A resident of Goose Bay, N.L., most of his life, John Bookalam lives for the outdoors. He loves adventures, including international cycling and skiing in the winter. The retired guidance counsellor cherishes that time even more today, after a harrowing medical diagnosis unexpectedly led him to The Ottawa Hospital for neurosurgery.

It all began in late winter of 2017 when John returned from teaching a ski lesson. He was unloading his gear from his SUV when he hit the back of his head hard on the hatch door. Initially concerned he might have a concussion, John quickly eliminated the possibility thanks to his first-aid training. However, a week later, he followed up with his family doctor and an ultrasound revealed what appeared to be a hematoma, a collection of blood outside a blood vessel, which would normally resolve itself. “But the next week, I had to see my doctor again and the hematoma went from four centimetres on the ultrasound to eight centimetres,” says John.

“I was so nervous. I could hardly think.”

— John Bookalam
John on his last solo cycle in the mountainous north west part of the isle of Majorca before his lifesaving neurosurgery at The Ottawa Hospital.
John on his last solo cycle in the mountainous north west part of the isle of Majorca before his 2017 illness.

The situation turns dire

John’s care team in Goose Bay closely monitored him for many weeks. However, by the end of May, he developed symptoms similar to the flu. “I was burning up. I was on fire and I immediately went to the emergency department of my local hospital. Those symptoms would be a bad omen,” says John.

A CAT scan revealed the hematoma had grown from eight centimetres to 10.6, and the situation was becoming dire. He needed a skilled neurosurgery team to help him — a team that was not available in Newfoundland and Labrador. With roots back in Ontario, he turned to his dear friend, Nadia Marshy, from the Ottawa area for guidance.

Nadia vividly remembers the day she got the call from “Labrador John,” a nickname she gave him through their cycling adventures. She was sitting at her desk when she picked up the phone — John was at his wit’s end. “I knew he’d been hit hard on the head and it had caused a large bump. That was weeks earlier, so I presumed that he was all healed up by now. John proceeded to tell me that not only was the bump much larger, but he was in constant pain,” recalls Nadia.

“She played a vital role in identifying The Ottawa Hospital as an emergency life-line to receive lifesaving surgery.”

— John Bookalam

Calling on our neurosurgery experts for help

Following that call, Nadia was beside herself and she knew her friend was in a medical emergency. “Here I was sitting in my sunny downtown Ottawa office with The Ottawa Hospital and all of its innovation and world-class services next door, and there was my dear friend with this massive, infected lump the size of a grapefruit in desperate need of help and so far away.”

Next, Nadia worked to get John in touch with the neurosurgery department at our hospital — she had witnessed the skill firsthand in 2012 when Dr. John Sinclair performed two lifesaving surgeries on someone close to her. “I gave Labrador John the contact information, and within a few short days, he was on a plane to Ottawa,” explains Nadia.

John, far left, with Nadia, with cycling group. fourth from right
John, far left, and Nadia, fourth from the right.

John credits Nadia for helping save his life. “She played a vital role in identifying The Ottawa Hospital as an emergency life-line to receive lifesaving surgery.”

Once John landed at the Ottawa airport, he went straight to the Civic Campus with all his documents in hand. He met with neurosurgeon Dr. Howard Lesiuk and plastic surgeon Dr. Daniel Peters and handed them his scans to review. They determined the situation was worse than anticipated, and John would need surgery as soon as possible. “I was so nervous. I could hardly think,” recalls John.

A shocking discovery

The surgery would be long and difficult, and it uncovered something far worse than John had ever imagined when he embarked on the trip to Ottawa. Doctors discovered a non-Hodgkin lymphoma tumour on the back right-hand side of his skull and part of his skull was badly infected. While the news was devastating, John recalls the reassuring words that came from Dr. Peters before surgery. “He said I had a strong heart and tremendous lungs, and both would help me during the complicated surgery.”

“We are blessed to have some of the best minds and the most skillful surgeons on the planet right in our backyard. I am convinced what they did for Labrador John is what no one else could have done, and ultimately saved his life.”

— Nadia Marshy

While the news was devastating, Nadia recalls after the surgery, the pain John had experienced for so many weeks was already subsiding. “He received incredible care. The night before his surgery, he was weak, in agony, and couldn’t hold his head up for any length of time because of the pain and the weight of the mass on his head. The next day, he was able to lie on his head and rest in comfort,” says Nadia.

