COVID-19 at The Ottawa Hospital: a year of relentless care and research

A community that rallied to support our hospital, the impact of caring for COVID-19 patients during unprecedented times, and the race to find answers to a relentless virus.

When COVID-19 moved into the Ottawa region in March of 2020, we were in uncharted territory. However, despite the rapidly changing information in the early days, and the unknowns about this virus, something very clear began to emerge – unity. The community would soon show an outpouring of support for The Ottawa Hospital while healthcare teams rallied together to care for patients.

“Thank you to our generous donors – some who reached out for the first time.”
– Tim Kluke

As our front-line workers would go into the hospital each day to face the virus head-on, the community stayed home to help flatten the curve. Nevertheless, it became obvious residents wanted to do more – and they did. Donations both big and small began streaming in and the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund was created. To date, more than $2 million has been generously donated to support our hospital’s COVID-19 efforts and these donations have already been put to work. Tim Kluke, President and CEO of The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, says this support has made a world of a difference supporting both research and care projects. “This proves once again that we really are stronger when we pull together. Thank you to our generous donors – some of whom have even reached out for the first time. Research currently underway will allow us to better understand and treat the virus, to keep our patients and our community safe.” Donations continue to be accepted today.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was another way our community lent a helping hand. The Ottawa Chinese Community quickly mobilized and raised over $120,000 to purchase necessary equipment like ventilators and PPE for our staff.

In Their Own Words: Good Days, Bad Days, and What Keeps Them Coming Back

Stepping into the unknown

While the community united to show their support for our front-line workers, a COVID-19 floor was created at both the General and Civic Campuses to care for the patients who tested positive for the virus. The team at the General Campus that had originally cared for Thoracic, ENT (Ear, Nose, and Throat), and surgical patients would, almost overnight, become the team caring for COVID-19 patients. Little did they know at the time, they would be caring for these patients for well over a year. “We have a background in lungs and breathing issues on our unit, so we were a natural fit to care for these patients,” says Vanessa Large, a registered nurse at our hospital for the past four years.

Vanessa Large, Kristine Belmore, and Leah Mills worked on the “COVID floor” in 2020. Pictured above wearing personal protective equipment (Image 1) and without (Image 2).

Nevertheless, it was a daunting and draining task. Kristine Belmore is a registered nurse who has been at our hospital for 11 years and never did she imagine her career taking this step. “I was working the day the first positive patients came in. We were constantly getting new updates on protocols for caring for these patients – not just daily but during our shifts,” says Belmore. She adds, “It was the equivalent of how I felt when I was a new nurse preparing for a shift — I didn’t sleep well. I was anxious and there was the fear of the unknown.”

Leah Mills was just three years into her career as a registered nurse when she found herself caring for COVID-19 patients. “There was no easing into the COVID transition; it turned our world upside down,” says Leah.

Resilience as weeks turn into months

Dr. Samantha Halman helps a COVID-19 patient communicate with their loved ones via an iPad.
Dr. Samantha Halman helps a patient communicate with their loved ones via an iPad.

In those early weeks of caring for patients, there was the struggle of watching some patients go from appearing stable to suddenly clinging to life. Those days would take an emotional toll on these nurses. “The increase in demand during the surge of patients was overwhelming. Over time it became easier because we had concrete policies in place and we started recognizing a pattern in patient’s decline,” recalls Leah.

“We became their only sources of human connection, we became their second family. We would be there holding an iPad so they could see the friendly smile of a loved one – sometimes it was to say goodbye.” – Vanessa Large

The playbook had to be reinvented and new ideas had to be considered to help calm patients when they struggled to breathe or feared what might happen next. Then there were the layers of PPE, which created an additional level of safety but also a new challenge. “Caring for patients, especially the elderly who can be confused, was difficult because they can’t see your facial expressions – we had to find new ways to reassure patients when they were scared. We also became the link between the patient and the family, through phone calls and video calls – something we’ve never done before,” says Kristine.

Vanessa agrees adding, “We became their only sources of human connection, we became their second family. We would be there holding an iPad so they could see the friendly smile of a loved one – sometimes it was to say goodbye.”

Mentally and emotionally, the long haul of this pandemic started to wear on these nurses. Leah explains they’re used to helping patients heal and get better. “We’re feeling burned out and exhausted seeing patients decline quickly and sometimes die. It’s not what I’ve been used to in my role.”

Thankfully, over the past year, this dedicated care team has helped ensure the majority of COVID-19 patients have been able to regain their health and return home to their loved ones.

The nurses of the “COVID floor”

COVID-19 patient grateful for compassionate care

One of the patients, who experienced firsthand compassionate care on the COVID-19 floor, was Fr. Alex Michalopulos. The Greek Orthodox priest spent 10 days in our hospital. He couldn’t be more thankful to be feeling better today. “For the times when the doctors or nurses came in to see me, for the times when I was reassured—I’m thankful I was well taken care of with love and respect for human life.”

“I have a lot more respect for the medical professionals. I always had, but this time it was at a different level. They were there for me.” – Fr. Alex Michalopulos

Fr. Alex Michalopoulos was treated for COVID-19 at The Ottawa Hospital last year.
Father Alex Michalopoulos of the Greek Orthodox Church. Father Alex was treated for COVID-19 at The Ottawa Hospital last year.

As tears well up in his eyes, and he stops briefly to regain his emotions, Fr. Michalopulos says it’s sometimes good to be on the other side, to feel what others are going through. “I have a lot more respect for the medical professionals. I always had, but this time it was at a different level. They were there for me.”

He adds, “They held my hand. They showed compassion. They showed a lot of respect and love. I will be forever grateful for them.” It was that special touch, and care from complete strangers that helped give Fr. Michalopulos the strength to get back home to the family he loves and eventually to his parish family.

“I will always remember how I was treated by strangers. I admire them and will always pray for them.”

In an effort to do his part to help, Fr. Michalopulos is participating in research that is investigating the long-term effects of the virus. Drs. Sara J. Abdallah and Juthaporn Cowan are checking in on participating patients, like Fr. Michalopulos at three, six, and 12 months after they were initially infected.

He explains why it was important to become involved. “I thought it would be useful to help researchers understand the effects and lingering effects of the virus in gathering information to help create a vaccine and or a cure.”

Giving back through research

Researchers at our hospital have been deeply involved in the global race to combat COVID-19. They are exploring more than 60 research projects to support the worldwide effort to find better ways to treat and prevent the virus. A number of those projects have been supported by donors through the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, including a world-first clinical trial, led by Dr. Rebecca Auer, which aims to protect cancer patients from COVID-19 – to date, 22 patients, have been recruited.

Dr. John Bell in lab
Dr. John Bell is a senior scientist in the cancer therapeutics program at The Ottawa Hospital.
Dr. Carolina llkow in lab
Dr. Carolina Ilkow is a scientist in the cancer therapeutics program at The Ottawa Hospital.

Drs. John Bell and Carolina Ilkow are harnessing their expertise in making cancer-fighting viruses to develop a vaccine against COVID-19 — a made-in-Canada solution. In addition, our Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre is helping to manufacture three other COVID vaccines for clinical trials, as well as an experimental stem cell therapy.

Pushing forward despite a challenging year

As research continues to produce more answers and vaccines continue to roll out across the region, the team caring for patients remains steadfast. “The vaccine brings us hope. I remember how exciting it was when I received mine,” says Kristine.

