Published: September 2023

Before January 2008, Georges Gratton and Jeannine Constantin’s family hadn’t needed The Ottawa Hospital. Living in Boucherville, Quebec and then in the Outaouais region of western Quebec, they had always received care at their local hospitals and clinics. But when their grown daughter, Geneviève Gratton, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, she needed specialized care and was transferred to The Ottawa Hospital within one day of her diagnosis. 

Geneviève with her parents, Georges and Jeannine, July 2023

Specialized care for patients from western Quebec and beyond 

This scenario is not unique to Geneviève’s case. In fact, The Ottawa Hospital regularly provides care that extends well beyond the city’s borders, and one quarter of our patients live in a rural area.  

Many patients from the Outaouais region choose to or need tocome to The Ottawa Hospital, particularly the Emergency Department for care, or like in Geneviève’s case, for specialized cancer care that they are unable to access closer to home. In addition to those who travel from western Quebec, patients also come from across eastern Ontario and as far away as Nunavut. At times, people from coast to coast come to our hospital for care they can’t get anywhere else. 

“Our hospital is uniquely positioned to provide care for patients coming to us from far and wide and with a wide range of needs.”

— Suzanne Madore

According to Suzanne Madore, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Nursing Executive, The Ottawa Hospital plays an important role in healthcare delivery in Ottawa and beyond. “Our hospital is uniquely positioned to provide care for patients coming to us from far and wide and with a wide range of needs,” she says. “We have also worked hard to develop multiple collaborative partnerships within the region that provide our patients with access to specialized services.” 

Diagnosis leads to stem cell transplant 

While this was the first time Geneviève needed our hospital, she was grateful to be receiving the specialized cancer care she needed. At the time, she was working as a notary in Quebec and was a busy mom of three young children — aged 9, 6, and 1 — when her spleen suddenly ruptured.  

A month later, she and her husband, Jean-François, noticed she wasn’t healing properly from the surgery to her spleen. She was incredibly weak and pale and was also experiencing a host of other symptoms including red spots all over her body (petechiae), constant nightmares, and fevers.  

Geneviève and her husband, Jean-François, and their children.

“My husband brought me to the Hull hospital on two occasions, and when they were taking my blood during one of those visits, my blood started gushing out like a fountain,” recalls Geneviève. “A hematologist took a biopsy and found out it was leukemia.” 

Within 24 hours, Geneviève was transferred to The Ottawa Hospital where her specialized care began right away.

Family rallies following leukemia diagnosis  

Geneviève with her sister, Julie, in February 2018.

Geneviève’s entire network of family and friends immediately came together to support not only her, but also her husband and her children throughout this ordeal.  

“It was like a net unfolding to protect and support me.”

— Geneviève Gratton

After her initial treatment, her medical team said that she needed an allogeneic stem cell transplant, meaning the stem cells needed to come from a donor, rather using Geneviève’s own stem cells. Fortunately, one of Geneviève’s two siblings, her sister Julie Gratton, was a perfect match, and she didn’t hesitate to donate her own stem cells to help save her little sister. 

“Although I feared the whole thing, I would do the same if Geneviève would need it again. I was reassured by The Ottawa Hospital on the process of what I would have to do to give my stem cells. It wasn’t painful, and I was well treated” says Julie. 

“I would do the same if Geneviève would need it again.”

— Julie Gratton

For Geneviève’s parents, it was a frightening time with a rollercoaster of emotions. They were worried for her and the seriousness of her diagnosis and also deeply grateful that Julie was a match and willing to donate her stem cells. As the transplant date approached, the entire family anxiously waited and hoped for the best.  

Geneviève’s eldest brother overcame his fear of hospitals to spend time with her. He even shaved her head in preparation for treatment.

Stem cell excellence at The Ottawa Hospital 

Thankfully, Geneviève was in the most capable hands. In fact, The Ottawa Hospital is a major centre for the growing area of stem cell transplantation and research and is home to the Transplantation and Cellular Therapy Program, the Sprott Centre for Stem Cell Research and the Sinclair Centre for Regenerative Medicine..  

This expertise paid off. Geneviève’s initial care team included Dr. Mitchell Sabloff, Director of the Ottawa Hospital Leukemia Program, and Hematologist Dr. Jill Fulcher. Following her stem cell transplant on March 29th, 2018, she was cared for by Dr. Natasha Kekre, who was recently named the Research Chair in Advanced Stem Cell Therapy. Dr. Kekre and extended care teams at the General Campus supported Geneviève each step of the way.  

The stem cell transplant was a success, and Geneviève has been in remission ever since.   

In the weeks following the transplant, Geneviève was weak and fragile, so she stayed in with her parents, who had moved into an apartment in the Ottawa area to care for her. Being at home with her husband and children would have been dangerous for Geneviève, since her immune system was still recovering after the stem cell transplant.

Being apart was difficult, but she was fortunate to be in loving care of parents. With their help, she regained the strength she needed for this next step to healing. 

“We wanted to show how thankful we were for what they had done, their kindness and sensitivity in all the care they provided me … My heart was filled with gratitude.” 

— Geneviève Gratton

“On the 100th day after my stem cell transplant, since I had passed the darkest period of my life, my mother and I brought two huge cakes to The Ottawa Hospital — one for the team on Module L and one for the fifth-floor team,” says Geneviève. “We wanted to show how thankful we were for what they had done, their kindness and sensitivity in all the care they provided me since January 2018. My heart was filled with gratitude.”  

Following her stem cell transplant, Geneviève had to go to the hospital daily for blood tests and transfusions, if necessary. The care team became like a little family to her, always making sure she was as comfortable as possible.

“We are infinitely grateful” 

Geneviève post-treatment celebrating her 15th wedding anniversary.

“We want to support the research and care efforts of the hospital and believe that even a small regular donation expresses our support of the hospital.” 

— Georges Gratton

It was the lifesaving care Geneviève received at The Ottawa Hospital that inspired Georges and Jeannine to donate, and they’ve been giving ever since – each month. They want to ensure the hospital has the funds they need to continue providing expert care to patients like their daughter.  

“We want to support the research and care efforts of the hospital and believe that even a small regular donation expresses our support of the hospital,” says Georges. 

Their monthly donations are also a meaningful way to express their deep gratitude for seeing Geneviève beat her cancer and get back to watching her three children grow up. 

“We give to say thank you for the wonderful care Geneviève received,” says Jeannine. “The Ottawa Hospital saved her life, and we are infinitely grateful.” 

Geneviève is now back to work and spending time with her kids, doing the things she loves most, like reading, boating, and walks in Gatineau Park. She’s not only grateful for her health, but also making the best of each day she’s been given. 

In 2019, Geneviève and her husband, Jean-Francois, took their three children on their first family vacation post-leukemia.