Next, John was transferred to the Cancer Centre at the General Campus for testing to learn more about the tumour. “I underwent a lengthy procedure by an incredible team to diagnose my lymphoma type.”

Primary central nervous system lymphoma

Diagnosed with primary central nervous system lymphoma (PCNSL), John began chemotherapy treatment here in Ottawa before returning home where he would continue his care at the St. John’s Cancer Centre.

Primary central nervous system lymphoma is an uncommon form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. It starts in the brain or spinal cord, in the membranes that cover and protect the brain and spinal cord, or in the eyes. This type of cancer is more common in older adults with the average age at diagnosis being 65.

Further testing revealed John had diffuse large B-cell lymphoma – BB Expressor — an aggressive type of lymphoma.

However, after months of treatment, good news came on February 26, 2018, when John learned he was cancer free.

“After almost four years, I’m cancer free and I’ve healed after three head surgeries. I’ve resumed my cross-country skiing and marathon road cycling.”

— John Bookalam

Not yet out of the woods

His journey, though, was far from over. John returned to Ottawa for one more surgery for skull base osteomyelitis — an invasive infection. Other treatments back home didn’t prove helpful and, once again, John required specialized care.

A highly skilled team at The Ottawa Hospital came together again to perform another difficult surgery. They would use a procedure called debridement and they would need to produce a new blood supply to the area. Debridement is when the surgeon removes as much of the diseased bone as possible and takes a small part of the surrounding healthy bone to ensure they have removed all infected areas. “They scraped the bone down until there was no sign of the infection and then did skin grafting on the back of my head,” explains John. The second part of the procedure was even more complex and involved taking an artery from his back, transplanting it to his head — creating a vital blood supply from his ears to the back of his skull. “I thank plastic surgeon, Dr. Sarah Shiga for being there in my time of need. If it were not for team Shiga and Lesiuk, I would never have achieved the quality of life I have today.”

“I owe much gratitude to the surgeons and staff at The Ottawa Hospital. Hopefully, my story will inspire others to donate so others can regain a quality of life as I have in abundance today.”

— John Bookalam

As a result of the debridement, he lost a significant amount of bone at the rear of his skull. Today, he must be very careful — he wears a helmet even when he’s driving to protect his brain, but his adventures continue. John’s grateful for each day and each outing he’s able to plan. “After almost four years, I’m cancer free and I’ve healed after three head surgeries. I’ve resumed my cross-country skiing and marathon road cycling.”

Nadia is also grateful for what she witnessed. “We are blessed to have some of the best minds and the most skillful surgeons on the planet right in our backyard. I am convinced what they did for Labrador John is what no one else could have done, and ultimately saved his life.”

Labrador John continues to say thank you

John’s gratitude goes beyond just words. He started by recognizing his care team through our Gratitude Award Program. While it was an important way for him to say thank you, it’s the special note he got in return from Dr. Shiga, who was a part of the second surgery, that made the donation extra special. “She wrote me a beautiful, personal handwritten letter. That’s one of the best letters ever sent to me,” says John.

The 73-year-old didn’t stop there though. He became a member of the hospital’s President’s Council when he committed to support our hospital with a donation of $1,000 a year. “I owe much gratitude to the surgeons and staff at The Ottawa Hospital. Hopefully, my story will inspire others to donate so others can regain a quality of life as I have in abundance today.”

Nadia is just as happy to see her friend back living his active life. “To see Labrador John fully recovered and cycling up challenging hills and covering incredible distances is fantastic. Those surgeons gave him his life back. He never takes a moment for granted,” says Nadia.

And John says he never will. “I will always donate that $1,000 a year to The Ottawa Hospital until I pass from the earth.”

John Bookalam, Summit of San Salvador ,received lifesaving surgery at The Ottawa Hospital after being diagnosed with primary central nervous system lymphoma.
John, Summit at the summit of San Salvador.

Darlene Kulig is an award-winning artist whose paintings are described as bold, joyous, and eye-catching. Born in Ottawa, Darlene now calls Toronto home and brings uniquely Canadian landmarks and landscapes to life through her semi abstracted, spirited art.

When Darlene’s nephew, Craig, passed away in 2016 at the age of 23 from a rare form of cancer, it was a devastating loss for her family. Craig’s father, Bruce Kulig, wanted to do something to keep his son’s memory alive, so he created a fundraising campaign — the Craig Kulig Memorial Fund with The Ottawa Hospital. When Darlene learned about the campaign, she wanted to use her art to have an impact.