A nurse at The Ottawa Hospital administers the COVID vaccine to a healthcare worker.
Venus Lucero, a nurse at The Ottawa Hospital, administers the hospital’s first dose of the COVID vaccine.

There is hope someday they can start getting back to the way things used to be, or at least close to it. For Kristine, it would mean not worrying about hugging her children when she comes home from work.

For Leah, it would mean letting her mind shut off for the first time in a year – and truly relax. For Vanessa, it would mean the excitement of spending time with her fiancé, Colin – also a frontline worker – as they’ve been isolated from each other during the pandemic. Despite the challenges, each one takes great pride in the care they’ve been able to provide during these unprecedented times. And how they also helped each other along the way.

Check out Pulse Podcast to hear more about a year of working on the COVID floor.

The Ottawa Hospital is a leading academic health, research, and learning hospital proudly affiliated with the University of Ottawa.

Donate today in support our hospital and help us be ready for the most challenging cases at any time.

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Combating
COVID-19

We’re stronger together

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we work and how we live. But apart doesn’t have to mean alone. Together, and with the support of the community, we are working to keep each other safe.

As the pandemic continues to evolve, our healthcare workers and researchers gear up each day, standing alongside our patients and making important breakthroughs in the fight against COVID-19.

Tim Kluke, The Ottawa Hospital Foundation

“We are incredibly grateful to our healthcare workers and researchers who have been working tirelessly for the past year to provide exceptional care and treatments to our patients and our community.”
– Tim Kluke, President and CEO, The Ottawa Hospital Foundation

The COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund at The Ottawa Hospital

Over the past year, the community has generously donated more than $2 million to the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund. These donations have been put to work quickly at The Ottawa Hospital, helping to fast-track more than 60 innovative projects looking to address the impact of the virus on our patients, the community, and our world.

Round 1 of Funding

Nine initial COVID-19 research projects receive donor support to explore topics such as how plasma from recovered patients could help future patients and how vulnerable populations are affected by the virus.

Round 2 of Funding

Community generosity provides seed funding for a second round of COVID-19 research projects that range from harnessing cancer-fighting viruses to exploring how the immune response to COVID-19 can differ between patients.

Round 3 of Funding

From hyperbaric oxygen to prototypes for PPE and harnessing the power of data, the latest round of COVID-19 projects has now received funding thanks to donor support.

Latest Projects Funded

Amidst exciting new updates from earlier rounds of funding, new projects are now getting underway.

The Ottawa Hospital’s COVID-19 Response

Front-line healthcare worker

A year in review: a timeline of how far we’ve come over the past year.

COVID Assessment Centre_The Ottawa Hospital_045 (1)

Find out how the original COVID-19 Assessment Centre was created in only three days and what it’s like today.

Fr. Alex in Church

Read Fr. Alex Michalopoulos’ story of overcoming COVID-19 in our care.

Cameron Love at the Mayor’s Breakfast

On April 29, 2021, Cameron Love, President & CEO of The Ottawa Hospital, joined the Mayor’s Breakfast to speak about The Ottawa Hospital’s COVID-19 response over the last year, and learnings from the global pandemic.

Video courtesy of Rogers.

Vaccine Development and Manufacturing

With several vaccines now approved and being administered in many countries around the world, some might wonder why researchers at The Ottawa Hospital are continuing to create and test potential new vaccine candidates.

Do you have questions about the COVID-19 vaccines?

Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe? What is herd immunity and when would we achieve it? Why do some vaccines need two doses?

For answers to these questions and more, read our Q&A with Dr. Kumanan Wilson.

Promising new projects thanks to donor-supported COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund

More than $2 million has been generously donated by the community in support of our COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund. Below are the latest projects that have received seed funding thanks to donor support.

Amidst exciting new updates from research projects supported in earlier rounds of funding from the COVID-19 Emergency Respond Fund, two new projects are now getting underway. Thanks to donor support from our generous community, more than 50 research and innovation projects are in progress and are helping us better understand and address COVID-19.

COVID-19 and rheumatoid arthritis: using big data to
understand risks and improve treatments

Dr. Sibel Aydin, The Ottawa Hospital
Dr. Sibel Aydin

With more than 30 million infections worldwide, researchers now have access to massive amounts of data to try to understand why COVID-19 causes severe illness in some people and mild or no symptoms in others. Factors like age, hypertension and obesity clearly play a role, and it is possible that certain immune disorders may also have an impact. Dr. Sibel Aydin is using a big data approach to determine if people with the immune disorder rheumatoid arthritis are more or less likely to get severely ill with COVID-19. Harnessing data from ICES and the Ontario Best Practice Research Initiative, her team will also look at the impact of immune-suppressing drugs that are commonly used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. This research could improve our global understanding of COVID-19 and lead to better treatments for people with both COVID-19 and rheumatoid arthritis.

Understanding the impact of COVID-19 on women

Dr. Innie Chen, The Ottawa Hospital
Dr. Innie Chen

Dr. Innie Chen is leading research to understand the impact of COVID-19 on women, thanks to seed funding through the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund.

COVID-19 is affecting women in many ways, from increased caregiving responsibilities to increased risks of domestic violence. Women are also more likely to work in healthcare jobs that have a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19. Finally, women may be negatively affected by delays in access to health care associated with COVID-19.

Dr. Chen has assembled an internationally recognized team that will help understand and address this challenge by developing core outcomes for women’s health equity during Covid-19. The researchers will perform a systematic search of the literature and assemble a multidisciplinary panel of community patient partners and healthcare workers to identify the key issues in women’s health during the pandemic. This information will lead to evidence-based strategies to mitigate gender-based impacts and help improve the lives of women during the pandemic.

Keep checking back to read updates on these and other COVID-19 research and innovation projects supported by donors.

The Ottawa Hospital is a leading academic health and research centre and teaching hospital proudly affiliated with the University of Ottawa.

Donate today to support the groundbreaking research and innovation projects of tomorrow.

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Long-time volunteer finds himself in a new role during the global pandemic

When COVID-19 hit Ottawa, Mike Soloski knew he needed to act. After volunteering in the Cancer Centre post-retirement, Mike was inspired to take on the new and challenging post on the frontlines as a COVID-19 screener.

For many, retirement is a milestone allowing them to finally relax and not worry about the stresses of work again. However, for Mike Soloski, that statement could not be further from the truth. At 61-years-old, Mike, a selfless go-getter, was a volunteer with The Ottawa Hospital when COVID-19 struck — a time when many volunteers were sent home as a safety precaution to limit exposure to this infectious disease. But Mike knew he needed to act. He decided to step out of retirement, and out of his volunteer role, and onto the frontlines of the pandemic as a COVID-19 screener.

Stepping out of retirement and onto the frontlines

Mike Soloski with his grandchild
Mike Soloski with his grandchild.

After retiring as a bank manager, this father and grandfather found himself wanting to volunteer outside of the fields of fundraising and finance. Having lost his wife to cancer in 2014, volunteering at the Cancer Centre at The Ottawa Hospital, where his wife had received such compassionate care during her illness, was a natural choice.

Volunteering gave Mike a sense of purpose and he enjoyed giving back to his community in a new way. In 2019, he welcomed another new adventure into his life when he remarried. Mike and his new wife, Leona, brought together their respective families, including their daughters and grandchildren, into a new blended family.

