Working on only a few hours of sleep after having to perform a last-minute heart transplant, Dr. Ivan Rebeyka gleefully looks around Western Canada's first heart institute.

"If you're going to have a heart problem, you're in the right place," he said.

The Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute officially opened Thursday in Edmonton to a large fanfare of specialists, politicians and patients.

The $217-million institute brings together some of the world's leading heart specialists and researchers to combat all aspects of heart disease. It is slated to be a major centre for complex cardiac care, including heart transplants.

Dr. David Johnstone said the new building offers a level of collaboration unheard of in most hospitals.

"It gets the best people in (the cardiac) areas to rub shoulders with each other everyday, to discuss difficult cases," he said. "It just makes it easier."

Many experts said there is an overwhelming need for such a centre in Western Canada.

Health Canada reports heart disease is the number one killer in Canada, with just under 75,000 people dying of the disease annually.

The building was funded primarily by the government of Alberta and was built by Capital Health in partnership with the University of Alberta.

Integrated under the same roof as the University of Alberta Hospital and Stollery Children's Hospital, the heart institute is one of the few in North America equipped to accommodate both adult and pediatric heart patients.

Current heart patient Alanna Calhoun said she knows how valuable such an institution can be.

As someone born with a heart defect where her heart chambers weren't properly formed, Calhoun needs open-heart surgery every five to 15 years to replace the pig valves attached to her heart.

"I know I was flown to the Toronto Sick Kids (Hospital) because we didn't have the facilities here in Edmonton," she said.

Calhoun has undergone open heart surgery at age four, seven and 21.

The 24-year-old said she considers herself fortunate to live in a city with such a ground-breaking facility.

"All the technologies, all the doctors, all the staff, they're all under one roof," she said. "You don't have to go to all different hospitals, all different clinics, you just come to one place."

The first group of patients is already being seen for diagnostic testing such as CT scans and angiography.

Inpatients will arrive later this year, when cardiac services currently housed in the University of Alberta Hospital are phased into the new heart institute.

The University Hospital Foundation capital campaign, chaired by Bill Comrie, raised more than $45 million from supporters across the country.

Capital Health officially named the new facility after the Don Mazankowski, a former MP and an advocate for health care across Canada.

Mazankowski was the founding chair of the Institute of Health Economics, author of the Mazankowski Report, as well as a member of the Board of Governors of the University of Alberta.