Polo for Heart

Canada’s largest charity polo event unites players to stomp the divots out of cardiovascular disease
By Zoe Ackah, Epoch Times
June 28, 2013 Updated: June 28, 2013

Since its inception 60 years ago, the Heart and Stroke Foundation has raised $1.35 billion for research. 

When we caught up with Tom McAllister, Chief Operating Officer of the Ontario branch of the Heart and Stroke Foundation, at the Polo for Heart event held in Richmond Hill last month, cardiovascular disease was still a top killer of Canadians.

According to McAllister, Canadians need to be more aware of the symptoms of cardiovascular disease, especially Canadian women.

“Women present with different symptoms, so the number of times they’re having a heart attack is underdiagnosed,” said McAllister.

They are also working hard to connect with communities at greater risk for heart disease and stroke, like native Canadians, South Asians, and people of African descent, who have higher rates of these diseases than other ethnic groups.

Another problem is that people are not calling 911 quickly enough but are driving to the hospital instead.

McAllister explained that there is a “golden window” of around four hours after a stroke during which drugs can be administered, even by ambulance staff, which can greatly improve a patient’s recovery from a heart attack or stroke.

Aside from a healthy diet, exercise is also important. Polo is not only great exercise for the horses, it is great for the players too. 

The Toronto Polo Club was founded by the Sifton family in the 1960s. Derek Sifton, son of the club’s founder Col. Michael Sifton, is an accomplished polo player who not only played on two teams during the event but sits on its executive committee as well.

According to Sifton Jr., keeping the event very formal and traditional has been the key to its continued success.

Both the public and VIP corporate donors are attracted to come back each year to participate in the traditional atmosphere. From drinking champagne and stomping the divots (bits of grass on the field that the horses rip up with their hooves) to dressing in fancy summer dresses with large decorative hats, it’s a pretty posh weekend.

Polo for Heart has been organized by the Toronto Polo Club for over 34 years and has raised a total of more than $5 million so far, making it the largest charity polo event in Canada.

The proceeds of Polo for Heart this year will be split between the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Centre for Stroke Recovery and the Southlake Regional Health Centre.

Neila Poscente, President and CEO of the Southlake Regional Health Centre Foundation, explained that Southlake has only one MRI scanner. 

“For a hospital our size in a community that’s growing, our wait time for non-urgent MRIs can be up to 100 days,” she explained.

Southlake serves the over one million residents of York Region. The health centre is half way to its $16 million goal and are hoping to purchase a second, more advanced MRI scanner.