Published: August 2023

For almost a year, the last thing Aida Attar remembered about a trip to her friend’s cottage on August 27, 2022, was they had stopped for snacks in Smith Falls. The next thing she recalled was waking up in the ICU of the Civic Campus of The Ottawa Hospital — two months later. She had been airlifted to our hospital’s Trauma Centre after suffering a seizure while swimming and then drowning as a result. While she had been resuscitated, this young woman was clinging to life and multiple specialty teams came together to help save her.

It was that late summer day in August when the 18-year-old university student was swimming in a lake with her friend, Taylor. Taylor has since explained to Aida that while they were together in the water, Aida started staring off. “I just suddenly looked off in the distance. I let go of the floating dock and I went under,” explains Aida. “My friend thought maybe I just dunked my head in the water to cool off, but then she grabbed me by the hair and pulled me up to the surface.” 

What no one realized at the time was she’d had a seizure, which incapacitated her and caused her to go under.

From that moment, there was a flurry of activity to help revive the young woman. As Aida’s friend worked to keep her head above the surface, Taylor’s mom hurried into the water to help bring Aida to shore as she remained unresponsive. Meanwhile, Aida’s grandfather rushed away on an ATV to meet the paramedics, who had been called and were trying to reach the remote area as quickly as possible.  

With help on the way, intense efforts continued to try to revive Aida, including CPR. But by this time, she started vomiting and her jaw was locked – so she was aspirating her vomit. It was a terrifying situation for everyone involved who were all desperately trying to help Aida. 

The race to get lifesaving care

Paramedics rushed the young woman to the Perth and Smiths Falls District Hospital – still unresponsive. Aida’s family, many of whom have cottages in the area, quickly assembled to be by her side, including her aunt, Dr. Catherine Mann.

Thankfully, Aida was resuscitated and stabilized thanks to a team there led by Dr. Annelise Miller, but it was determined she needed specialized care, so the decision was made to airlift her to The Ottawa Hospital’s Civic Campus, home of the region’s only trauma centre for adults.

Her care in Smiths Falls was crucial to what would follow, according to Dr. Erin Rosenberg, an ICU physician at The Ottawa Hospital. “The Smiths Falls team did an absolutely incredible job of resuscitating her and getting her back. When she was transferred to us, her ARDS, or acute respiratory distress syndrome, was so bad that we couldn’t provide her with enough oxygen, even with the ventilator,” she recalls. “That’s why she needed to go to the University of Ottawa Heart Institute to be put on the ECMO.”

The team at Civic Campus, led by Dr. Akshai Iyengar, stabilized Aida and then she was transferred to the Heart Institute through the tunnels of the hospital. She was placed on the ECMO machine, and the wait began.

An ECMO (extra corporeal membrane oxygenation) is used to pump blood outside the body to a heart-lung machine that removes carbon dioxide and sends rewarmed, oxygen-filled blood back to tissues in the body. This machine allows the blood to bypass the heart and lungs, giving them time to rest and heal.

Aida Attar at the Civic Campus of The Ottawa Hospital.
Aida Attar at the Civic Campus of The Ottawa Hospital.

Aida remained on the machine, in a medically induced coma, for 35 days while her family endured an excruciating wait. “I’m grateful for all the work the Heart Institute did to get me on the ECMO and for not giving up on me over that time,” says Aida. 

Dr. Erin Rosenberg
Dr. Erin Rosenberg works in the ICU at The Ottawa Hospital.

Youth was on her side

The first glimmer of hope was weeks later, in early October, when Aida was removed from the ECMO machine and returned to the ICU at the Civic Campus – she was still in critical condition. That’s when Dr. Rosenberg first met Aida.

“We see a lot of really sick people in the ICU, but what we don't often see is people who are as young as her. When we do, it can feel like the stakes are higher — there's an entire life ahead of her.”

– Dr. Erin Rosenberg

“We see a lot of really sick people in the ICU, but what we don’t often see is people who are as young as her. When we do, it can feel like the stakes are higher — there’s an entire life ahead of her.”

Aida’s age was also on her side. “I told her parents at the time, if she was 40 or 60, we would be having a very different conversation. I don’t think she would be here,” recalls Dr. Rosenberg. “What was on her side was the fact that she was 19 years old. Her brain and her body will be a lot more able to get through this compared to someone older than her.”

Aida’s family continued to be by her side – watching and waiting. “She had turned 19 during that time, and her body has been through so much,” recalls her aunt, Dr. Mann. “She’d been under anesthesia for five weeks. She was slowly weaned from that, and then her lungs had to get used to not being ventilated. So the care team took gradual steps to remove her from the ventilator. First, it was 30 minutes, then a couple of hours, and they continued that process.”

A weakened state and confusion

When Aida finally regained consciousness, she was weak after being in a critical state for two months. “I had no muscle tone. I couldn’t sit up on my own. I couldn’t walk. I don’t even remember being able to move my arms to scratch myself because I was so weak.” 

“I couldn’t retain information. It was hard, but the team helped get me through those moments including one physiotherapist in particular, Michelle Cummings. She had a huge impact on my recovery.”

– Aida Attar

Aida’s immune system was also weak, and she was at risk of infections. Often, she would open her eyes and get very confused. “Any time she would sort of come to, or even if she didn’t have her eyes open, we would provide her some comfort as to what happened and where she was — even if we had to do that repeatedly,” says Dr. Rosenberg. “It was just like the first time she was hearing it again.” 

Finally, Aida was able to move out of ICU and into what’s called AMA (Acute Monitoring Area) for about a week. There she had the tracheotomy tube, catheter, and feeding tube removed – she was able to start eating on her own again. 

Although there were some signs of improvement and Aida was surrounded by an exceptional care team, she remembers going through many emotions. “I felt very alone. Even if my family had been there 23 hours and 59 minutes of the day, that one minute alone felt like a year. I was shy, and I didn’t understand what was going on. I couldn’t retain information,” explains Aida. “It was hard, but the team helped get me through those moments including one physiotherapist in particular, Michelle Cummings. She had a huge impact on my recovery.”  

Aida Attar and Michelle Cummings.

How our Rehabilitation Centre helps Aida’s recovery

The CAREN system

CAREN stands for Computer-Assisted Rehabilitation Environment system. The 180-degree screens work in combination with a moving platform, a remote-controlled treadmill, and surround sound.

As Aida’s recovery continued, she started to understand the complexity of what her body had been through because of this traumatic experience. By mid-November, she moved to our Rehabilitation Centre at the General Campus – this would be another big step in Aida’s recovery.  

The care in rehab was two-fold — to help both her body and her brain recover. Part of learning to walk independently again involved using the CAREN system, a unique 3D virtual reality system funded through community support in partnership with the Canadian Armed Forces. But because she had an anoxic brain injury, caused by a complete lack of oxygen to the brain while she was underwater, a big part of rehab was focused on treating her brain injury. “My memory was just shot — I couldn’t remember anything short-term,” says Aida. “My speech was mixed up. My brain was not braining, and it needed some help.”

Incredibly, after everything Aida went through, on December 8, 2022, she was able to go home. She walked out of the Rehab Centre on her own, and her memory continued to improve. It was a recovery beyond what Dr. Rosenberg expected. 