Darlene began selling card sets featuring her art, with proceeds donated to our hospital. When the pandemic hit, her campaign took a different twist. She created beautiful masks, and once again a portion of the sales would support the memorial fund.

Darlene in her studio.

Today, Craig’s memory lives on through the countless people who have supported his memorial fund and the impact their philanthropy is having on cancer research. The research will help other patients and their families – just as Craig’s family had hoped.

Q: What inspired you to fundraise for The Ottawa Hospital?

A: In 2016, we lost our dear nephew Craig Kulig, at the age of 23, to an aggressive form of rare cancer. Craig received wonderful and compassionate care from the team of doctors and nurses at The Ottawa Hospital. Since Craig’s passing, it has been my brother Bruce’s goal to raise $100,000 in Craig’s memory.

As an artist and an aunt processing through my grief journey, I felt compelled to create a painting in memory of Craig. I painted Dragonfly Ascending into Twilight which depicts Granite Lake where Craig spent his youth. We donated the large giclee print of this meaningful painting and it now hangs in the oncology department at the hospital.

A memorial for Craig Kulig, funds are raised in his memory for cancer care and research at The Ottawa Hospital.
A memorial for Craig Kulig at Granite Lake with candle houses created by Craig’s sister Katrina.

Q: What is your fundraising all about?

A: Early in the pandemic, I was approached by BYOM, a mask manufacturer, to have my Canadian Landscape paintings printed as fine art face masks. Each artist that was approached was asked to align with a charity, so we created a beautiful line of adult and children’s face masks with all proceeds going to The Craig Kulig Memorial Fund. To date, we have raised over $16,000 through the sale of these masks. We also introduced a beautiful 2022 wall calendar and holiday boxed card sets featuring my art.

Darlene wearing one of her beautiful masks that she sells to raise funds in support of cancer care and research at The Ottawa Hospital.

“As an artist and an aunt processing through my grief journey, I felt compelled to create a painting in memory of Craig.”

— Darlene Kulig

Q: How easy was it to set up a community fundraising event through our Foundation?

A: My brother Bruce set up The Craig Kulig Memorial Fund through The Ottawa Hospital Foundation. It has been a great experience working with their team to promote our masks, continue to raise money for Craig’s fund, and raise awareness for the leading research that is taking place at The Ottawa Hospital.

Q: What might you tell someone who is thinking about donating to The Ottawa Hospital?

A: I believe our fundraising efforts are going to make a difference. It is our hope that other individuals and families can and will have better outcomes. This takes time and much-needed donations. The Ottawa Hospital is a leading research centre that we are proud to be partnered with.

Dr. Kirsty Boyd was six weeks into her medical career when a patient with catastrophic injuries was rushed to The Ottawa Hospital Trauma Centre. Karen Toop had been hit by a snowplow while crossing the street on her way home from work — half her pelvis was missing when she arrived at our hospital. A multi-disciplinary team that included reconstructive plastic surgery, would not only work to save her life and get her back to her family but would also implement a unique idea to drastically improve her quality of life.

From the moment the accident happened, Karen knew her injuries were devastating. She remembers thinking about her five-year-old son at home as she lay helplessly on the road. “I kept thinking ‘I can’t leave him without a mother’.”

Karen lost consciousness briefly and she remembers waking up in the ambulance and speaking to the paramedic. “I asked him to tell my son I love him because I really did think I was going to die. And then he said to me ‘No, no, you tell him’ and I didn’t say anything back.”

“The injury Karen had was the kind of thing we will see once in our career. It’s not a typical day for us to see that kind of an injury.”

— Dr. Kirsty Boyd

Ready for the most challenging cases

It was January 23, 2012, when Karen was rushed into our Trauma Centre. Dr. Boyd will never forget the day. “The injury Karen had was the kind of thing we will see once in our career. It’s not a typical day for us to see that kind of an injury.”

Karen Toop in hospital bed
Karen Toop was treated for severe injuries at The Ottawa Hospital after being hit by a snowplow.

