Dee Marcoux is a problem solver, a pro-active enabler of meaningful action. She views her donations to The Ottawa Hospital as investments in positive change in her community, and in December 2020, Dee made a $500,000 match gift to our hospital that inspired many others to join her in giving back. Now, more than a year into a pandemic that has challenged our healthcare workers like never before, she is once again hoping to inspire the community to join her in honouring healthcare workers.  And she is doing it in a unique way. 

Dee with her husband of 40 years, Michel, on a beach in Freemantle, Australia, where they held an ashes ceremony for her parents, Allan and Kaye, and sister Marilyn — all longtime residents of Ottawa.

Q: Your last large donation in December 2020 inspired more than 7,000 others to give in honour of healthcare workers. What is unique about this donation? 

A: My donation this April means that all 17,000+ members of The Ottawa Hospital team will receive the newly designed Gratitude Award pin. The Gratitude Award Program replaces the former Guardian Angel Program and is a way for me to support the hospital while thanking each and every member of the team in a tangible way. They have all worked very hard through the unknown, changing, and stressful conditions. I’ve been so impressed with how the hospital team has come together in the past year. We’ve all benefitted from their effort, care, and compassion, and I for one am truly grateful. If I could look each healthcare worker in the eye and say “thank you,” I would. This is my way of doing that.   

“It’s been a challenging time, and so I think it’s incredibly important for each of us in the community to look for ways to help.”

— Dee Marcoux

Q: What inspired you to help launch the new Gratitude Award Program? 

My husband, Michel, and I like to thank people in tangible ways, and we write a lot of thank you cards. When appropriate, we will also call the “compliments” department of the company to say how impressed we are with the individual who helped us. For The Ottawa Hospital, these pins fit that desire perfectly. You thank the person, their boss knows about it, and you’re making a donation to the hospital at the same time. When I heard about the initiative to introduce the newly redesigned Gratitude Award pin, I said to myself “How can I help make that happen?” My donation is the answer to that question. It’s a concrete way for me to show my gratitude to our healthcare workers. It’s been a challenging time, and so I think it’s incredibly important for each of us in the community to look for ways to help.  

Q:  Recognizing healthcare workers is something on the minds of many community members right now. What advice would you give them?  

I would challenge them to ask themselves, “What am I thankful for?” For anyone who has witnessed the care, commitment, and compassion of The Ottawa Hospital team, I hope they consider putting their thanks into action with a Gratitude Award donation. Seize every opportunity to show thanks. Create a moment for someone by thanking them. Maybe it was a nurse or a doctor who made a difference. Perhaps it was a volunteer who greeted them, an administrator they spoke with on the phone, or a researcher whose important work they admire. Let’s fill lanyards, lab coats, and lapels with Gratitude Award pins. If there is no one in particular they want to honour or you’ve had no interface with the hospital, l hope they will still consider a general donation to the hospital. It doesn’t need to be a large gift — there is great power in collective generosity. Actively support our healthcare system is something we can all do. 

Early in the fall of 2020, Michele Juma noticed the vision in her left eye was becoming cloudy. The Sault Ste. Marie resident initially turned to her family doctor for answers. She learned she had a meningioma tumour — and time was not on her side to save her vision. Fearing she would face blindness, Michele, a mom of four, eventually travelled to The Ottawa Hospital where she could receive specialized care — care she could not receive close to home.

It was early November when MRI results revealed the mass at the base of her frontal lobe. “By this time, I lost my ability to see colour in my left eye — my vision was deteriorating. It was like looking through a frosted window,” remembers Michele. While her right eye would start compensating to get her through her day-to-day, Michele was finding the routine of caring for her teenage boys and working a challenge and knew she needed to see a specialist. Soon, she and her husband were making plans for the eight-hour drive to Ottawa to meet with Dr. Danah Albreiki at the University of Ottawa Eye Institute located at The Ottawa Hospital.

Seeking answers at the University of Ottawa Eye Institute

The University of Ottawa Eye Institute was founded in 1992 as the home of The Ottawa Hospital’s Department of Ophthalmology. It is a major clinical, teaching, and research centre in Canada specializing in diseases and conditions that affect the eyes. Dr. Albreiki’s expertise focuses on neuro-ophthalmology and adult strabismus surgery, which focuses on straightening misaligned eyes.

Born and raised in Saudi Arabia, Dr. Albreiki says our Eye Institute plays an international role in sharing our expertise with patients and ophthalmologists in more than 86 countries around the world. As one example, she explains, the Ottawa Eye Institute has an affiliation with India Srikiran Institute of Ophthalmology in Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh. Affiliations like these provide an opportunity for the ophthalmology residents to travel and explore ophthalmology in a very different setting.