“She actually exceeded our expectations in terms of how fast she would get better.”

– Dr. Erin Rosenberg

“I remember initially preparing her family to anticipate her being in the ICU until December and probably in the hospital longer than that. So, she actually exceeded our expectations in terms of how fast she would get better.”

Today, Aida is getting her life back on track — she’s stronger each day. She’s driving again, working in retail, and plans to return to Carleton University in the fall to continue her studies in neuroscience. “I had finished my first year of university before the accident. I worked as a research assistant in a neuroscience lab at Carleton in the summer of 2022. In fact, I was working on a traumatic brain injury project at the time.”

Deep gratitude for those who saved her life

While she doesn’t remember many details from the first half of her hospital stay, Aida is grateful for the team that gave her a fighting chance. “I would be dead if they hadn’t done all that they did. The doctors just worked so hard. I mean so many things went wrong. I had blood infections and allergic reactions — I was just a hot mess. They kept going — they didn’t lose hope or give up on me. It was the next level of care, and I don’t think I would have got through it without that.”

Aida Attar at home with her family.
Aida Attar at home with her family.

“The healthcare team works hard, and these people worked hard. We’re deeply grateful to everyone, in particular Drs. Iyengar and Rosenberg. It was traumatizing for our whole family and that team never gave up on Aida.”

– Dr. Catherine Mann

Every step of the way, there was exceptional care — something that’s not lost on Dr. Mann. “There were a whole bunch of incredible people and a couple that stand out. When Aida arrived at the Civic Campus, Dr. Iyengar was there, and he was devoted. Then Dr. Rosenberg was there for each day when Aida returned to the Civic’s ICU in October and so many others.”

That’s what inspired Dr. Mann, who was a physician at The Ottawa Hospital for 22 years, to make a gift to The Ottawa Hospital — a thank you to the team that saved her niece’s life. “The healthcare team works hard, and these people worked hard. We’re deeply grateful to everyone, in particular Drs. Iyengar and Rosenberg. It was traumatizing for our whole family and that team never gave up on Aida.”

For Dr. Rosenberg to see this success story is what she loves about her job. Not every story ends this way but when it does, it’s rewarding for the whole team. “Aida came back to visit in the ICU a couple of weeks ago, just to say hi to everyone. And everyone was so happy to see her — they remember her as a patient, all the nurses. I think seeing those success stories are really, really rewarding for us. And I think it’s why we do what we do.” 

Aida Attar returning to the water for the first time since her seizure.
Aida Attar returning to the water for the first time since her seizure.

Stepping back into the water

In late May of 2023, Aida was visiting her aunt’s cottage and she went back into the water for the first time since the accident. As she felt the cold water on her feet and legs, memories started to flood back to her. “I instantly remembered when I was in the water with Taylor. It took me back to that day, and that was shocking because I didn’t think I would have remembered that.” 

While she’s grateful to have her life back, there is still the unknown of what caused the seizure that day. Tests continue, but for now she takes precautions like wearing a lifejacket when swimming. “That piece is also hard for me. It’s hard to have gone through all that and not have an answer as to why this happened.” 

But what she does know, is she wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for each person who played a part in her recovery, and for that she’s grateful.  

Published: July 2023

Next year, Jean Teron will proudly wear the 100-year-old nursing pin given to her mother in 1924 when she graduated — the same year the Civic Hospital opened its doors on Carling Avenue. “The Ottawa Hospital has been a lifelong part of my family,” says Jean. “My mother and sister were nurses trained there. My siblings and I and my children were born there.”  

It’s that personal connection to the hospital — and to her city — that helped inspire Jean’s $100,000 gift to The Campaign to Create Tomorrow.  

Bill and Jean receiving Honorary Doctorates from Carleton University June 2013.

“The Ottawa Hospital has been a lifelong part of my family.”

— Jean Teron

But this is not the first time the Teron family has made an indelible mark on our city. Jean’s late husband, Bill Teron, was known as the “father of Kanata” for creating a small town amidst farmer’s fields and rock outcroppings west of Ottawa. What started as a dream in the 1960s became a vibrant, thriving place to call home. The Terons know better than most the importance of community.   

Jean, Bill, and their family have long been supporters of The Ottawa Hospital — changing lives for decades. In 1977, Bill and Jean donated a kidney preserving machine that allowed surgeons to store and preserve kidneys for up to 40 hours while they matched kidneys with patients on a waitlist. In the years since, they helped build the Dr. Chris Carruthers Operating Room with Jean leading the way as Chair of the $1-million campaign. She was also part of The Ottawa Hospital Foundation’s Gala committee for years, helping raise funds for research. Together, the Terons contributed to the Legacy Campaign, the Centre for Stem Cell and Gene Therapy, and to fundraising efforts for the hospital through Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend.  

Opening of the Carruthers Operating Room. June 12, 2008. From left to right: Jean Teron, Susan Doyle, (the late) Donna Carruthers, and Chris Carruthers.

Jean’s daughter, Kim Teron, has also been actively involved with Partners Investing in Parkinson’s Research (PIPR) since 2011, when Kim’s husband Ross was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Jean and other family members have rallied behind Kim who has worked tirelessly to raise funds and awareness for this cause.  

It’s clear the Teron family is determined to make a difference.  

Five of seven grandchildren ready for 5K run with PIPR in 2011

Now, Jean’s generous gift will play a vital role in propelling The Campaign to Create Tomorrow forward, helping forge a brighter future for the community she loves by advancing medical research, expanding state-of-the-art facilities, and transforming patient care.  

“As one citizen, it’s important to me that individuals and businesses in Ottawa give to this campaign to show how much the community supports the building of a great new hospital.”

— Jean Teron

Jean hopes her gift will help ignite a spark, inspiring others to follow her lead. “As one citizen, it’s important to me that individuals and businesses in Ottawa give to this campaign to show how much the community supports the building of a great new hospital,” she says. “I do hope that when people see lists of those who have donated, they too will be encouraged to participate.”  

Jean is happiest when in her kayak, on her bicycle, or cross-country skis.

Published: July 2023

Like any bride-to-be, Mechelle Kulker is dealing with the stress that comes with planning a wedding. But she is also facing a lot more than booking a venue, hiring a photographer, and finding “The Dress.” Mechelle has an aggressive form of breast cancer.

“I kind of had an idea in my head that it was probably cancer.” 

— Mechelle Kulker
Mechelle Kulker in hospital Feb of 2023

In February of 2020, Mechelle discovered a lump in her breast. She was 29 years old at the time, teaching Grades 3 and 4, and busy with work and with life. But, at the urging of her boyfriend, Kent Lampkie, she made an appointment to see her doctor. That quickly led to an ultrasound, a mammogram, and then a biopsy — all this as COVID-19 was unfolding with fury.  

“I kind of had an idea in my head that it was probably cancer,” says Mechelle, “and when my doctor called me and confirmed it, I kind of went a little bit blank. And I remember just crying.”  