Her injuries were devastating. She lost one leg, her left pelvis, and several internal organs. It took the vascular, general, and trauma surgical teams to stabilize her. Two days later, the 40-year-old would be wheeled back into the operating room (OR) for plastic surgery for the first time. “I was very much a small part of a big team of people looking after Karen. Dr. Murray Allen, my mentor who’s now retired, was an integral part of the case. I was relatively new on staff when she came in and was originally consulted by the other surgical services for assistance with her wound care because she had a fairly large soft tissue deficit following her injury,” explains Dr. Boyd.

This was the beginning of a long road to recovery, including multiple surgeries over the many months. Karen spent two-and-a-half months in the Intensive Care Unit. While she recalls some scary moments, she also remembers the healthcare team surrounding her and helping her — each hour, each day. “They were phenomenal. I had this one nurse, Lynne, who was such a strong advocate for me — always looking out, making sure I was as comfortable as I could be — she really helped me.”

Thinking outside the box

Karen’s most significant reconstruction surgery didn’t happen until October 18, 2012. It took months of planning by the plastic surgery team and required combining existing reconstructive techniques in a novel way to rebuild Karen’s pelvis and restore her independence.

Losing a portion of her pelvis in the accident meant Karen couldn’t sit up. “I wasn’t able to sit up more than 20 degrees from my bed. I had to eat like that, and drink like that and do everything from that position,” remembers Karen.

Dr. Kirsty Boyd
Dr. Kirsty Boyd

“We explored a lot of options; we reached out to colleagues from all across the country. I mean, this was something that I don’t think had ever been done or described before.”

— Dr. Kirsty Boyd

This is when the surgical team started to think outside the box to find a way to give Karen an improved quality of life, and to get her back home to her husband and son. Drs. Allen and Boyd worked closely with Dr. Nancy Dudek from the Rehabilitation Centre, and Dr. Allan Liew from orthopedic surgery, to think of a way to get Karen a new pelvis — what’s called a neo-pelvis.

“Karen lost one leg and part of her pelvis in the accident. The other leg had all kinds of issues including poor blood flow, a loss of sensation, and significant nerve damage to the extent she couldn’t move that leg. While the leg was still attached it wasn’t functional,” explains Dr. Boyd. She adds they spent quite a bit of time in consultation with Karen and her family before the decision was made to amputate.

For Karen, it meant putting her complete trust in her care team. “The lengths they went to save my life were incredible. They asked for input from experts around the world. Everyone came together.”

Karen Toop with her son, following her accident in 2012
Karen Toop with her son, Ryan, following her accident in 2012.

The role of reconstructive surgery in trauma

The surgery was long and complicated — almost 14 hours. ”We rearranged the bone of her right leg to make a pelvis while keeping the bones attached to their soft tissue. I think origami is a very good description; you’re just rearranging things and moving them into locations close to them,” says Dr. Boyd.

“They were so kind, compassionate, and helpful.”

— Karen Toop

It was a unique approach to a complicated case, but Karen’s team saw it as the best chance to help her in the years ahead. “We explored a lot of options; we reached out to colleagues from all across the country. I mean, this was something that I don’t think had ever been done or described before,” explains Dr. Boyd.

The surgical expertise and collaborative effort was transformational for Karen’s future. “After the surgery, I was able to sit up using a chair. I mean that happened slowly. I got the chance to do a lot of physical rehab and I started on the hand bike and doing exercises, weights, and they got me back to the point where I could sit in the chair,” says Karen.

Outstanding compassionate care

Karen Toop and her son Ryan today
Karen Toop and her son Ryan today.

In addition to her physical rehab, Karen won’t soon forget the compassionate care she received throughout her recovery. “They were so kind, compassionate, and helpful. The nurses would write out the plans the doctors were making so I could visualize it better. One of my trauma members, Dr. Jacinthe Lampron, baked me a birthday cake, which she said was made with love, and nurses made cupcakes for my birthday.”

“Thank you to the doctors and nurses at The Ottawa Hospital who saved my mom’s life.”

— Ryan Toop

Strengthening Karen’s mental health and dealing with the trauma of the accident were also integral parts of her journey “They care for your emotional health through the psychologist, the physiotherapist, the physiotherapist assistants, and my personal support workers — they were all fantastic. It was incredible teamwork and just such giving people.”

Going home to her family

After 11 months in the hospital and nine months at the Rehabilitation Centre, where she learned a whole new way of living, Karen moved into a retirement home until her new, accessible home was ready.