“I knew I was ready for something challenging and out of my comfort zone, and I couldn’t picture myself sitting at home and doing nothing.” – Mike Soloski.

Then, in early 2020, COVID-19 arrived in Ottawa. Volunteers were sent home from the hospital and Mike realized that he needed to help in some way. “I knew I was ready for something challenging and out of my comfort zone, and I couldn’t picture myself sitting at home and doing nothing,” said Mike. His hard work and dedication as a volunteer had been noticed and he was hired on as a COVID-19 screener. Suddenly being thrust to the frontlines of a global pandemic most certainly fit the bill of being out of his comfort zone.

His most important role

Practically speaking, Mike’s daily COVID-19 responsibilities are ensuring that patients, visitors, and staff are properly screened before entering the hospital. He has been promoted to a supervisor where he provides support to the screening team. Most importantly for Mike, he wants to create a welcoming environment and takes great pride in conveying a positive attitude when interacting with patients, visitors, and staff whom he knows are facing a stressful time.

Mike Soloski, screener at The Ottawa Hospital
Mike Soloski, COVID-19 screener.

“I find it really rewarding to provide people with a sense of comfort, especially if it means melting away a patient’s nervousness, tension, and apprehensiveness.” – Mike Soloski.

As one of the first masked faces they see when entering the hospital, Mike prioritizes building that rapport and comfort for people approaching the screening table. “I find it really rewarding to provide people with a sense of comfort, especially if it means melting away a patient’s nervousness, tension, and apprehensiveness.”

Words of wisdom

While this new role was an unexpected challenge for Mike, he knows he’s where he needs to be. “You sometimes get this weird sense of what retirement is supposed to be – for me it is just a different type of busy. This work is very rewarding,” said Mike. While he would never have guessed this is how he might re-enter the workforce, he is grateful that he has been able to accomplish what he set out to back in 2016 – to help in any way he could. Mike’s words of wisdom for anyone contemplating volunteering with The Ottawa Hospital? “Just jump in and do it.”

Join Mike in giving back to The Ottawa Hospital by making a donation today!

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High-risk twin pregnancy during COVID-19 pandemic

An ultrasound revealing twins was the first of many surprises experienced by Meagan and her family throughout her pregnancy — including prolonged hospitalization during the worst public-health crisis the world has seen in 100 years.

For an update on Meagan’s story, click here, to see how the family is doing.

At just 28-weeks pregnant and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Meagan Ann Gordon was admitted to the hospital with placenta previa. Alone and unable to see her husband and young daughter, she began an unexpected journey of resilience, optimism, and compassionate care in the midst of an uncertain time.

Meagan's UltrasoundThe beginning of a special journey

Just a few weeks into her pregnancy, Meagan Ann Gordon went for her first ultrasound appointment. Her husband, Kyle Gordon, was out of town and unable to join her. Having already gone through a full-term and healthy pregnancy together with their first child, Maeve, Meagan felt confident going to this appointment on her own. After all, what could be so different this time around?

What her appointment revealed was an unexpected and happy surprise — twin boys! This was the beginning of many unanticipated turns Meagan would experience throughout the duration of her pregnancy — including the emergence of a novel coronavirus that would alter life in previously unimaginable ways.

Pregnant with twins

Pregnancy comes with so much anticipation and excitement. When Meagan discovered she was having twins, she was elated. Aside from standard nausea and mild discomfort, her pregnancy was going smoothly — up until midway through her second trimester. Her doctor observed that her placenta, shared by both babies, was covering her cervix — Meagan had placenta previa. This can cause significant bleeding throughout pregnancy — a reality that Meagan was all too familiar with. She experienced several bleeds that required her to stay at the hospital overnight so that her doctors could monitor her health and that of her babies. But at just 28 weeks pregnant on April 22, 2020, she experienced a bleed so large they called an ambulance. She was once again admitted to the hospital, where her care team felt she needed to stay until delivery.

Megan Gordon's sidewalk message
On Mother’s Day, Kyle and daughter Maeve, visited Meagan outside of her hospital window, leaving her a sweet message to remind her how much they love her.

For five long weeks Meagan remained at the hospital, confined to her room, away from her husband and her three-year-old daughter, Maeve. Due to the emergence of COVID-19, like many hospitals across the globe, The Ottawa Hospital has been under visitor restrictions, preventing Meagan from receiving any visitors or being able to leave the unit to visit loved ones. Pleasures that she might normally experience had she been at home, like having a baby shower with her family and friends or decorating the nursery, she missed out on.

“Being away from my husband and my daughter was really hard,” said Meagan. “But I wasn’t alone. I was with my boys and I was doing what was best for them and their health. I was also being so well taken care of by the nursing staff. They knew how hard it was to be away from my family, especially on Mother’s Day and they went above and beyond to be kind and supportive.”

Throughout the duration of her stay, nurses treated Meagan more like a friend than just a patient, helping to bring a level of comfort in a time when she was so isolated from her own friends and family. “They stopped by my room even if they weren’t assigned to me on their shift just to say hello and to chat. They shared stories of their life outside of the hospital walls and met my family over FaceTime. They even treated us to donuts and coffees. But it’s less about what the nurses “did” and more about how they made me feel,” Meagan explained.

Emergence of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped how patients are cared for across the country and the world. More than 1,700 individuals have tested positive for COVID-19 in Ottawa, many of whom have received treatment at The Ottawa Hospital. As a result, even the most well-thought-out birthing plans are being adjusted.

Given Meagan’s unresolved placenta previa, she required a scheduled cesarean delivery at 34 weeks pregnant which would prevent her from going into labour naturally. Her boys were to arrive on June 3, 2020, but they had other plans. At 2 a.m. on May 25, 2020 Meagan’s water broke. Her husband rushed to the hospital just in time to see Meagan for a few moments before Teddy and Rowan were delivered by emergency cesarean. “It was a huge relief to see him before I went into surgery,” said Meagan.

Up until that moment, Kyle had only seen Meagan’s growing belly over FaceTime. When he walked in the room, and saw Meagan for the first time, he gave her a big hug before putting his hands on her belly. Feelings of pride and excitement washed over him. Kyle was in awe at how much her belly had grown since he last saw her in April. Meagan remembers their last hug before she went into the operating room. One of the twins kicked him in the chest. “It was a big moment for us because we often talked about how he might not get to feel the twins moving again, knowing I was there in the hospital until I delivered,” explained Meagan.

Meagan with Teddy and Rowan
Meagan Gordon with Teddy and Rowan.

Due to COVID-19 protocols set in place to protect patients and hospital staff, Kyle wasn’t allowed in the operation room throughout her delivery. But he was by her side over FaceTime, supporting her every step of the way. “It was definitely a very unique experience. I was happy to be able to see Meagan and talk with her and experience the births from her perspective while it was actually going on. I just kept telling her how strong she was… And being able to hear the boys cry for the first time over FaceTime,” said Kyle, “it was as good as we could possibly hope for given the current circumstances.”

Meagan’s team of nurses and doctors even went so far as to take photos and video footage of Teddy and Rowan’s first breath. The boys were then admitted to the NICU. While Meagan recovered, Kyle was able to meet the boys and get a report on their health. Shortly after, he was back by Meagan’s side where they reminisced about the delivery and marvelled in the fact that life had changed so quickly. A few hours later, Meagan was out of the recovery room and well enough to visit her boys in the NICU for the very first time. “It was the beginning of the next stage of our adventure – the NICU journey!” exclaimed Meagan.

