Heather Arthur has spent decades researching how changes in lifestyle can help people bounce back after a heart-related health scare.

For her work, the McMaster nursing prof has snagged the Canadian Association of Cardiac Rehabilitation's Terry Kavanagh Prize, the first woman and the first nursing professional to do so.

ii-heather-arthur

Heather Arthur is a professor in McMaster University's School of Nursing and the chief scientific officer with Hamilton Health Sciences. (Courtesy of McMaster University)

"I was really surprised that there had been no women to receive the awards," Arthur, a past president of the CACR, told CBC Hamilton.

"I'm just happy to see a woman who has contributed a lot to research in the field. It's pretty exciting."

The honours recognizes researchers who have made extensive contributions to the field of cardiovascular health, are widely published, and whose work has garnered national or international renown.

As this year's winner, Arthur has been invited to speak at the Canadian Cardiovascular Conference in October.

"[Arthur] is one of the leading scientists in the country in the area of cardiac rehabilitation, cardiovascular disease, and women's cardiac health," Dr. Paul Oh, the cardiac doctor who nominated Arthur for the award, said in a statement.

"She has provided passionate leadership to the advancement of nurses and women in the academic realm, has mentored many professionals and students, and has been an exemplary role model for practitioners and researchers in cardiac rehab."

Has taught at McMaster University since 1981

A McMaster prof since 1981, Arthur became interested in cardiac rehabilitation by way of her work in psychiatry.

"I decided to marry my past interest with the mind and cardiovascular disease," she said.

She began to investigate how to convince patients who have suffered a "cardiac event," such as a heart attack or a stroke, to make healthy lifestyle choices.

"It's a little bit of a scare and there is a window of opportunity for people to change their behaviour," Arthur said. "They recognize that a cardiac event can be a life-threatening thing."