The news was about to get worse. Mechelle was diagnosed with Stage 3 Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC), a rare and aggressive form of cancer that disproportionally affects young women in the prime of their lives, like Mechelle.   

“TNBC is the least common subtype of breast cancer with the worst prognosis,” explains Dr. Moira Rushton, Mechelle’s oncologist. “It is negative for the estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor, and HER2 amplification, hence the description ‘triple negative breast cancer’, meaning there are no specific drug targets we can take advantage of.”  

The treatment for TNBC is also aggressive. Mechelle had preoperative chemotherapy, followed by a lumpectomy, then went on a chemotherapy pill after surgery for residual disease — but the side effects were very challenging.   

“I felt like it was everywhere.”  

A few months later, a CT scan picked up spots on her lungs and the lymph nodes around her heart. An MRI showed spots on her brain, and the cancer was also in her bones — including a 7cm metastasis on her femur. This required surgery to place a metal rod in her leg to prevent it from breaking. Mechelle’s cancer was now Stage 4.  

“I was counting down the days, waiting for it to end, and then it never ends.” 

— Mechelle Kulker

“I was counting down the days, waiting for it to end,” she says, breaking down in tears, “and then it never ends. I felt like it was everywhere.” 

Having responded poorly to most standard treatments, Mechelle says she was one of the first patients at The Ottawa Hospital to be put on a drug called sacituzumab govitecan (aka Trodelvy). Dr. Rushton explains that this drug was the first approved antibody drug conjugate for triple negative breast cancer — and it’s been improving survival for these patients.   

“In Mechelle’s case, it’s been an absolute game changer,” says Dr. Rushton. “Had she not started Trodelvy last February, I do not think she would be alive today.”  

“Her disease has almost completely disappeared on imaging, which is nothing short of a miracle.”

— Dr. Moira Rushton 
Dr. Moira Rushton Head Shot
Dr. Moira Rushton, Mechelle’s oncologist

“It started shrinking the tumours in my lungs and bones immediately,” adds Mechelle. “It took a while, but there’s actually no active disease in my bones as of right now. So Trodelvy is keeping everything stable, except my brain.”  

Mechelle has developed a number of small brain metastases requiring repeat treatments with the CyberKnife. This radiosurgery robot is one of only a handful in Canada and was funded entirely by donor support. It provides patients like Mechelle with radiation therapy that is more powerful and accurate than regular radiation.   

Despite the ongoing treatment, Dr. Rushton agrees that overall, Mechelle’s progress has been incredible. “The disease in her lungs is no longer visible on CT scans when previously it could only be described as “cannonball lesions.” In fact, the cancer has almost completely disappeared on imaging, which is nothing short of a miracle.”  

Mechelle Kulker - finding wedding dress in Carleton Place
Mechelle said yes to the dress in Carleton Place.

Giving back

During all this, Mechelle started thinking of ways to raise awareness of Triple Negative Breast Cancer.   

“It is very aggressive and requires more treatment options. This can only be made possible through research at leading Canadian hospitals like The Ottawa Hospital.” 

“I wanted to give back to The Ottawa Hospital because they've been so wonderful to me.” 

— Mechelle Kulker

She also wanted to focus on the exceptional care she’s been receiving so she started her own fundraiser in support of cancer research, successfully raising thousands of dollars so far.  

“I wanted to give back to the Ottawa Hospital because they’ve been so wonderful to me. The nurses are just incredible people. They ask me about my wedding plans.”  

It’s been a stressful three years for Mechelle and Kent, who is now her fiancé, but they remain positive and have been travelling as much as they can: swimming in Costa Rica and hiking in Maine.  

Mechelle and Kent hiking in Maine.
Mechelle Kulker - swimming in Costa Rica
Mechelle swimming in Costa Rica.

“For the most part, we kind of pretend like it’s not happening and live our lives the way we want,” says Mechelle. “When I was first diagnosed, I was told my prognosis was a year, and at this point, I’ve gone two years. I’m hoping these new drugs will help extend my life.” 

Also, she’s hoping research will change the trajectory for anyone else diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer, and through her fundraising efforts she’s doing her part to make that a reality.  

Despite all she’s been through, Mechelle did find “The Dress.” She and Kent will get married this August at her childhood home in Prince Edward County.   

Congratulations to Mechelle and Kent, and thank you Mechelle, for your fundraising efforts for cancer research.

Mechelle Kulker - family in Prince Edward County where she will marry
Mechelle and her family in Prince Edward County, where she and Kent will marry.

Published: June 2023

When Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma returned shortly after completing six rounds of chemotherapy, 73-year-old Patrick Morris was shocked to his core.

“No one plans to get cancer. No one prepares for cancer. Receiving this diagnosis was profoundly shocking. It jolted me. It was a life-changing event,” remembers Patrick. “You realize very suddenly that the life you had before will never be the same. A cancer diagnosis humbles you.”

Patrick enjoyed significant success as an elite ski jumper in the late 60s and early 70s.

Patrick’s hematologist, Dr. Andrew Aw, called it “refractory cancer”, because while it had responded to chemotherapy, it started to grow again — quickly. So, Dr. Aw scheduled a new round of chemotherapy to begin immediately.

This was a challenging time for Patrick, who, up until this point in his life, was fortunate to be in good health and never one to sit idly. In fact, he enjoyed significant success as an elite ski jumper in the late 60s and early 70s, and that same drive propelled him to the top of his industry as an award-winning, Ottawa-area real estate agent with a successful brokerage, the Morris Home Team at Royal LePage Performance Realty.

Caring for his ‘soulmate’

An important part of Patrick’s success story was his wife, Susan. Vibrant, caring, and fun-loving, Susan was his business partner for years and his soulmate. She was also an outstanding mom to their three daughters and a doting “nana”. But in 2017, Susan developed Alzheimer’s and Lewy Body Dementia. Patrick cared for her 24/7, but she continued to decline and eventually required long-term care in 2021.

Patrick and his wife, Susan.

“The memories we shared are now my treasured souvenirs.”

– Patrick Morris

“I was lucky to have Susan as my wife, my business partner for many years, and my soulmate,” says Patrick. “Our marriage worked because it was a never-ending love story.”

While she no longer recognizes Patrick or their daughters, he remains deeply grateful for more than four decades together. “The memories we shared are now my treasured souvenirs.”

Exploring CAR T-cell therapy

As Patrick faced his own health challenges, it would seem the cancer was not backing down. During his second series of treatments, he received yet another shock – the cancer had spread to his lower neck. Dr. Aw was concerned, but he had a plan — one that would ultimately save Patrick’s life.

“Dr. Aw told me ‘We cannot let this get to your brain.’ And that’s when we stopped the second chemo treatment, and he recommended daily radiation.” Then, Dr. Aw explored whether Patrick was eligible for CAR T-cell therapy.

