the founders have not lost sight of their goal of improving cardiac care at RIH.

On a personal level, Patel explains that his family is “ridden with heart disease. Maybe God has spared me to fight for others who are, have been and potentially may have coronary problems, including me.”

Patients only have a few minutes or seconds to survive a cardiac arrest. Currently, if someone suffers a heart attack in Kamloops, they have to be transported to Kelowna or Vancouver to undergo any major procedures or surgery.

“The hospital and Foundation have worked hard to recruit cardiologists…so they can service the (existing)cardiac clinic, but the clinic is only for patients who already have coronary disease or cardiac problems. What about those patients who come for diagnosis or must wait at RIH for an opening in Kelowna or Vancouver?” questions Patel.

“I was shocked to hear that Kamloops is getting a half a billion dollar hospital expansion with no mention of any cardiac program.”
“Our dream is to establish not only a Cardiac Care Unit (CCU) but a CCU with a catheterization lab so that cardiologists can detect heart blockages and insert stents right here in Kamloops. This will save lives and money!” said Patel.

When asked what it will take from the wider community and the various levels of government to realize this dream, Patel suggests that “sometimes the community has to band together and demand from the government the care that is needed.” The central location of Kamloops would be beneficial to many other communities as well.

ICCHA was able to garner the attention of the previous government and resulted in the possibility of establishing a CCU at RIH, but is contingent upon raising at least $500,000. The new government and IHA are positively working with ICCHA now.

While the fund has raised over half a million dollars since its inception in 2007, this will be the first time the group has undertaken such a monumental goal. They are holding a grand gala dinner on their 10th anniversary at Columbo Hall on Friday, May 25. The dinner will feature international cuisine including Mexican, East Indian and Italian fare along with entertainment and live and silent auctions.Tickets will be available for $250 each; a table of 10 for $2,000 of 5 tickets for $1,000. Tickets will be available for purchase from RIH Foundation, Scott’s Inn & Restaurant and Lamplighter Motel by March.

Patel notes that all previous fundraisers have sold out and he has no doubt this one will also. He knows the businesses and community will wholeheartedly support this cause.