Having done her ophthalmology residency in Ottawa, Dr. Albreiki reflects on the importance of teaching. “I think the Eye Institute is honestly an amazing academic place where staff are dedicated first and foremost to their patients, but have a heavy focus for teaching the ophthalmology residents. This ripple effect extends beyond Ottawa and will travel wherever the residents end up working as they share their knowledge and expertise with their communities. As a matter of fact, Michele was seen first by our neuro-ophthalmology fellow Dr. Noran Badeeb who came all the way from Saudi Arabia to train with us.”

Michele, pictured with her family, was treated at the Ottawa Hospital for meningioma tumour.
Michele with her family.

“The danger is it’s very close to the optic nerve, and Michele is a good example of how people can quickly deteriorate with these tumours, and they are at high risk of losing their vision.”

— Dr. Fahad Alkherayf

By early December, Michele met Dr. Albreiki’s team and she learned what was happening with the tumour. “If we leave tumours that are compressing on the optic nerve for too long, there is a high chance that it will damage the optic nerve which subsequently leads to permanent vision loss,” explains Dr. Albreiki. She adds, “Despite the severe vision loss that had happened, we were able to determine, by way of ophthalmic diagnostic testing, that Michele’s optic nerve appeared more suffocated than actually dead. By removing the suffocation, we would allow the optic nerve to breathe again and there would be a good chance she would regain part, if not all, of her vision.”

For that to happen, they would need to act fast.

Understanding meningioma tumours

Knowing Michele had travelled from Sault Ste. Marie for her initial meeting at the Eye Institute, Dr. Albreiki arranged for her to meet later that day with world-class, skull base surgeon Dr. Fahad Alkherayf who set in motion a plan to remove the mass.

He explained to Michele that she had a skull base meningioma. The tumour was about three centimetres by three centimetres — about the size of a golf ball. The biggest challenge with removing these types of tumours is often their location. “How you can reach it without damaging the brain around it and the things attached to it is key. If you’re not careful, and you end up injuring any of these structures, unfortunately, the outcome is devastating,” explains Dr. Alkherayf.

“The Ottawa Hospital is one of the main leading centres in minimally invasive skull base surgery, and I think that speaks to the expertise we have in our centre.”

— Dr. Fahad Alkherayf

Minimally invasive surgery offers new treatment options

Minimally invasive skull base surgery uses a narrow scope with a light to access and remove tumours through the nose.

The treatment used today for a meningioma tumour is relatively new. In the past, it was a much more invasive procedure known as a craniotomy, which results in a large incision with a higher risk of injuring the optic nerve. However, today minimally invasive surgery allows much more effective and safer care for our patients. “Instead of the old, traditional way of going through the skull, and lifting the brain — today, we go through the nose,” explains Dr. Alkherayf. This means no incision, faster recovery time, reduced pain, a higher accuracy rate compared to traditional open surgery, and a shorter hospital stay.

The Ottawa Hospital has established itself as a leader in Canada when it comes to this type of minimally invasive surgery. Dr. Alkherayf says we’re one of the largest centres in Canada doing it. “If we look across the country, The Ottawa Hospital is one of the main leading centres in minimally invasive skull base surgery, and I think that speaks to the expertise we have in our centre. It’s not just surgeons but it takes a good anesthesia, nursing, and neurophysiology team, so the surgeon can function well. I think what’s unique about our hospital is we have this full package providing care to our patients.”

Having access to this expertise is a significant advantage for patients like Michele, who required urgent surgery due to the rapid growth of the tumour and the risk of it causing blindness not only in her left eye but in her other eye as well. After meeting with Dr. Alkherayf as well as Dr. Shaun Kilty, an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist, her surgery was scheduled for December 17, 2020.

Michele remembers feeling anxious and nervous. “It was all really overwhelming — and surreal. When I think that I’d been walking around with this tumour probably for years…it was kind of unbelievable to me to think of the whole gravity of the situation.” However, Michele says she knew she was in good hands. “I do have to say that when I met with Drs. Albreiki, Alkherayf, and Kilty, they were very reassuring and answered all our questions, significantly reducing my anxiety.”

Michele being wheeled into surgery at The Ottawa Hospital to remove her meningioma tumour.
Michele being wheeled into surgery at The Ottawa Hospital to remove her meningioma tumour.

Specialized technique used only at The Ottawa Hospital

Leaving their four sons at home, Michele and her husband arrived back in Ottawa just over a week before Christmas. The minimally invasive surgery would last eight hours with Drs. Alkherayf and Kilty working alongside one another to remove the tumour piece by piece — through Michele’s nose.

“The monitoring helped ensure we didn’t pull too hard on her optic nerve. If it wasn’t for this specialized technique, I don’t think we would have achieved the same results.”

— Dr. Fahad Alkherayf
Continuous evoked visual potential goggles are used by surgeons during some brain and skull surgeons to monitor a patient’s vision and avoid damaging the optic nerve.