This revolutionary therapy uses the patient’s own immune cells, known as T-cells, to treat their cancer. T-cells play a critical role in the immune system by killing abnormal cells, but sometimes, cancerous cells can hide from the T-cells that are meant to kill them. However, with CAR-T therapy, those T-cells are collected and reprogrammed in the lab to be able to recognize the cancerous cells. These reprogrammed cells are then infused back into the patient, where they multiply by the millions to attack and kill the cancer.

“Every doctor, nurse, physiotherapist — everyone associated with my CAR T-cell therapy — was determined to see me have a future.”

– Patrick Morris

Patrick’s T-cells were sent to the United States for reprogramming, but researchers at The Ottawa Hospital, working with colleagues in BC, have developed the first made-in-Canada CAR-T therapy. This approach is enabling more equitable access to CAR-T therapy across the country, while also fueling groundbreaking research into better CAR-T therapies that may work for more kinds of cancer. This kind of research is possible because of the hospital’s world-class research facilities and resources, including the Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre and Ottawa Methods Centre.

Cancer treatment delivers knockout punch

For Patrick, CAR T-cell therapy proved to be a knockout punch for the lymphoma. Since receiving the treatment in November 2022. Patrick’s scans show no signs of cancer.

“The CAR T-cell therapy saved my life. I am in remission and have a future.”

– Patrick Morris

“When you’re faced with your own mortality, it impacts your life forever. You want the finest medical science and practitioners on your side,” says Patrick. “As an inpatient, I witnessed firsthand the dedication, commitment, and devotion of every healthcare worker. Every doctor, nurse, physiotherapist — everyone associated with my CAR T-cell treatment — was determined to see me have a future.”

The support he received from his care team was mirrored by his family and community, who, as Patrick is quick to point out, are also affected when a loved one is diagnosed with cancer. “My daughters in Ottawa were my angels on the ground. They put hundreds of kilometres on their cars, driving me back and forth to the Cancer Centre and ensuring I was cared for at home,” recalls Patrick. “My youngest daughter who lives out of town was in constant communication with me, and if she lived here, she would have shared the responsibility of support. My siblings and relatives were huge cheerleaders. My neighbours, friends, and business colleagues were rooting for me every day. There were so many helpful and supportive people. It helped me remain positive especially during the most difficult hours.”

Deep gratitude leads to first-time donation

Never far from Patrick’s mind while battling lymphoma was Susan and what she would say to him if she were able. “I know that I must look to the future. That is something my wife would say to me, and she would insist that I listen to her,” says Patrick. “It makes me smile because when I listened to Susan, she was usually correct.”

With the future in mind, and to show his gratitude, Patrick decided to make a sizable first-time donation to The Ottawa Hospital of $150,000. He hopes it will inspire others to give and will help future patients benefit from the groundbreaking treatments being developed at the hospital — like the CAR-T-cell therapy he received. He is also giving his time volunteering as a table host for the hospital’s annual President’s Breakfast and rallying others to join him for the important event.

“I will be a proud donor to The Ottawa Hospital to help support the development of more research.”

– Patrick Morris

“The Ottawa Hospital is a forerunner in immunotherapy,” he says. “I will be a proud donor to help support the development of more research — because more research produces more discoveries. CAR T-cell therapy saved my life. I am in remission and have a future.”

June 19, 2023, OTTAWA, ON – Partners with Deloitte Canada stepped forward to support the historic Campaign to Create Tomorrow in an unprecedented way. With a goal of $1 million, members of the Deloitte partner team showed their dedication and commitment to this once-in-a-generation opportunity.

Through the leadership of Mark Noonan, Vice Chair, Deloitte, and member of The Ottawa Hospital Foundation Board of Directors, the partners realized their goal. “Corporate responsibility is vitally important to further enhance our city, especially when it comes to our health. Our partners at Deloitte, along with their family members and friends, understood the need for this new hospital campus and we now encourage our peers in the industry to join us to help build the most patient-centred and technologically advanced research hospital in the country. We couldn’t be prouder to lead the way.”

With 50 partners from Deloitte’s Ottawa group participating in this special effort to support the Campaign to Create Tomorrow, Tim Kluke, President and CEO of The Ottawa Hospital Foundation said this is an excellent example of businesses coming together to reshape healthcare for future generations. “We’re deeply grateful to Mark, who led this fundraising initiative and engaged his partners. They put their hands up and each made a personal commitment to the campaign. They recognized the need to build the new hospital campus and take our research to the next level. It’s really inspiring, and I believe other community-minded businesses will follow suit.”

To join the Campaign to Create Tomorrow in support of The Ottawa Hospital, visit

About The Ottawa Hospital: 

The Ottawa Hospital is one of Canada’s top learning and research hospitals where we are guided by our vision to provide the world-class and compassionate care we would all want for our loved ones. Our multi-campus hospital, affiliated with the University of Ottawa, is home to the Regional Trauma Centre and Cancer Centre, and to new discoveries that are adopted globally to save lives.

Backed by generous support from the community, we are focused on reshaping the future of healthcare to improve the lives of our diverse population of patients from eastern Ontario, western Quebec, and Nunavut.

For more information about The Ottawa Hospital, visit   


If there’s one word that comes to mind when you first meet Major James Morrison (Ret’d), it’s “dedication.” He is deeply dedicated to his country, his wife, and our healthcare system. It’s a loyalty that spanned decades — the major will be 100 years old in 2024. He was born the same year The Ottawa Hospital Civic campus first opened in 1924.

Major James Morrison with his wife, Betty.

Every year, for the last 29 years, Major Morrison has generously donated to The Ottawa Hospital.

“I owe it to the hospital for the care they gave me.”

— Major James Morrison

When asked what motivates him to give so loyally, he answers with a charming smile. “Well, mostly because I was a customer there. And I owe it to the hospital for the care they gave me.”

First, it was heart issues. Then, ten years ago, prostate cancer.

“I was treated very well there,” he says, recounting how, at the end of his cancer treatment, he got to ring the bell not once, but eight times.

“Because that’s the Navy tradition. That’s either noon or midnight,” he explains, referring to the tradition of ringing of the ship’s bell eight times to mark the “end of watch,” or in some instances, as a nautical euphemism for finished.

Despite Major Morrison’s nod to this special tradition, it was not the Navy where he spent his long career, but the Royal Canadian Air Force, where he enlisted at just 18 years old.

“I was only 118 pounds and they said, ‘We can’t take you until you’re 120. Go home and fatten up.’ So, I went home and fattened up,” he recounts.

During the Second World War, he was posted to the Southeast Asia Air Command, and following the war, he transported prisoners to the War Crimes Trials.

Major Morrison married the love of his life, Betty, in 1951, and together they started a family. His career took them to various posts across Canada, and in 1970, he was an Officer Commanding at the Canadian Armed Forces Operation Centre in Ottawa, where he delivered instructions when the War Measures Act was invoked on October 16 of that year.

Later in life, he began patrolling public areas of the airport as the Ottawa Airport Watch, and Betty accompanied him on many of those night shifts. He made his final patrol in January 2014 — on his ninetieth birthday.

