Greg WallaceBy Greg Wallace

This August, I will celebrate the 62nd anniversary of the open-heart surgery that repaired the atrial septal defect (ASD) in my heart.

There have been many advances in the way these are treated, but I hope that by hearing, first-hand, the story of my early struggles to survive and adapt, and then also my successes, a young family or teenager experiencing life-altering heart surgery now will get some inspiration. Or maybe it will nudge someone else to speak of their experiences.

My name is Greg “Spike” Wallace, and I was born in 1958 in Kamloops. I am now retired, and I reached many life goals with the support of family and friends.

When I was born, the doctors and my parents suspected a serious health problem. According to my mother’s notes, I cried all the time and only doubled my birth weight at one year of age. By the time I was two, I still weighed only 20 pounds.

Finally, a cardiac doctor at the University of British Columbia diagnosed the ASD.

Open-heart surgery for children was quite a new procedure at Vancouver General Hospital. (BC Children’s Hospital did not exist yet.) On August 24, 1960, Drs. Philip Ashmore and Dennis Vince, along with their operating crew, performed one on me. I was two years old. They split my breast bone and connected my heart to a heart-lung machine, which, in 1960, was the size of a small car. My heart was stopped for 35 minutes. Dr. Ashmore repaired the opening in the septum, and it took 26 stitches to close the chest incision.

There were no GoFundMe pages back then, and my parents had to pay for the ICU nurses and the blood to prime the heart-lung machine. I was sent home after four weeks without any support groups or advice. We were basically on our own!

Unfortunately, checkups in the years that followed were not positive, and the doctors worried about the quality of life I would have. By the time I was seven, I was still only 39 pounds and quite frail. For exercise, they suggested I could get a large dog and take him for a walk.

I had many friends at school, but I had a tough time until my best friend introduced me to the junior high football program. I started as the water boy, but by the time I graduated from senior high school, I was an accomplished equipment technician.

This allowed me to do a two-year stint with a junior football program in Utah. I then got accepted into an athletic therapy program at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario.

In the off seasons, I became an accomplished chef. After graduation, I got my first trainer job with the Victoria Cougars of the WHL. Two seasons later, I joined the Kamloops Blazers. For 28 seasons, I held different positions. My teams won three Memorial Cups, and I was fortunate to travel to Japan and Switzerland with Hockey Canada.

In 2018, I was humbled by an induction into the Kamloops Sports Hall of Fame.

Nowadays, I am enjoying retirement. I spent many years volunteering at a ranch managed by a local family. I have worked at Save-On-Foods and our local Dolson’s Source for Sports store. In some capacity, I would like to become involved with the BC Women’s Hospital and help it care for and support heart patients and their families.

I think Dr. Ashmore would be very pleased with the path I took in life, and I am forever grateful for his skill so many years ago. I really have had a great journey so far. My life would never have been possible without the support of my family and so many close friends. ♥

Greg Wallace as a child and holding a trophy

“My Heart Journey” is from our summer 2022 newsletter, Heart Matters. See our Newsletters page for more stories and to subscribe.