“It was really at the beginning that I knew that I was going to put The Ottawa Hospital in my will, because the hospital gave my son his mother, and that was so powerful.”

— Karen Toop

But the most unforgettable part was being reunited with her family. “It was amazing. I can’t describe how happy we all were, to be together again,” she says.

Even more amazing was for her son, Ryan, to have his mom home. Now 14, he’s grateful to have her by his side. “Thank you to the doctors and nurses at The Ottawa Hospital who saved my mom’s life.”

Leaving a gift in her will

The whole experience left Karen enjoying the small things in life, like hugging her family or going to watch Ryan play soccer — things she will never take for granted. It also left her reflecting on those who saved her life and fought so hard to give her a good quality of life. “My accident happened in a flash. You never know when you’ll need the hospital. I went from being able-bodied to losing both my legs, so you know other things happen that maybe aren’t as drastic, but you still need the hospital.”

It’s the specialized team who were ready for Karen when she faced critical injuries, that made her decide to leave a gift in her will to The Ottawa Hospital. “It was really at the beginning that I knew that I was going to put it in my will, because the hospital gave my son his mother, and that was so powerful.”

Karen Toop and her son Ryan.
Karen and Ryan enjoying time together at their home.

She believes she’s truly fortunate to have had access to the care she received. “I got world-class healthcare, with the new technology — for example, a VAC (Vacuum-Assisted Closure) dressing. If I didn’t have that, I don’t think I would have survived because I would have gotten too many infections. There was also the hyperbaric chamber. I went there when my wounds weren’t healing and then my wounds healed.”

Karen is also thankful for the care her husband, Harvey, received at The Ottawa Hospital when he became ill — care she witnessed from the perspective of a family member this time. Sadly, Harvey passed away in November 2017.

And so, by leaving a gift in her will, she’s helping patients who will come through the doors in the future and she encourages others to consider doing the same. “It’s important for people in the community to support the hospital, especially when it comes to developing new technology and the new campus that’s going to be built. That’s an incredible endeavor for the hospital, and they need the support of the people in the community to be able to realize these goals.”

For Karen, she feels it’s the least she can do for the team who allowed her to realize her goal of watching her young son grow into a young man.

When Fatima Siadat arrived in Canada 32 years ago, she was ready to start her new life after fleeing Iran. But her ambitions were hampered when her previously diagnosed eye condition, Thygeson’s Disease, worsened.

As a new Canadian, and unable to speak English or French, the idea of ending up in hospital was frightening. However, Fatima found herself in good hands with the team at The Ottawa Hospital’s University of Ottawa Eye Institute.

She remembers her first interactions with ophthalmologist Dr. Bruce Jackson who provided excellent care, communicating through her brother, who acted as a translator ensuring she understood everything. “I remember when I was first admitted to hospital and met Dr. Jackson, I had just been invited to a wedding, but the condition was painful, and I had to wear patches over my eyes. Dr. Jackson assured me I would be able to attend the wedding without worry — and I did.”

Through the exceptional and compassionate care Fatima received, her vision was restored. She was able to live with the disease and she went on to study at Algonquin College, eventually becoming a daycare supervisor. She continues to be cared for by our hospital today.

The kindness and expertise that Fatima experienced firsthand is what inspired her to become a monthly donor to The Ottawa Hospital. It’s her way to say ‘thank you’ to the doctors who allowed her to regain her sight. With each new story she reads from the Foundation, she becomes even more grateful to be doing her part to help others. “I feel proud that I am a very small part to help other patients get their life and happiness back.”

Fatima Siadat
Fatima Siadat

As Fatima looks to the future, she wants to ensure her impact carries on so she is leaving a gift in her will to our hospital. “I am alive and can see the result of giving, and I feel proud to help other patients in the future.”

Q: What inspired you to give to The Ottawa Hospital Foundation?

My doctors were my inspiration. Just a month after I arrived in Canada, my eye condition, Thygeson’s Disease, got so bad I had to be admitted to The Ottawa Hospital. At the time, I didn’t speak any English, but they took very good care of me. They gave me a new lens and I started getting better right away.

Q: Why do you choose to give monthly?

I made my first donation in 2002. It felt good to give back. I like the hospital to know they can count on me throughout the whole year. It’s how I say “thank you” — I’ve been giving monthly for 19 years now. Giving monthly makes me feel proud, especially when I see the impact my donations are having.