These are but a few milestones on a journey that has spanned nearly 10 decades on this earth, from the highs of first enlisting as a young man to the lows of his wife’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s. “She doesn’t know who I am anymore.”

The two have been married 72 years, and not a day goes by that he doesn’t visit her.

It’s clear Major Morrison is loyal to the core. And while many of his stories are about the past, it’s the future he wants people in Ottawa to focus on; and he encourages others to support The Ottawa Hospital’s Campaign to Create Tomorrow.

“You should invest in this because you may need it in the future at some point.”

— Major James Morrison

The $500-million campaign is the largest in Ottawa’s history and sets in motion a vision to completely reshape healthcare by building the most technologically advanced hospital in Canada and taking groundbreaking research and innovation to unprecedented heights. And it’s something Major Morrison believes is worth supporting.

“You should invest in this because you may need it in the future at some point,” he offers as wise advice to generations that follow. “This new campus is for them.”

The new hospital is expected to open in 2028, and we would love to see Major Morrison there on opening day. “I was sort of looking forward to seeing it,” he says.

Major James Morrison, thank you for your service to our country and our community.

Published: May 2023

Sometimes you meet someone and wonder what drew you together. That’s what happened when Holly Wagg met Lynne Strickland in Patagonia, Chile. Both women lived in Ottawa, but it was a serendipitous meeting almost 10,000 kms from home where they ended up as bunk mates while on an expedition. Soon, they would discover a special bond between them — they both had loved ones who faced leukemia, and while their journeys were different, their stories connected in an unexpected way.

The story begins in the fall of 2015 when Holly’s wife, Julia Wagg, started to feel inexplicably tired. At the time, the Director of Talent Management at Hydro Ottawa was also teaching a course at Carleton’s Sprott School of Business, and juggling life with three children — she had a lot on her plate. But then one day she noticed blood in her mouth and decided she’d better make a dental appointment. By early December, symptoms escalated. “Julia woke up at 2 or 3 a.m. one night and said, ‘I need to go to the hospital.’ She could hardly breathe because she had crushing chest pain,” remembers Holly.

That first visit to the hospital didn’t determine any clear signs of what might be wrong, but Julia’s fatigue persisted into the new year. The family had big plans to travel to Africa, and Julia was determined to go. Holly was leaving early to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, then Julia and their youngest daughter, Addison, would follow two weeks later.

Leukemia diagnosis heard around the world

Holly Wagg has committed to leaving a gift in her will to further advance research.

As Holly summitted the mountain, back home Julia received devastating news. “While I had been up there, she had taken herself to the hospital one morning, and they told her she wasn’t leaving — she had leukemia,” says Holly. “Julia waited four days to tell me so I could finish my climb. When I found out, I raced back as soon as I could.”

The life Holly returned to was much different than the one she had left. Julia was immediately put on a chemotherapy cocktail — 24/7. She remained hospitalized for three to four weeks and when Holly was finally able to visit her in the hospital, she says the reunion was heartbreaking and devastating. “Julia was going through this fight of her life and was having so many complications from chemo. I was researching and I knew what we were facing.”

The couple learned Julia had the acute myeloid leukemia mutation known as FLT3. It was aggressive. “This is like driving your car and slamming your foot down on a gas pedal — that’s how fast the cancer was reproducing. Most people have a 10% chance of surviving five years,” explains Holly. “So, my mission became to make whatever time we had left the best possible time.”

By the second round of chemo and after 12 weeks as an in-patient, Julia was in remission and was eligible for a stem cell transplant. Her sister was a match, and three weeks later, in May 2016, Julia received the transplant of her sister’s stem cells — and the hope for more time with her family.

However, Julia faced one complication after another and spent the better part of eight months in the hospital. “Her whole team of doctors and nurses up on 5 West and the Bone Marrow Transplant team at The Ottawa Hospital were amazing,” remembers Holly. “She left hospital in December with limited mobility, but started strength training and eventually we had her skiing. We learned how to cross-country ski.”

Making the most of their precious time left together

The family had what Holly describes as the perfect three months of a cancer-free life. During Julia’s cancer care, she never made promises to her children, but there was one exception. She told Addison she would be there to celebrate her sixth birthday — things were going well. A big birthday party was planned with a fairy theme and all their friends came together to celebrate. “It was beautiful and joyous,” remembers Holly.

But after the party, Julia collapsed on the floor in agony from extreme bone pain. By the next day, the same thing happened, and she went to the hospital. The blood work looked normal, so they did a bone marrow biopsy. When Holly and Julia returned to the hospital for the results, Julia couldn’t walk.

Julia’s cancer was back. The couple knew if a patient relapsed within 12 months following a stem-cell transplant, there’s no chance of a second transplant. It had only been 11 months.

Julia passed away in the ICU of The Ottawa Hospital a week-and-a-half later. “She had all the people who loved her around the bed that night. I brought Addi into the room, and I grabbed Harry Potter because that was the story we were reading at the time. As I was reading, Julia’s heartbeat started to decelerate. I wanted to stop, but I knew she needed to hear me. She needed to know we’re all okay,” recalls Holly. “Jules was surrounded by love, and she chose to let go during this beloved bedtime ritual.”

Holly Wagg and her daughter Addison holding a photo of Julia.

Meeting a ‘spitfire’ young researcher

Before Julia passed away at the age of 36, she and Holly had some difficult but honest conversations. During her lengthy time in hospital, Julia witnessed many things as a patient. As a patient at a teaching hospital, she met many rotations of residents, in both the physician and nursing programs. Julia often said yes to the residents who were taking blood for the first time, and she said yes to two doctors who performed their first bone marrow biopsies. She wanted to help.

“One of the physicians who cared for her was Dr. Natasha Kekre. She was a spitfire — she was young, and she was brilliant. She was looking to start a clinical trial at The Ottawa Hospital to offer breakthroughs in leukemia treatment using CAR T-cell therapies. Julia wanted to elevate that research.”

– Holly Wagg

Because of the aggressiveness of her cancer, she also interacted with many physicians who were also researchers. “Julia was very curious and asking them about their projects. One of the physicians who cared for her was Dr. Natasha Kekre. She was a spitfire — she was young, and she was brilliant. She was looking to start clinical trial at The Ottawa Hospital to offer breakthroughs in leukemia treatment using CAR T‑cell therapies. Julia wanted to elevate that research,” explains Holly.

Julia and Holly had read about CAR‑T and knew what the possibilities would mean for patients like Julia in the future. It was the first big game changer to leukemia treatment in more than 20 years. They had seen what was happening in the United States and believed patients in Canada should have access to it. “Being a part of research to improve that path for people going forward was very important to both of us, which is why, for us, that legacy was about making sure other families didn’t have to experience what we did. We wanted to be a part of that change,” says Holly.

Dr. Natasha Kekre,hematologist for The Ottawa Hospital's Blood and Marrow Transplant Program.