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)

For the first three days, Teddy and Rowan remained in the NICU at the General Campus. While recovering from the cesarean in hospital, Meagan was finally able to have Kyle stay with her. This allowed both of them to visit their sons in the NICU frequently. With each visit they learned how to care for their premature babies, who were born at just 5lbs 2oz, including learning how to bathe them and change their diapers. “The staff was great about welcoming us into the NICU, giving us full updates and really involving us as part of the care team for the boys, which was different than caring for our full-term daughter,” says Meagan. “I found it was a very supportive environment.”

Though the twins were healthy and growing, measuring the size of a head of lettuce right before her cesarean at 33 weeks, Meagan knew her mandated cesarean would take place before the twins reached full term. This meant that her boys would stay in the NICU once born until they had grown enough to safely go home.

 

Home at last

After spending just over two weeks in the NICU, Teddy and Rowan were healthy and strong enough to go home where they could finally meet their older sister for the first time. “We’re settling really well into our new norm as a family of five,” said Meagan.

“We’re just so grateful for the incredible care we received as a family. Everyone we encountered was so compassionate and kind. It made a hard situation one that I will look back on fondly.”  – Meagan Ann Gordon

Ever grateful for the care she received at The Ottawa Hospital, Meagan is quick to express how thankful she is for her doctor, Dr. Karen Fung-Kee-Fung, Maternal Fetal Medicine Specialist at The Ottawa Hospital, Dr. Samaan Werlang, who delivered her boys, and each nurse that took part in her care and that of her boys.

Almost one year later

Teddy and Rowan Gordon
Teddy and Rowan.

Twins Rowan and Teddy are almost 10 months old and it’s certainly not the maternity leave Meagan had expected — but neither was her pregnancy.

The days can be long and feel repetitive during the winter of a global pandemic but there’s been lots to celebrate. While the boys are identical, they have very different personalities according to their mom. “Rowan is very giggly and chatty, while Teddy is very sweet and cuddly.” Meagan adds, “Rowan’s first word was ‘dada’ so I’m working hard to make sure Teddy’s first word is ‘mama’. Big sister Maeve is incredibly loving and such a good helper.”

While Meagan was a patient in our hospital during those early days of COVID-19, she’s now helping our researchers learn more about the impact of the virus as a Patient Partner. Her perspectives on pregnancy, labour, delivery, and postpartum care during the pandemic can help researchers ensure their studies are relevant to this patient population, and more likely to improve care.

As Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors of Ottawa Victim Services (OVS), Meagan, was a good fit for this research, led by the OMNI Research Group, as it explores sexual and gender-based violence, with a focus on pregnant and postpartum populations. More recently, it has evolved to examine how restrictions related to COVID-19 affect how survivors access care.

Meagan says the timing was right to get involved, “Honestly, the stars just kind of aligned. They were looking for someone during my time as an inpatient. I bring the patient lens, but also have experience from my involvement with OVS. I also have a background in research so that also made me a good fit.” The Ottawa Hospital is leading the way in partnering with patients like Meagan on research projects.

While Meagan takes time to work on the research, together, the family plans to spend the final months of winter enjoying the outdoor rink built by Kyle, who is teaching Maeve to skate. They are grateful to be healthy and spending time together in the safety of home.

Listen to Pulse Podcast, where Meagan Gordon reveals what it’s like to be pregnant with twins during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Donate today so that we can continue to provide patients like Meagan exceptional care during times of great need.

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Recovered COVID-19 patient will always be grateful for his extraordinary care

Diagnosed with COVID-19, Fr. Alex Michalopulos remembers the fear he felt battling the virus while in hospital. He’ll be forever grateful for the compassionate care he received at The Ottawa Hospital. 

As someone who has dedicated his life to being at the bedside of others during an illness, Fr. Alex Michalopulos now has a better understanding of that fear others faced after his recent COVID-19 diagnosis in April. Today, as a recovered patient of COVID-19, Fr. Michalopulos says the experience was a real eye-opener for him and he’s grateful for the compassionate care he received.

Condition deteriorates

The Michalopulos family
Fr. Michalopulos with his wife and three daughters.

The Greek Orthodox priest wasn’t feeling well at the end of March—a busy time for this church community. By April 5, he was diagnosed with COVID-19 and he self-isolated at home. Over time, his condition worsened with extreme headaches, and a progressing cough, resulting in respiratory issues and fever. He was admitted to The Ottawa Hospital, General Campus on April 9.

The gravity of this illness and the resulting discussions became serious very quickly. “There was a discussion about the ventilator that could be needed at some point for my care. DNR consent (Do Not Resuscitate) was discussed and how I should talk with my family about it,” remembers Fr. Michalopulos.

The 61-year-old was transferred from the Emergency Department to a floor where a specialized team could care for him. “It was very scary to go through this experience. I had no idea how this was going to evolve. Doctors and nurses coming in dressed like you see in the movies with their PPE. Not being able to breathe—coughing continuously, headaches—at times I just wanted to die they were so bad.”

Dr. Samantha Halman
Dr. Samantha Halman (left) keeping patients connected to families through technology.

Extraordinary care

While Fr. Michalopulos recalls the fear he felt as he fought for his life, he’s grateful his condition never deteriorated to the point where he needed to be on a ventilator. That gratitude also extends to each person who helped care for him while he was at The Ottawa Hospital. “The doctors, nurses, and cleaning staff were amazing. I take my hat off to them.”

It wasn’t easy to be going through this illness without his wife and daughters by his side. With visitor restrictions in place to protect patients and staff, he could only connect with his family by phone. He adds his care team put him at ease during the times he was in extreme pain.

“All those medical professionals were so caring—it was reassuring that I was in good hands. They put me at ease.”
– Fr. Alex Michalopulos

Dr. Samantha Halman, General Internal Medicine Specialist, has been caring for COVID-19 patients since the arrival of the virus in March. She says for patients like Fr. Michalopulos and others, her medical team served a dual role.

“It wasn’t always about the medical care when treating our COVID patients. Sometimes it was about spending that extra five minutes with a patient. It was important for people to know we were there for them not only as patients but as people.”
– Dr. Samantha Halman

Being on the frontlines during these unprecedented times has been challenging at times. While Dr. Halman never imagined working through something like this, she’s proud of the efforts of her colleagues at The Ottawa Hospital. “This pandemic exemplifies why we went into healthcare – we want to help people.”

It was compassionate care coupled with his faith, that carried him through. He admits it was an eye-opening experience. While Fr. Michalopulos had minor surgery in the past, it wasn’t until his COVID-19 diagnosis and extraordinary care he received at The Ottawa Hospital that he realized how fortunate he is to have this caliber of healthcare in our community. “I was so grateful to all of them for the care; I had pizza delivered to staff when I was leaving.”

Thankful to be on the mend

Fr. Michalopulos was released from hospital on April 19 — Greek Orthodox Easter. As he reflects on his time in hospital, he couldn’t be more thankful to be on the road to recovery today. “For the times when the doctors or nurses came in to see me, for the times when I was reassured—I’m thankful I was well taken care of with love and respect for human life.”