Fatima Siadat

“I am alive and can see the result of giving, and I feel proud to help other patients in the future.”

— Fatima Siadat

Q: What made you decide to leave a donation in your will to The Ottawa Hospital?

It has always been important to thank those who helped me get my eye sight back. I see the results today of my monthly donations and I want to be able to keep helping even when I’m gone.

Q: What would you tell someone who might be considering a donation to The Ottawa Hospital?

It feels good to be able to share in the happiness of giving life back to others and to read stories about the amazing things happening at the hospital. You know you’re making a real difference when you give.

Fatima Siadat

In 1998, Sandra Schmirler — known as Schmirler the Curler — led her team to the first ever Olympic gold medal in women’s curling. Tragically, Sandra died of a rare tumour just two years later, in March 2000. A champion curler, Sandra was also a dedicated mother who left behind two young daughters, along with her husband. Over 20 years later, the Sandra Schmirler Foundation is helping premature and critically ill babies get well and grow up to be champions in their own right.

Thanks to a generous donation from the Sandra Schmirler Foundation in 2021, The Ottawa Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is able to purchase a Giraffe OmniBed Carestation. The controlled microenvironment machine allows caregivers and parents better access to improve the care and love babies receive while in hospital.

The Giraffe OmniBed is just one way The Ottawa Hospital NICU is helping premature and critically ill babies and their families, and it wouldn’t be possible without the support of donors like the Sandra Schmirler Foundation.

Sandra with fellow Canadian Olympic athletes at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.

Q: How does your foundation’s generous support of NICUs honour your namesake Sandra Schmirler’s curling legacy?

Nothing meant more to Sandra than being a mom. The sense of accomplishment that comes from being a champion, the rush that comes from a nation cheering you on in front of the world, the thrill of competing at the highest levels … none of it came close to the joy Sandra felt when she was with her two daughters, Sara and Jenna. The founders of our Foundation determined the best way to honour Sandra was to pay tribute to her love of family. By supporting NICUs through the purchase of lifesaving equipment to help babies born too soon, too small, or too sick, the Foundation hopes families can experience that joy Sandra felt when she was with her daughters.

Sandra waving to the crowd at the 1998 Scott Tournament of Hearts in Regina, SK. 

Q: How does your support of initiatives like the Giraffe OmniBed at The Ottawa Hospital change the lives of premature babies?

By supporting initiatives like the Giraffe OmniBed, the Foundation hopes families can rest assured that their premature and seriously ill babies have access to state-of–the-art, lifesaving equipment. Because the Giraffe OmniBed allows better access to the baby, without needing to move them, it can help reduce stress for the whole family and the healthcare team.

Q: Why is it so important for the local community to keep caring about, and giving to, The Ottawa Hospital NICU?

The equipment available in a local community NICU can make the difference between a baby staying close to their homes, family, and friends or having to be transported to a NICU at a hospital with more advanced equipment. The Sandra Schmirler Foundation believes by supporting NICUs in local communities, more babies will have the chance to grow up and become champions, like Sandra was.

For a long time, Dan MacMillan believed he could control every aspect of his life. His theory was simple – if he kept to himself, put his head down and worked hard, he could overcome anything that came his way. For a while this practice worked well for Dan. Afterall, it helped him through university where he received his Bachelors Honours degree in Economics from University of Ottawa and led him to a successful career as a Vice President and Wealth Advisor at BMO Nesbitt Burns. But in 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit Ottawa, Dan received shocking news that would force him to give up control. At just 51 years old, he heard three, life-altering words, “You have cancer.”

Dan MacMillan during his first treatment of chemotherapy at our hospital.

“When we received Dan’s diagnosis we cried.”

– Jenny Chen

It started with the development of a rash, excessive night sweats, and swelling in his neck to the point where he no longer fit into his dress shirts. “My neck got so thick I looked like the incredible Hulk,” explained Dan. It was initially thought to be a minor viral infection, but when his symptoms progressed, Dan’s partner, Jenny Chen, grew concerned and urged him to book an appointment with his doctor. “Jenny was the driving force in encouraging me to get my symptoms checked out,” said Dan. “If it wasn’t for her, I would have put it off even longer.”

After months of tests, lymph node, and bone marrow biopsies, Dan was diagnosed with small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL), a cancer mostly found in the lymph nodes. Though it was caught early, a diagnosis of this magnitude was gut wrenching. “When we received Dan’s diagnosis we cried,” said Jenny.