Read our Q&A with Dr. Natasha Kekre

What is CAR-T therapy?

CAR T-cell therapy involves removing the patient’s T-cells and genetically engineering them with a disarmed virus to produce synthetic molecules called “chimeric antigen receptors” (CAR). These new CAR T-cells are then injected back into the patient so they can target and attack the cancer.

Julia’s legacy and her commitment to research

With that in mind, Julia decided to leave a gift in her will to support research at The Ottawa Hospital. Her legacy would live on. Holly has also committed to leaving a gift in her will to build on Julia’s wishes and to further fund research that was so important to both of them.

By 2019, The Ottawa Hospital became one of three centres in the province administering the Ontario CAR T‑cell Therapy program for adults — just the type of progress Julia would have wanted. The program meant the T‑cells could be collected from the patient here, then sent to the U.S. to be genetically engineered into CAR T‑cells. Those cells are returned to the hospital and injected back into the patient so they can target and attack the cancer. The challenge is that it’s only available for patients with a specific type of lymphoma and leukemia. Commercial CAR‑T therapy is also very expensive and time-consuming. The commercial cell manufacturing, testing, and shipping process can take up to eight weeks– time that many of the sickest patients don’t have.

What is a legacy gift or an estate gift?

Both terms refer to a donation to a charity made through your will or estate plans. These donations can take several forms, such as cash, securities, or even property.

That wasn’t good enough for people like Dr. Kekre – she wanted to develop a made-in-Canada solution. Today, she’s helping to lead a Canadian-first CAR T‑cell therapy clinical trial at our hospital. This opens the door to faster, less expensive, and more equitable CAR‑T treatment across Canada. It also provides a platform for the development of even better cellular immunotherapies that may work for more kinds of cancer. World-class research facilities at The Ottawa Hospital, such as the Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre, have played a key role in the development of this platform.

“It was amazing to get updates on the project because we found out that it was going to clinical trial and there were very positive early results,” says Holly. “And then I saw the first face of a trial participant — a man named Owen. Then I read Camille’s story. And that was an amazing one for me.”

A Canadian-first clinical trial gives lymphoma patient a third chance
CAR-T clinical trial provides ‘one last shot’ for leukemia patient

Making the connection

The impact of Julia’s forward thinking became even more personal when Holly had that chance meeting with a stranger in another hemisphere in February 2020. She and Lynne were both seeking adventure in Patagonia. For Holly, it was a big step — the first time she had travelled since Julia’s death. The two women bonded when they realized they had a special connection — Lynne’s daughter, Nicole Strickland, had been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2018 and treated at The Ottawa Hospital. 

“We had that common kind of understanding of seeing a loved one go through leukemia, the challenges, and a stem cell transplant,” explains Lynne. “But then when Nikki relapsed, I remembered Holly had mentioned Julia’s legacy had gone to funding research into CAR‑T.” 

Holly and Lynne in Patagonia.

Nicole was just 19 years old and in military college when she was diagnosed. At the time, she was stationed at CFB Petawawa for job experience with the helicopter squadron. She underwent chemotherapy treatment, but because her cancer was aggressive, her care team at The Ottawa Hospital recommended a stem cell transplant. Nicole’s sister was a 100% match. The stem cell transplant took place in September 2018, and then Nicole went into remission.

By the summer of 2021, Nicole was posted with a new unit in Halifax and getting routine blood work. That’s when she learned her cancer was back. But this time, she was introduced to immunotherapy, which she received in Halifax, followed by CAR‑T therapy — which meant returning to The Ottawa Hospital.

“There was a world of difference between CAR T‑cell therapy and the stem cell transplant,” explains Nicole. “I lost 40 pounds during the stem cell transplant. I couldn’t eat. I almost had to get a feeding tube at one point, which scared me. It took me about eight months to fully recover and then another year to get back into the gym. It was also mentally difficult. But with CAR‑T, I had energy, and my spirits were good. There were just a few days of feeling off and then I was back on my feet.”

How CAR T-cell therapy gave Nicole new hope

Nicole qualified for the Ontario CAR T‑cell Therapy program, which saw her T‑cells shipped to the U.S. to be genetically modified into CAR T‑cells. Once they were shipped back to The Ottawa Hospital, they were then infused into Nicole’s body.

“Unless you’ve been through what my family and I have been through, it’s hard to understand the depth that donating to a cause like that means. CAR-T gave me my life back — I’m just so grateful.”

– Nicole Strickland

Today, 18 months after her CAR‑T treatment, Nicole is now an operations officer and continuing her military career in Halifax and feeling stronger each day. She’s deeply grateful to people like Julia who had the forethought to invest in cancer research. “Unless you’ve been through what my family and I have been through, it’s hard to understand the depth that donating to a cause like that means. CAR‑T gave me my life back — I’m just so grateful.”

It’s those who support research that pave the way for patients like Nicole to have better outcomes. For Lynne, it’s also the work that’s came before breakthroughs like CAR-T that is just as important. “For Nikki’s care during the stem cell treatment, they had a plan, and that plan was because of the research and the investment made by others before CAR‑T was an option. It’s about bringing forth solutions that save not just one person’s life, but their whole family,” says Lynne.

Nicole Strickland was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2018.

“It’s about bringing forth solutions that save not just one person's life, but their whole family.”

– Lynne Strickland

For Holly to make that personal connection with Lynne and to see someone as young as Nicole have success is not something she ever expected. “As a donor, somebody who invests in research, I never expected to see any transformation in my lifetime. I’m willing to wait and be patient. But I never expected to see actual change to medical practice in my lifetime. And never mind did I expect to see it just a few short years after my wife’s death.”

And so, Julia’s legacy continues today, not only through her three children Robin, Brandin, and Addison, but also through the research she helped fund — research that is changing the course of cancer care. The more faces Holly connects back to the research and the more stories of survival she learns about, the more she witnesses Julia live on. “When you think about a legacy and about what you leave for others and how you shape a world — how much more powerful can that be knowing that in some way you’ve given other people an extra shot at life?”

Download episode #84 of Pulse Podcast to hear Holly Wagg talk about Julia's life and legacy.

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Katie Lafferty and Scott Watson are two people deeply invested in healthcare — they have immersed their lives in it.

Katie has been an integral part of The Ottawa Hospital for years, serving as Chair of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, as a member of the hospital’s Board of Directors. She’s also an integral part of the executive team for the Campaign to Create Tomorrow.

For 23 years, Katie has dedicated her professional life to the field of stroke. Today, she’s the Chief Executive Officer of the Heart and Stroke Foundation Canadian Partnership for Stroke Recovery, a national organization focused on collaborative research, training, and knowledge translation in stroke recovery. Her connection to the illness took a personal turn when a loved one suffered a stroke.

“My grandmother was a doctor, a cardiologist, and an internist,” explains Katie. “She had a stroke back in the 90s, before the drug TPA was available. So, she knew everything that was happening to her, but there wasn’t an answer to it. She gradually degenerated after that, but she was cared for at The Ottawa Hospital.”

