You have to give Dr. Zaev Wulffhart a lot of credit for joining Southlake Regional Health Centre back in 2001. At the time, Southlake was a mid-sized community hospital with limited cardiac resources. It had recently received approval from the provincial government to create a regional cardiac program, but few in the cardiac community believed it would actually happen.
“Initially, I have to say, I was a bit skeptical,” Dr. Wulffhart admits. “Colleagues were telling me I was going to destroy my career.”
Dr. Wulffhart was right to want to protect the career he had carefully constructed. He graduated from the University of Witwatersrand Medical School and completed his internship in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1984. When he arrived in Canada in 1986, he continued his training in Newfoundland's Memorial University and Nova Scotia's Victoria General Hospital.
Coming to Ontario in 1992, Dr. Wulffhart completed an electrophysiology fellowship at St. Michael's Hospital and in 1993, joined the Wellesley Hospital as director of the pacemaker and clinical clerkship training programs. He moved to Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Centre in 1996 and during his five-year tenure, served as deputy director of the cardiac catheterization lab and director of arrhythmia services.
Thankfully, Dr. Wulffhart did not listen to his detractors. Instead, he joined Southlake as director of the comprehensive arrhythmia program and became a charter member of a steadfast group of believers who understood that patients in the Southlake catchment area should and would have access to state-of-the-art cardiac services.
“I knew we could build the ‘Cleveland Clinic' of the north,” Dr. Wulffhart says in reference to a top-ranked hospital for cardiac care in the United States, “and we did.”
With the promise of performing advanced procedures in a leading-edge and innovative environment, Dr. Wulffhart was able to construct a team of top electrophysiologists – cardiologists who specialize in the electrical activities of the heart. They came to Southlake to perform atrial fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia ablation procedures and complex cardiac mapping, all of which were, at the time, not well established at downtown Toronto hospitals.
They also came to Southlake to lead research and technology development. In a short period of time, this elite group nurtured partnerships with industry leaders and was able to deliver results quickly and effectively. The arrhythmia program soon gained provincial, national, and international recognition. It began developing “world first” advancements and changing the way electrophysiologists performed their craft around the globe.
At Southlake, Dr. Wulffhart has continued to develop his career. After becoming chief of cardiology, medical director of the heart rhythm program and director of medical education, in 2013 he was appointed physician leader of the Regional Cardiac Care Program.
In this position, Dr. Wulffhart will continue the forward momentum of the depth and breadth of cardiac care available to the greater community.
“When I first came to Southlake, people in need of advanced cardiac care had no choice but to drive south,” he says. “Now, with the full complement of services we have to offer and the exceptional reputation we have earned as leaders in the delivery of advanced cardiac services, they are driving to Southlake for care they know they would not receive anywhere else.”