This was the beginning of an emotional journey through cancer treatment and care at our hospital. One which led them to want to support our hospital.

Jenny proposed to Dan halfway through his six-month chemotherapy treatment.

Q: What prompted you to support our hospital and why do you feel it’s important to give?

Jenny: Before Dan was diagnosed, I was interested in supporting The Ottawa Hospital. I was moved by the level of care patients receive and I wanted to help.

When Dan was diagnosed, I was by his side as a friend. But as he went through six months of chemotherapy treatment, our affection for each other grew and it made me realize life is too short. I proposed to him halfway through his treatment to let him know that I would be right there with him through it all! You have to do whatever you can in the time that you have.

Dan: It was only once I went through treatment and Jenny and I got together that giving became a family affair. The hospital saved my life and the life of my new family, with Jenny and our kids. It’s my way to say “thank you”.

Q: How has this experience impacted you?

Dan: Most of the time I like to keep to myself. But when I was diagnosed with cancer, one of the hardest parts about it was feeling like I needed to go through it alone. It was Jenny who made me realize if I opened up about what I was going through, the heavy weight of it would be shared — not just for me, but for my loved ones as well. It was the best advice I could have received. So while going through one of the hardest years of my life, rather than going through it on my own, I was surrounded by an incredible community of loved ones and friends who wanted to support me and my family any way they could.

Dan had an army of supporters behind him, including family and friends, throughout his cancer treatment.

When you donate to charity, you’re supporting people you don’t know. But now we feel like we know a part of their story because we’ve gone through this experience ourselves. So by giving, it feels like we’re supporting a community of friends.

Q: Why is it important for others to give?

Jenny: The Ottawa Hospital will impact each and every individual in this city, at one point or another. Everyone will share in The Ottawa Hospital and its resources at different stages of life, whether they realize it now or not. If our community wants world-class care, they have to pitch in.

“The hospital saved my life and the life of my family. It’s my way to say ‘thank you’.”

– Dan MacMillan

Dan: If you’re considering making a gift, all you have to do is look around you. Look at all the individuals in our community that might benefit from the hospital. It’s your neighbour, your friend, or a colleague. Why wouldn’t you want to support them?  

For decades, Russell and Linda Grass have given generously in support of countless local charities and initiatives in our community. They were motivated to make a significant contribution to The Ottawa Hospital following a series of health challenges that hit close to home. Linda received care at the former Breast Health Centre, and Russell’s brother required critical care twice through the Division of Urology. Russell himself also receives ongoing, exceptional care through the Division of Urology.

In recognition of their leadership support, we are thrilled to celebrate the establishment of the Grass Family Men’s Health Clinic this June. The Clinic will provide a dedicated space for excellence in men’s healthcare and research. It will also provide an opportunity for collaboration among hospital teams to examine these important healthcare issues.

Thanks to the generous support of the Grass Family, we will be able to provide the very best in men’s healthcare, right here in Ottawa.

Melanie Hernen, Russell Grass Jr., and Jeffrey Grass at the demolition of the former Breast Health Centre (now called the Rose Ages Breast Health Center and relocated to the General campus). The Grass Family Men’s Health Clinic is set to open at the former Breast Health Centre site in late June 2021.

Why is supporting men’s health important to your family?

It can be difficult when facing a health scare. We know this from personal experience. So, we believe it is important for there to be a clinic, right here in Ottawa, that is dedicated to men’s health issues. From research to diagnostics and testing to ongoing care — we wanted to be part of ensuring the people of Ottawa had access to this kind of excellent care.

Why do you feel it’s important to give back to our community?

The Ottawa community has been good to us — professionally and personally. We wanted to give back to the city that has given so much to us. And we wanted to do it at the hospital that cared so well for us in our time of need.

We also wanted to teach our three children and four grandchildren that when you’re blessed with health and success it’s important to give back to the community.

Why is it important to you to have world class healthcare in Ottawa?

To have a world-class city you need to have a world-class hospital. When we look at the employees at our own companies, the large majority are men. We hope this Men’s Health Clinic can be a benefit to them and their loved ones should they find themselves needing care.

The Grass family and hospital staff prior to demolition of the former Breast Health Centre.