In early 2000, Scott, originally from Alberta, moved to Ottawa, and that’s where this couple’s love story began. He initially worked at the Ottawa Life Sciences Council, but by 2006, Scott and Katie opened Watson’s Pharmacy on Main Street — now a staple in the community. By 2012, they opened a second store on Wellington St. West. “We can see the importance of investing in that business, and we also can see the importance of investing in a hospital,” explains Scott. “I know so many people that work at the hospital, and I see so many patients that come out of the hospital who are happy with the care they’ve gotten. We just wanted to be part of that, especially in this new build.”

In 2006, Katie and Scott opened Watson’s Pharmacy, now a staple in the community.

“I know so many people that work at the hospital, and I see so many patients that come out of the hospital who are happy with the care they’ve gotten. We just wanted to be part of that, especially in this new build.”

– Scott Watson

Their largest philanthropic gift ever

Together, Katie and Scott made their largest philanthropic gift ever when they supported the Campaign to Create Tomorrow. While their $50,000 donation was larger than anything they’ve considered before, it was the importance of this particular project and the impact it would have on the community that influenced their decision in the end.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Lafferty2.jpg
Katie Lafferty and Scott Watson.

“I think we probably also wanted to set an example, because we know there are a lot of other people in the community, like us, who have good jobs. We’re fortunate to have the means to help. We wanted to lead and show it’s possible.”

– Katie Lafferty

“The scale of this one was different, for sure, but we didn’t hesitate,” says Katie. “I think we probably also wanted to set an example, because we know there are a lot of other people in the community, like us, who have good jobs. We’re fortunate to have the means to help. We wanted to lead and show it’s possible,” says Katie.

Their personal connection to the hospital was also a contributing factor to their generous support. Both of their children were born at the Civic Campus. “Those were the happiest days of our lives. A lot of people associate hospitals with being sick and that’s true. But for us, those joyous moments far outshine anything else,” shares Katie.

“It’s not just investing in yourself; you’re investing in the future of Ottawa.”

– Scott Watson

When it comes to once-in-a-generation opportunity, Scott says sometimes you just must take the plunge and think about the future. “We are all probably going to need the hospital someday. And if we can all help that realization of a new hospital, I think it’s not going to just benefit us, it’s also going to benefit our community. So go for it. Just think about the future. It’s not just investing in yourself; you’re investing in the future of Ottawa.”

Katie concurs, adding it will take our entire community to make this a reality. “What we must do as a community is rally and support this campaign because we’re getting there, but there’s a long way to go still. And people shouldn’t sit back and say somebody else is going to look after this for us. We need to look after this ourselves and make this a reality for our community. We’ve got to be proactive. Don’t wait.”

Katie Lafferty and Scott Watson.

In 2021, when Kathryn Tremblay received the CEO of the year award in Ottawa, she was asked what her billboard sign would read. “What’s possible?” was her answer. Those two words — that simple question — have helped guide her professionally and personally over the years.

As co-founder and CEO of Canada’s leading independent staffing firm, Altis Recruitment, Kathryn grew the company from the ground up with her business partner, Toni Guimaraes. The pair were in their early 20s when they started the company in an apartment in the Byward Market with no employees, but they had big dreams.

Kathryn Tremblay is the co-founder and CEO of Canada’s leading independent staffing firm, Altis Recruitment

Over the years, their business prospered, their relationship grew, and they welcomed four daughters. In 2016, Kathryn and her family were devastated when Toni passed away from advanced prostate cancer. He was just 51 years old.

Those two words, which had helped Toni and Kathryn build their business into the success that it was, would now hold new meaning. “After Toni passed away, I had to reimagine what was possible for me. When we were starting out, we looked at what’s possible as entrepreneurs, and what’s possible to become great employers,” explains Kathryn. “But the distinction there is that once I was on my own, it was different.”

When it came time to redefine what was possible, she explored what it’s like to be an equitable employer, a single mom, as well as an ally for diversity. “It’s how you light up that possibility for others,” says Kathryn.

Kathryn Tremblay with her four daughters.

“I’d encourage anyone to get involved at any level that you can. That financial contribution will mean a new, well-designed, state-of-the-art facility that will make a difference to you as you age, and it will make a difference to your children and grandchildren. I think of it as a kind of generational give back.”

— Kathryn Tremblay

Devoted parents instill desire to help others

Philanthropy also plays an important role in this business leader’s life, and The Ottawa Hospital is a charity close to Kathryn’s heart. Giving is a quality she learned as a young girl growing up in Orleans. “I had extremely devoted parents. We didn’t have a lot financially, but emotionally, in my home, it was a special place,” she recalls. “My parents told me every day they believed in me. Telling me, ‘We stand with you, we stand behind you, we’re here to lift you up.’ And on a difficult day, my dad would be the person who’d come to sit with me and give me some encouragement.”

Kathryn utilized that encouragement as a springboard to help others. “It’s not enough for me to be grateful for what I have. But it’s about how I can show that gratitude towards others, like newcomers to our country, to The Ottawa Hospital or Christie Lake Kids, which was where my husband went as an underprivileged child. And when you give, you get back because you’re making a difference to someone else.”

On May 24, 2022, Kathryn combined her love of art and desire to give back to support our hospital through Art for Impact. It was a week-long online auction featuring a wide range of art from 21 local artists. All proceeds supported the Campaign to Create Tomorrow, and the event raised more than $25,000.

“When you’re attracting talent, you need great schools and state-of-the-art healthcare. So those two things are almost like the pillars that lift the possibility of wanting to live here in Ottawa.”

– Kathryn Tremblay 

“What a great opportunity to give back to the next generation.”

Thankfully, Kathryn’s interest in the Campaign didn’t stop there. She’s donated $200,000 to the Campaign in support of the new campus development on Carling Avenue and world-leading research.

“The hospital and the new campus are a major pillar for our entire city,” says Kathryn. “I’d encourage anyone to get involved at any level that you can. That financial contribution will mean a new, well-designed, state-of-the-art facility that will make a difference to you as you age, and it will make a difference to your children and grandchildren. I think of it as a kind of generational give back.”

When it came time to consider a gift to the Campaign, Kathryn just had to look to those around her — starting with her four daughters, who were all born at the Civic Campus — and to her late husband. “We needed so much around us in terms of advisors and a team of doctors,” she explains. “I felt they really cared to save my husband’s life. Now, he had very advanced and aggressive cancer, so that was not to be, but the effort that the entire team put into trying to save his life was special. That would be the primary reason why I give.”

But she also looks at what’s possible for healthcare in the future. “I would like to see that our city has something new and modern. And when you think of the aging population, we have this 100-year-old hospital — doesn’t it make sense that the hospital is modernized?” And when Kathryn puts her CEO hat back on, there are big possibilities as well. “When you’re attracting talent, you need great schools and state-of-the-art healthcare. So those two things are almost like the pillars that lift the possibility of wanting to live here in Ottawa.”