As tears well up in his eyes, and he stops briefly to regain his emotions, Fr. Michalopulos says it’s sometimes good to be on the other side, to feel what others are going through. “I have a lot more respect for the medical professionals. I always had, but this time it was at a different level. They were there for me.

Fr. Michalopulos in Church
Fr. Michalopulos at the Greek Orthodox Church.

“They held my hand. They showed compassion. They showed a lot of respect and love. I will be forever grateful for them.” – Fr. Alex Michalopulos

It was that special touch, and care from complete strangers that helped give Fr. Michalopulos the strength to get back home to the family he loves and eventually to his parish family.

“I will always remember how I was treated by strangers. I admire them and will always pray for them.”

Research update

Researchers at The Ottawa Hospital are exploring more than 60 research projects to support the world-wide effort to find better ways to treat and prevent COVID-19.  A number of those projects have been supported by the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, including a study led by Drs. Sara J. Abdallah and Juthaporn Cowan. Their research is looking into the long-term effects of the virus. They will be checking in on participating patients at three, six, and 12 months after they were initially infected. Survivors of mild, moderate, and severe infections will be included in the study and researchers will assess the healthcare resources, such as visits to the Emergency Department, hospitalizations, and medications that were used by survivors. Results will help improve care for COVID-19 survivors and optimize how healthcare resources are used.

Fr. Michalopulos agreed to take part in this study. “I thought it would be useful to help researchers understand the effects and lingering effects of the virus in gathering information to help create a vaccine and or a cure.”

He’s grateful to have survived the virus, and this is another way to show his appreciation for the care he received while also helping others. “I also feel it is important to participate as my results will add to the information used to make gains in fighting this contagious and aggressive virus that has changed the society all over the world as we know it.”

Listen to the latest episode of Pulse Podcast, where we go behind the scenes with Dr. Halman and hear what it’s like on one of the units at the Ottawa Hospital caring for COVID-19 patients.

Your donation today will help create better healthcare tomorrow for patients, like Fr. Michalopulos, when they need The Ottawa Hospital.

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Innovative 3D printing sets The Ottawa Hospital apart

The Ottawa Hospital’s 3D Printing Laboratory takes an innovative approach and develops PPE to help safeguard colleagues who care for patients critically ill from COVID-19.

The Ottawa Hospital was the first Canadian hospital to have an integrated medical 3D printing program for pre-surgical planning and education. Since the arrival of the program, made possible by the generosity of a donor, The Ottawa Hospital has been a leader in innovative advancements in this area. Doctors have been able to harness 3D printing to create detailed anatomical plans before a patient arrives in the operating room, reducing the need for invasive surgery, and ultimately improving outcomes with a significant cost savings. It’s this program, which positions the hospital’s Medical Imaging Department at the forefront of international developments in radiology and is revolutionizing the way surgery is done. It’s this kind of forward thinking that allowed The Ottawa Hospital to be ready when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Ottawa, mobilizing innovative 3D printing technology at the hospital, in local companies, and out in the community, to quickly create PPE for front-line workers.

Ready to face the pandemic

Dr. Adnan Sheikh
Dr. Adnan Sheikh holding a 3D printed replica

As members of The Ottawa Hospital’s 3D Printing Laboratory watched how COVID-19 was spreading throughout China and Europe, they quickly became aware of how some parts of the world were facing dramatic equipment shortages. That’s when Dr. Adnan Sheikh, Director of the 3D Printing Laboratory, and his team started to think creatively about how they could help their colleagues be better prepared for the pandemic.

“I reached out to Dr. David Neilipovitz, Department Head of Critical Care, to offer help and we identified many areas where the 3D Printing Lab would be in the best position to help in case of any shortages,” says Dr. Sheikh.

From that conversation, the 3D printing team started developing several different designs of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) to help safeguard colleagues who would be caring for patients critically ill from COVID-19.

“We were able to create oxygen tents, goggles, tube connectors, intubation shields, and face shields which are a key piece of equipment,” explains Dr. Sheikh.

These transformational advancements wouldn’t have been possible just five years ago.

“This is an innovative technology. It’s really evolved and it’s changing the way we practice medicine.” — Dr. Adnan Sheikh

Testing the prototypes

Once the 3D lab began producing pieces of PPE, each one needed to be tested. Dr. Neilipovitz played a key role in testing these designs in advance, allowing The Ottawa Hospital to be innovative during challenging times.

“Thanks to our 3D team, they allowed us to think outside the box and quickly find us solutions to be ready to help our patients.” — Dr. David Neilipovitz

In fact, Dr. Neilipovitz and his team in the ICU were instrumental in helping the 3D team refine and test prototypes to ensure they were up to the task. A crucial step in the process and one that required patience, expertise, and an open mind.

A perfect example was an intubation shield designed with the help of Leonard Lapensee, an Imaging Technician, who works at the hospital. The ICU team tested this prototype; they modified it and it was later mass-produced. This is now used in the ICU, operating rooms, and emergency rooms.

Dr. Neilipovitz trying on a prototype mask
Dr. David Neilipovitz trying on a prototype mask

 

3D face mask with valve
The end result which includes a 3D-printed blue valve at the top

 

Community support takes The Ottawa Hospital to the next level

Once they received the green light for the 3D equipment, The Ottawa Hospital was then able to produce as much quantity as the lab could handle. However, the collaboration went beyond the lab and even the walls of The Ottawa Hospital.

“We knew we had limited resources and were aware that we wouldn’t be able to manufacture and print everything in the lab. So, we prototyped these devices and pushed them out for production at different sites at The Ottawa Hospital. We also reached out to volunteers in the community who had offered to help.”

There was a collaboration with the University of Ottawa Makerspace led by engineering professor Dr. Hanan Anis and her team to help with the design and prototyping process. It didn’t stop there—the community support continued to grow to help produce PPE such as face shields, and even headbands.

A good example of that support was when Ottawa resident Marc Beal stepped forward to lend a hand. “Due to resource constraints, we needed help printing headbands for face shields. Marc and his friends, who have home 3D printers, approached us and printed these headbands for us,” explains Dr. Sheikh.

Marc Beal working at home
Marc Beal working at home on his 3D printer

 

Dr. David Neilipovitz with an oxygen hood
Dr. David Neilipovitz testing an oxygen hood

 

Another key piece of equipment was the oxygen helmet, which is used with patients who require a constant flow of oxygen. Once again, the 3D lab was able to prototype it. “We tested it and once we were convinced that it would help our patients, we reached out to Darcy Cullum at Ottawa Mould Craft, who was happy to work with us.”

Ultimately, that community support allowed The Ottawa Hospital to ensure staff have the PPE needed to keep both care team members and patients safe during the peak of COVID-19.

The best part of all, notes Dr. Sheikh, is that this all came about organically. “Colleagues helping colleagues—having an open mind and being willing to integrate what we can contribute. That included assessing the gear and testing it out to make it reality. I feel privileged to live in Ottawa; our community support system is the best in the world!”

COVID-19 may have turned the world upside down but it was a forward-thinking donor in 2016, who allowed The Ottawa Hospital to have the technology in place to be ready when our patients needed us most.

“With COVID-19 everything has changed. 3D printing now has a different role in the medical world.” — Dr. Adnan Sheikh

The Ottawa Hospital is a leading academic health, research and learning hospital proudly affiliated with the University of Ottawa.

