Donor-Driven Campaign Raises Over $40 Million to Transform Brain Health



Natasha Wasmuth, grateful patient © Images Courtesy of VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation

VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation’s Brain Breakthroughs fundraising campaign comes to a successful close

Giving back time: more time to spend with loved ones and more time to enjoy life at its fullest. In the context of brain health, this adage has heightened meaning because an immediate intervention often saves lives or dramatically improves recovery. Philanthropists across B.C. have rallied behind VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation’s flagship campaign, Brain Breakthroughs, collectively giving over $40 million since 2019, making breakthroughs big and small possible to help patients with a variety of brain conditions.

One particular area to benefit from the power of philanthropy is epilepsy. Epilepsy may be one of the more common neurological conditions—affecting approximately 23,000 British Columbians. Yet it is challenging to diagnose and treat because its causes are not well understood, and anti-seizure medications do not work in approximately 30 per cent of patients, regardless of age. There is a significant social stigma attached to epilepsy, and patients struggle with mental health issues and finding their footing in society.

brain health
Dr Yahya Aghakhani Medical Director, Epilepsy Program, Vancouver General Hospital

“Brain Breakthroughs put epilepsy on the map, injecting much-needed funding into critical hospital infrastructure to improve access to diagnosis and care for so many British Columbians,” said Dr. Yahya Aghakhani, Medical Director, Epilepsy Program, Vancouver General Hospital (VGH).

VGH is the provincial referral centre for epilepsy. Patients come from across the province for expert care only available here. “VGH transformed my life,” said Natasha Wasmuth. “After years of medication and endless neurological testing, it was the specialists at VGH who made my seizures stop. And gave me my life back.”

VGH is the only hospital with a Seizure Investigation Unit (SIU)—a critical step in ensuring the best and most tailored treatment for patients like Natasha with complex and drug-resistant epilepsy. In 2019, when Brain Breakthroughs launched, the SIU at VGH had only two beds. Now, thanks to philanthropy, that number is twice that.

“The impact of doubling bed capacity cannot be overstated,” said Dr. Aghakhani. “We can now assess, diagnose and treat more patients than ever before, and do it in less time. Time is key when it comes to the brain because timely access to care almost always means more effective interventions, improved quality of life and more fulsome recoveries. Philanthropy has made that possible for epilepsy patients in B.C., and we are immensely grateful for our donors’ foresight and generosity.”

The journey is only beginning. Brain Breakthroughs has created a wave effect that has seen bigger and more frequent donations to brain health than ever before. And the impact of these donations reverberates across services and programs. Beyond technology and equipment, the campaign is boosting people and care alongside research and discovery. It is attracting, recruiting, and retaining new talent to our province. It is training the next generation of experts to ensure continuity of care. And it is generating new ideas to advance novel treatments for otherwise intractable conditions.

Thus, donors to Brain Breakthroughs broke new ground by seed funding an epilepsy fellowship program at VGH. Thanks to their giving, the hospital’s first epilepsy fellowship cohort celebrated its graduation in 2022. Two bright young minds received highly specialized training, education and mentorship in a nurturing environment. The program is setting them on a career trajectory of growth and building additional capacity for more professionals to enter the workforce to help an increasing number of patients now and in the future.

Beyond fellowships, the larger VGH epilepsy team is going from strength to strength, bringing in a new epileptologist and a new epilepsy surgeon to expand access to vital services for B.C. patients.

The New Year also welcomes the arrival of VGH’s first 3TMRI, made possible thanks to generous gifts to the campaign. This highly specialized technology peers into the tiniest folds of the brain and provides a visualization with extra clarity and precision in ways not possible before. Armed with such sophisticated tools, clinicians at VGH will be able to make more precise assessments, for example localizing the source of epileptic seizures with greater accuracy to inform more effective treatments.

VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation extends its heartfelt thank you to all those who rallied behind Brain Breakthroughs to make a visible transformation in the lives of so many patients across our province.

Learn more about the impact of Brain Breakthroughs at

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VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation is Vancouver Coastal Health’s primary philanthropic partner, raising funds for specialized adult health services and research for all British Columbians.


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