During the procedure, Dr. Alkherayf was able to monitor Michele’s vision. In fact, our hospital is the only centre in Canada using this specialized technique. “We have established a method where we can receive a signal from the eye, as well as from the optic nerve and the brain, about what’s happening to the vision while the patient is asleep.” Goggles — which resemble swimming goggles — are placed on the patient while they’re under anesthetic. The goggles send a flashing light, which sends a signal into their retina, and then it travels down their optic nerve, crosses the chiasma (the back of the optic nerves where they meet), and then travels to the vision centre of the brain. The signals will change if the surgeon’s pushing or pulling the optic nerves and potentially damaging them.

According to Dr. Alkherayf, this technique was critical during Michele’s surgery. “Her tumour was basically glued to her optic nerve, which explains why she was having this significant vision problem. The monitoring helped ensure we didn’t pull on her optic nerve. If it wasn’t for this specialized technique, I don’t think we might have achieved the same results.”

The future is looking clear

For the first five days after surgery, Michele says there was a lot of sleeping, but she remembers the moment when she woke up for the first time and she opened her eyes. “My husband was there, and I was able to see — it was right away that I could see again!” Even better news, before Michele was released from the hospital on Christmas Eve, Dr. Alkherayf shared the news she had been hoping for – the tumour was benign, and he was able to completely remove it.

“I’m grateful to be able to watch my sons continue to grow and, of course, to have the chance to be part of the activities they love most, like swimming and hockey.”

— Michele Juma

With this life-changing news in hand, Michele and her husband began their long drive back home to Sault Ste. Marie arriving home at 11:30 p.m. on December 24, just in time to be with their children for Christmas. “It was like a Hallmark movie,” laughs Michele.

Michele, with her husband and four sons, after arriving home in time for Christmas in 2020.

Today, her vision is fully restored. She’s back at work and keeping up with the busy life that comes with raising four teenage boys. “I consider myself to be so incredibly fortunate to have had Drs. Alkherayf and Kilty conduct this surgery. When I think about the complexity of what they did, I never cease to be amazed, and I feel truly blessed.”

While she and her family truly appreciate the exceptional skill of both physicians, Michele adds they were kind, compassionate, and empathic throughout her journey. “As scary as all this was, I can honestly say that I always felt confident that I was in very good hands.” She adds, “I’m grateful to be able to watch my sons continue to grow and, of course, to have the chance to be part of the activities they love most, like swimming and hockey.”

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.

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”

“Working on the COVID-19 Unit, with the numbers going up and down, you never know which point is going to be the tipping point.”
— Leah
“The best part about starting on the COVID-19 Unit was the team. Everyone was very supportive, willing to teach the newbies on the unit. And, the patients especially, they were very accommodating, and I will remember them for a long time to come.”
— Margaret
“My worst part of this year was seeing a lot of suffering and not being able to help as much as I would want to.”
— Michael
“COVID-19 has taught me to really value and cherish the time that I had with my family, my friends, and my colleagues.”
— Jeannette

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 is a senior scientist in the cancer therapeutics program at The Ottawa Hospital.
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.

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.

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.

In the ongoing global fight against COVID-19, The Ottawa Hospital is proud to help fill Canada’s critical needs in vaccine manufacturing. As one of only a handful of hospitals with the capacity to manufacture vaccines, and as the most experienced facility of its kind in Canada, our hospital is uniquely positioned to partner with Edmonton-based Entos Pharmaceuticals to help manufacture Covigenix VAX-001 in vials for Stage 1 clinical trials being conducted at the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology.

“I think it’s very important that we have the capacity to be able to produce these kinds of products, particularly vaccines in the midst of the pandemic in Canada.”

— Dr. Duncan Stewart, Executive Vice-President of Research at The Ottawa Hospital

Why is developing new COVID-19 vaccines important?

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. There are several important reasons why:

New Variants

As COVID-19 variants continue to circulate and as more could emerge, the development of new vaccines that could better address variants is critical.

Features of Vaccines

Some of the existing vaccines have features that make them challenging to administer (e.g. storage at -70C, two doses required). This leaves ample room for improvement that could turn the tide. One of the vaccines we are manufacturing for clinical trials is a single dose vaccine that is stable at room temperature for 30 days or 4⁰C for up to a year.

Global Vaccination

An estimated 12 to 14 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines are still needed globally to get the pandemic under control and ensure new variants don’t emerge and re-infect vaccinated populations. Also, developing countries often do not have the infrastructure to manage the complex administration of vaccines. For these reasons, it’s essential to continue the development and production of multiple, easy-to-administer vaccines throughout 2021.

Building Capacity

Enhancing Canada’s capacity now to develop and manufacture COVID-19 vaccines is crucial to ensuring that we are prepared for future pandemics and other health threats. The facilities and expertise required for vaccine manufacturing can also be applied to manufacture promising biotherapeutics such as stem cell therapies, cancer-fighting viruses, and CAR-T cell therapy for cancer.

Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre at The Ottawa Hospital

Image Gallery

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.

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.”

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.

The beginning of a special journey

Meagan's Ultrasound

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 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.

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.

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.”

Extraordinary care

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

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.

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.

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.

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.