Donate today to ensure The Ottawa Hospital is equipped with the most advanced technology when patients need it most.

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World-first clinical trial aims to protect cancer patients from COVID-19

Our researchers are leading the way in a world-first clinical trial to protect vulnerable cancer patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Surgeon-scientist Dr. Rebecca Auer is leading a world-first clinical trial that she hopes will protect cancer patients from COVID-19 and other respiratory infections by boosting their immune systems during treatment. The trial was funded in part thanks to donor support to the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund.

“A cancer diagnosis is scary at the best of times, but the pandemic has made it even worse,” said Dr. Auer, surgical oncologist and Director of Cancer Research at The Ottawa Hospital and associate professor at the University of Ottawa. “Cancer patients have weakened immune systems, which makes them more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19.”

At best, a severe infection could delay a patient’s cancer treatment. At worst, it could kill them.

Patients receiving cancer treatments are the most at risk because the treatments further weaken their immune system. This at-risk population is quite large – over 90,000 people received radiotherapy or chemotherapy treatments in Ontario alone in 2019.

Boosting the immune system during treatment

Dr. Auer and her team at The Ottawa Hospital came up with the idea of testing whether boosting cancer patients’ immune systems during their treatment could help prevent COVID-19 and other respiratory infections. In collaboration with scientists at the Ontario Institute of Cancer Research, they explored an immune-stimulator called IMM-101. Then she worked with Canadian Cancer Trials Group at Queen’s University to design and run the clinical trial at nine cancer centres across Canada.

The researchers will recruit 1,500 patients currently receiving cancer treatment to this clinical trial. Patients will be randomly assigned to receive either regular care, or regular care plus IMM-101. This preparation of harmless heat-killed bacteria had been developed as an anti-cancer therapy because it stimulates the immune system. It has already been safely given to 300 advanced cancer patients in earlier trials.

Training the innate immune system

This trial takes advantage of a lesser-known aspect of the immune system — innate immunity. This first-response arm of the immune system plays a key role in detecting viruses.

Innate immune cells recognize features that are common to many viruses, allowing them to attack viruses the body has never seen before. This is different from the adaptive immune system, which only recognizes viruses the body has already encountered through prior infection or through a vaccine.

The research team hopes that because the IMM-101 treatment can train the patient’s innate immune system, it will help to fight off the COVID-19 virus, in addition to other viruses that cause respiratory infections.

Dr. Rebecca Auer speaks with a colleague
Dr. Rebecca Auer speaks with a colleague (Photo taken before COVID-19)

“There is good data to suggest that the reason some people have no symptoms from COVID-19 while others get very sick is their innate immune system’s ability to respond early and quickly to the virus. This made us consider whether we could use an innate immune booster to prevent COVID-19 infections.” – Dr. Rebecca Auer

Based on data from other immune stimulators, it’s likely that this immune-boost would be temporary. But researchers hope it will last long enough to get a patient through their cancer treatments. Once the treatments have ended, the patient’s immune system would return to its regular strength and be strong enough to fight off viruses on its own.

Protection from more than COVID-19

The advantage of this immune-boosting approach is that it could help cancer patients fight off all sorts of viruses while they are undergoing cancer treatments and are at their most vulnerable.

“The treatment we’re using trains the immune system to do a better job fighting the next viral infection,” said Dr. Auer. “It’s not specific to COVID-19, but actually applies to any viral respiratory illness.”

If successful, IMM-101 could also offer benefits to people with other chronic illnesses or compromised immune systems who are similarly at a heightened risk of serious outcomes from COVID-19. It could also help protect people with cancer from other respiratory infections like the seasonal flu.

Preparing for future pandemics

“In 20 years, we’ve had three coronavirus epidemics or pandemics –SARS, MERS and COVID-19—so it’s likely that we’ll see another,” said Dr. Auer.

“We think harnessing innate immunity could be one of our best weapons for fighting COVID-19 and could be easily adapted to tackle future pandemics.” – Dr. Rebecca Auer

Donate today to support promising research and clinical trials like this one.

Cancer patients undergoing active treatment who are interested in participating in this trial should speak with their cancer specialist.

The Ottawa Hospital Foundation provided seed funding for this project through the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, funded by generous donors in the community. Read about other projects that have received funding thanks to donor support and are making a difference in the fight against COVID-19.

Additional funding and in-kind support for this trial have been provided by the Canadian Cancer Society, BioCanRx, the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, The Ottawa Hospital Academic Medical Organization, ATGen NK Max Canada, and Immodulon Therapeutics, the manufacturer of IMM-101.

The Ottawa Hospital is a leading academic health, research and learning hospital proudly affiliated with the University of Ottawa.

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Care, innovation, and research projects underway thanks to latest round of COVID-19 donor support.

After only a few short weeks, $1.7M has been donated to support our hospital’s fight against COVID-19. This incredible generosity from our community has allowed us to provide seed funding for 21 different care, innovation, and research projects.

In the latest round of funding from the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, supported entirely through the generosity of donors, new research, innovation, and care projects have been approved for seed funding and will now get underway. These vital projects are the latest initiatives chosen out of more than 160 ideas submitted to the COVID-19 Ideas Hub.

The Hub was created by the hospital to allow any staff, regardless of background or role, to submit innovative ideas to combat COVID-19. Teams of experts evaluated the feasibility, available funding, and whether the idea could positively impact The Ottawa Hospital, patients, and the community.

The following care, innovation, and research projects have been selected for seed funding which is made possible by the many generous donors who supported the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund – thank you to all who have donated.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy for COVID pneumonia

Dr. Boet 
Dr. Sylvain Boet

When COVID-19 takes over the lungs, it can feel like you can’t get enough air into your body, no matter how much you gasp. When this kind of COVID pneumonia sets in, the only option is to hook the patient up to an artificial breathing machine (a ventilator), with a tube down the throat (intubation). Unfortunately, only half of people with COVID-19 who require intubation will survive after this invasive, last-resort treatment. Dr. Sylvain Boet and his colleagues believe that hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) may be able to help some people with COVID-19 pneumonia avoid mechanical ventilation and increase survival. HBOT involves placing patients in a pressurized room or chamber so they can breathe 100% oxygen. It can increase the delivery of oxygen to tissues by 10 to 20-fold and can also boost the immune system and help the body fight infections. Small studies in other countries suggest that HBOT may help treat patients with COVID-19 pneumonia, but more research is needed. Dr. Boet and his team will initiate a study of HBOT in people with COVID-19 pneumonia at The Ottawa Hospital, and will work with colleagues around the world to explore the possibility of expanding the trial to other hospitals.

“Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is safe and non-invasive, and our aim is to help COVID-19 patients with pneumonia avoid the need for an artificial breathing machine.”
– Dr. Sylvain Boet, scientist and anesthesiologist at The Ottawa Hospital

UPDATE:
Dr. Boet has assembled a team of national and international experts in hyperbaric oxygen therapy and has carried out a systematic review and a media appearance in support of the study. His team has secured approval from Health Canada and Clinical Trials Ontario and recently applied for over $1.2 million in funding for the study. Funding from the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund provided seed funding for this research project.

Innovative prototypes to protect our people

Developing innovative solutions to address staff safety is critical during this pandemic. It is vital that our people have the best tools to support them for the duration of the crisis. This initiative will use seed funding to support the development and testing of prototypes for priority Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), devices, and supplies to support patient care and staff safety.

Some of the projects supported by this initiative will look at developing, piloting and evaluating equipment like a helmet-based ventilation system for patients in respiratory distress, 3D printed custom-fit sterilizable masks and glideoscope blades for fast intubation, and producing N100 masks for Operating Room staff. It will also look at evaluating barrier methods such as a negative pressure COVID box to improve the safety of aerosol-generating medical procedures (such as intubation or suction), and at creating virtual reality educational videos for safe practices in clinical settings, including various treatment scenarios and how to safely put on and remove PPE.

Dr. Castellucci
Dr. Lana Castellucci

Preventing dangerous blood clots in COVID-19 patients

Drs. Marc Carrier, Lana Castellucci and colleagues are contributing to an international clinical trial  to find out whether a high dose of blood thinner can prevent dangerous blood clots in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. About 60 percent of these patients develop blood clots, which can be deadly if they travel to the lungs. Not only can blood thinners prevent clots, there is some evidence that they may also alter the course of a COVID-19 infection by interfering with the ability of the virus to latch onto and invade human cells. Patients hospitalized with COVID-19 already receive a low dose of blood thinner as part of their normal care. The researchers will test whether a higher dose can reduce death, transfer to intensive care or the need for mechanical ventilation. The team will also look at how the treatment affects blood clots and major bleeding. This study will immediately impact the clinical care of patients with severe COVID-19 in 13 sites across Canada as well as at sites in the United States and Europe.

“We know patients with COVID-19 are at higher risk of blood clots, which is why we are looking at ways to protect them,” – Dr. Lana Castellucci, associate scientist at The Ottawa Hospital

UPDATE:
The COVID-19 Emergency Fund has helped this team to participate in two blood thinner studies assessing different dosing of blood thinners in COVID-19 patients. To date, 22 patients have been recruited in the ATTACC trial and one in the RAPID COVID COAG trial, which has only recently been open for recruitment.

Leading the way to a common approach for testing strategies in the region

In order to enhance the efficiency of COVID-19 testing, more research is needed to better understand the various testing approaches available and in which settings (e.g. hospital-based or community-based) these testing approaches are most effective.

Currently, a variety of testing approaches are being investigated throughout the region by multiple healthcare groups.  Through this project, our hospital will assume a leadership role and create a team that will help to centralize and guide testing strategies adopted across the region.

Having this centralized oversight is especially important to ensuring the safety of healthcare workers, patients, and the public as procedures and surgeries resume.

The team will also develop predictive algorithms for determining the probability of COVID-19 prior to a test being administered and will streamline the use of innovative apps for contact tracing.

Data Dashboard_COVID Cases
A view of just some of the information a real-time active monitoring system can produce.

Using big data to find promising drugs for COVID-19

Dr. Derek MacFadden and his colleagues plan to identify promising drugs to treat COVID-19 by analyzing past data from 3,000 Ontario patients treated for other kinds of coronavirus infections between 2014 and 2018. Once the team identifies which drugs are associated with the best patient outcomes, they will use the same process to see how effective those drugs have been at treating patients with COVID-19. The drugs they identify in this screening process would then be tested in a lab to confirm their anti-viral activity against COVID-19. Drugs that pass this stage could potentially be used in future clinical trials for patients infected with or at risk of contracting COVID-19. Unlike most lab-based drug screening approaches, this big data approach has the benefit of seeing how drugs work in humans infected with the virus, and what dose is needed to be effective.

Dr. Derek MacFadden 
Dr. Derek MacFadden

“By looking at which drugs have been successful at treating past coronavirus infections, we can predict which ones are likely to work against COVID-19,” – Dr. Derek MacFadden, scientist at The Ottawa Hospital

UPDATE:
Researchers are finalizing their analysis, combing through large amounts of data. Once the analyses are finalized, the research team will be publishing their methods and results. The hope is that these results will be a guide for further research.

The Ottawa Hospital - Virtual Care

 

Optimizing the capabilities of virtual care

To help limit the spread of COVID-19 or any future widespread illness, while also avoiding disruption of care services, it will be essential to explore enhancements of the hospital’s virtual care offerings. With this project, a team will be assembled to evaluate the virtual care initiatives at The Ottawa Hospital.

This initiative will explore topics such as post-discharge virtual care following a surgery, virtual care for populations with chronic illness or disability, adapting ambulatory care to virtual visits, and looking at how virtual options could be used to provide support to our health partners in the community.

Thorough evaluation, including understanding the potential challenges and barriers from the perspective of patients and providers, will be key to determining the feasibility and sustainability of virtual care programs.

Enhancing patient care through data and analytics

Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been a significant demand for COVID-19 data to support a variety of work at the hospital including research efforts, quality improvement activities, and clinical care. This project will see the creation of a common data mart that leverages the data within Epic, the hospital’s digital health network. This will link data at the individual patient level to COVID-19 infection status, demographics, medical history, lab and medical imaging testing, and pharmacy orders.

This initiative will enable projects using data to look at a variety of topics from evaluating treatment protocols in ICU patients to predicting COVID-19 in certain populations. Ultimately, it will enhance the hospital’s ability to support high-quality patient care and our COVID-19 research agenda.

The Ottawa Hospital is a leading academic health and research centre and teaching hospital proudly affiliated with the University of Ottawa.

There is still work to do! Donate today to the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund to support our researchers, innovators, and care providers who are combatting this virus each day.

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Community generosity funds a second round of promising COVID-19 research projects

As funds continue to be donated, they will be put to work to support upcoming COVID-19 research, innovation, and patient care projects. Below are four of the latest research projects made possible thanks to the generosity of donors — keep checking back as new projects receive funding.

As our researchers move new research projects forward faster than ever in an effort to address COVID-19, donations to the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund continue to provide seed funding to get these vital projects off the ground. Below are some of the new and promising projects approved for support through the second round of funding. Kick-starting these projects would not have been possible without the support of our generous donors — thank you!

Dr. John Bell
Dr. Carolina Ilkow

 

Harnessing cancer-fighting viruses to develop a COVID-19 vaccine

Drs. Carolina Ilkow, John Bell and colleagues are harnessing their expertise in making oncolytic (cancer-fighting) viruses to develop a vaccine against COVID-19, in partnership with scientists and clinicians in Canada and around the world. One of the key things they’ve learned is that the best cancer-killing viruses also stimulate the body’s own immune system – in effect, training the immune cells to recognize and help attack the cancer cells.

They have developed a number of viruses that are very good at boosting the immune system and have already been tested safely in people. These viruses will be reengineered by splicing in key genes from the COVID-19 virus to create several candidate vaccines, which would train the body to mount an immune response against COVID-19. They expect this live vaccine will be particularly important for healthcare workers and vulnerable populations, including people with cancer. Once the vaccine is created, large quantities can be made in The Ottawa Hospital’s Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre.

“We know that people with cancer who get COVID-19 are much more likely to get severely ill, so we think that working on a vaccine is the best thing we can do right now to help cancer patients.”
– Dr. John Bell

UPDATE:
The research team has developed candidate vaccines and laboratory testing is going well. With funding, the team will be ready to do human clinical trials in the new year.

Creating a new mouse model to study COVID-19 lung disease

Drs. Manoj Lalu, Duncan Stewart and colleagues are working to develop a mouse model of COVID-19 that mimics the severe lung disease seen in humans.

The lack of good, accessible animal models of this disease is severely limiting research around the world. The COVID-19 virus doesn’t infect regular lab mice very well, and the virus is dangerous to work with because it is so contagious for humans.

Drs. Lalu are Stewart are working with Drs. Carolina Ilkow and John Bell, who are creating a novel hybrid virus that features a key protein from the COVID-19 virus (the spike protein) embedded into a well-studied and safe virus called vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV).

The team will test this hybrid virus in mice that have been genetically engineered to be more susceptible to COVID-19, to mimic the severe lung disease seen in humans.

To make sure the model is accurate, they will use sophisticated techniques to compare their findings in mice with findings from patients, focusing on effects on the lungs, blood and blood vessels. They will then use this model to test new therapies, including mesenchymal stromal cells.

Dr. Manoj Lalu

 

Dr. Duncan Stewart

 

UPDATE:
A novel hybrid virus (VSV-Cov2-S) has been manufactured by Dr. Ilkow’s lab with high quality and concentration to proceed with testing in our mouse model. Our experts have worked with the uOttawa Animal Care Committee and have successfully obtained ethics approval. Researchers began challenging ACE2 transgenic mice with the virus in December, controlling for time and dose, and assessing lung injury outcomes.

Dr. Shirley Mei

Studying the immune response of COVID-19 patients in the ICU

Why do some people get severely ill and die of COVID-19, while others experience only mild symptoms? Part of the answer may lie in how an individual’s immune system reacts (and sometimes over-reacts) to the COVID-19 virus. Dr. Shirley Mei and her intensive care research colleagues will study this in critically ill COVID-19 patients using the world’s most advanced “single-cell proteomics” technology.

This technology, called CyTOF, will allow the researchers to study up to 60 different biological factors all at the same time from one single cell. The researchers will create a multi-dimensional map of the immune response to COVID-19, showing how it changes over time and how it sometimes goes out of control.

The data will be shared with clinicians and researchers around the world, in order to improve treatment of COVID-19 and save lives.

UPDATE:
Patients participating in this research study will have blood samples taken for a period of 15 days after their enrollment and consent to participate. With approval from the research ethical board, researchers are in the process of recruiting patients into four arms of our study: septic patients in ICU (control cohort), COVID-19 patients in ward (mild disease cohort), ICU patients with severe COVID-19 (severe disease cohort), as well as healthy volunteer (healthy cohort). To date, 34 patients have been recruited with a total of 147 blood samples collected. Pilot experiments to validate the customized immune profiling panel for the mass cytometry (CyTOF) experiment have been completed. This approach will allow researchers to assess the disease progression by using the world’s most advance single-cell proteomics technology.

A balancing act: how to provide regular patient care amid the threat of COVID-19

Dr. Kednapa Thavorn and colleagues will use health administrative data from across Ontario, available through IC/ES, to model the risks of various scenarios for restarting routine clinical procedures in hospitals. Ontario hospitals have postponed many routine clinical procedures in order to preserve resources for COVID-19 patients, but these routine procedures can’t be postponed forever without serious health consequences.

As hospitals contemplate re-staring some routine care, a careful balance will need to be struck between the risks of COVID-19 and the risks of all other preventable diseases and conditions. The model will estimate overall deaths, healthcare costs and other factors for several scenarios, in order to help hospital administrators and policy makers make evidence-based decisions. The model could be adapted for different regions and for different COVID-19 scenarios, including a possible second wave.

Dr. Kednapa Thavorn

UPDATE:
Researchers working on this project have developed a detailed protocol of the study and a model structure for a resource optimization model. They have requested the hospital data required for the model and expect to receive this information in January.

Drs. Sara J. Abdallah and Juthaporn Cowan
Drs. Sara J. Abdallah and Juthaporn Cowan

Helping COVID-19 survivors stay healthy

Drs. Sara J. Abdallah, Juthaporn Cowan and colleagues will study the long-term effects of COVID-19 in survivors, checking in on them three, six and 12 months after they were initially infected. While researchers are beginning to understand what happens in the body during a severe COVID-19 infection, much less is known about the long-term effects in survivors. But based on what is known about other viral infections, the long-term effects could be serious, affecting the lungs, heart and muscles, as well as mental health. Survivors of mild, moderate and severe infections will be included in the study. The researchers will also assess the healthcare resources used by survivors. Results will help improve care for COVID-19 survivors and optimize how healthcare resources are used.

UPDATE:
With support from The Ottawa Hospital COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, researchers set out to understand the medium and long-term impact of COVID-19 on overall health. As of October 31, 2020, 64 enrolled participants completed comprehensive cardiopulmonary testing and important progress has been made in understanding the residual effects of COVID-19 on heart and lung function. As patients continue to be monitored at six and 12-months after COVID-19 infection, our researchers hope that their findings will inform future management strategies for post-COVID breathlessness.

World-first clinical trial aims to protect cancer patients from COVID-19

Surgeon-scientist Dr. Rebecca Auer is leading a world-first clinical trial that she hopes will protect cancer patients from COVID-19 and other respiratory infections by boosting their immune systems during treatment.

In collaboration with scientists at the Ontario Institute of Cancer Research, researchers will explore an immune-stimulator called IMM-101. The trial will be designed and run by the Canadian Cancer Trials Group at Queen’s University at nine cancer centres across Canada and will recruit 1,500 patients currently receiving cancer treatment.

This trial takes advantage of a lesser-known aspect of the immune system — innate immunity. This first-response arm of the immune system plays a key role in detecting viruses. The research team hopes the IMM-101 treatment will train the patient’s innate immune system to fight off the COVID-19 virus, in addition to other viruses that cause respiratory infections.

The advantage of this immune-boosting approach is that it could help cancer patients fight off all sorts of viruses while they are undergoing cancer treatments and are at their most vulnerable.

The trial has been approved by Health Canada and will run this summer and into the fall. Researchers expect to see preliminary results in about nine months.

Dr. Rebecca Auer speaks with a colleague
Dr. Rebecca Auer speaks with a colleague (Photo taken before COVID-19)

 

UPDATE:
The clinical trial was activated in September and is now open in Ottawa for recruitment. The trial will enroll 1,500 patients across Canada, with approximately 200 patients from Ottawa. These Ottawa patients will be part of the translational study funded in part by the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund.

“While there are many specific vaccines for COVID-19 in the works, they won’t be available for at least a year. Cancer patients need protection now.
– Dr. Rebecca Auer

Support future projects

The COVID-19 research taking place at The Ottawa Hospital has the potential to transform our understanding of this virus and lead to new ways to prevent and treat it and save lives. This vital research is possible thanks to support from the community. Please consider giving today in support of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund.

To find out more about our COVID-19 research and the many collaborators working to make these projects happen, please visit The Ottawa Hospital’s Research Institute.

Keep checking back for more updates on how donations are being put to work right away and are making a difference in The Ottawa Hospital’s fight against COVID-19. To get regular updates sent directly to your inbox, sign up for our newsletter, Vital Links.

The Ottawa Hospital is a leading academic health and research centre and teaching hospital proudly affiliated with the University of Ottawa.

We need your support to fund COVID-19 research projects to help in the global fight against this infectious disease. Donate through The Ottawa Hospital’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund today.

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