Growing up, Dan Lynch learned to help others whenever he could. It was something instilled in him as a young boy by his parents and it’s a quality he’s carried throughout his life. It’s what inspired him and his wife, Wendy, to leave a gift in their will to support multiple myeloma research at The Ottawa Hospital following his care at the Cancer Center’s Medical Day Care Unit.

Born and raised in Montreal, Dan spent 30 years as an aircraft mechanic. He met Wendy in 1988, thanks to some mutual friends who invited them to a party. Two years later, they married and by 1991, they settled on a picturesque piece of property in Green Valley, Ontario — near Lancaster. It’s a sprawling 43 acres which keeps Dan busy. “There’s always something to do here with about 200,000 trees. I’m up early to feed the dog and cats, and then I’m on my way, but by 1 p.m. I need to relax because I get tired easier these days,” he says.

Flu-like symptoms and concern for his kidneys 

The reason for his fatigue these days dates back to July 2019. It all started when he had persistent flu symptoms for two weeks — he just couldn’t shake them. Wendy’s prompting convinced him to go to the Glengarry Memorial Hospital in nearby Alexandria. “Blood tests revealed my creatinine levels were extremely high, and there were concerns about my kidney function,” explains Dan.

“I never realized how important The Ottawa Hospital was until I needed it. Until 2019, I had never been sick in all of my 66 years.”

– Dan Lynch

Based on those test results, doctors had Dan transferred by ambulance to The Ottawa Hospital for possible emergency dialysis. However, following further testing, Dan and Wendy received a devastating diagnosis. “The doctors told me that the problem with my kidneys was the result of my having cancer – multiple myeloma,” he remembers.

The news was shocking. While Dan hadn’t been feeling well, he never imagined the words cancer or multiple myeloma.

What is multiple myeloma? 

Dan and Wendy Lynch
Dan and Wendy Lynch at their home in Green Valley.

Multiple myeloma is a rare form of cancer that forms in plasma cells. These cells are a type of white blood cell that produce antibodies to help fight off infection. When someone is diagnosed with multiple myeloma, their plasma cells are changing, dividing uncontrollably — making more cells that are abnormal.

Symptoms can include bone pain, fatigue, and weakness from anemia, kidney abnormalities — all symptoms that Dan had experienced.

Men are more likely than women to be diagnosed with multiple myeloma and the median age of diagnosis is 68. This form of cancer is discovered through routine blood tests for other conditions, or a doctor might order a test for it if a patient has the symptoms. There are a variety of ways to treat patients with this type of cancer, including a stem cell transplant.  

“It was a learning experience and we’ll always be a part of the hospital because of the care Dan received.” 

— Wendy Lynch

There are two major types of stem cell transplants. Allogeneic, when stem cells come from a donor, and autologous, when a patient, like Dan, can provide their stem cells.   

Initially, Dan remained in hospital for about ten days to stabilize him. He then returned to our Cancer Centre every Friday for chemotherapy treatment for 16 weeks. This would prepare him for a stem cell transplant and Dan learned he could be his own donor. “Not everyone is able to donate their own stem cells. I felt very lucky to be able to do so, thus reducing the chances of infection and/or incompatibility with the donor’s cells,” he admits.

Medical Day Care Unit plays a crucial role 

By January 2020, Dan’s care team had harvested his stem cells, four bags in fact, and froze them in preparation for replacing them back into his body. On February 17, Dan was admitted to the hospital and given a large dose of chemotherapy. Two days later — his reinfusion day — his now healthy stem cells were placed back in his body, giving Dan a new lease on life. 

“I’m in remission. The disease is not curable, but it can be treated. The staff at the Cancer Centre saved my life.”

— Dan Lynch

Both of these procedures happened as an outpatient in our Medical Day Care Unit (MDCU). The Ottawa Hospital Transplantation and Cellular Therapy (TCT) Program performs about 200 transplants a year. Our TCT program was the first program outside of the United States to receive accreditation from the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy (FACT), which sets the global standard for top quality patient care in cellular therapies. The TCT provides care across four sites including the MDCU where Dan received his stem cell transplant.

“I’m in remission. The disease is not curable, but it can be treated. The staff at the Cancer Centre saved my life,” says Dan.

Forever grateful to The Ottawa Hospital 

On March 7, 2020, he returned home to the couple’s sprawling land — the property that brought so much joy to him and his wife — to start the next chapter of their lives.

Today, Dan and Wendy are thankful for our hospital — admitting they didn’t realize the significant role it played. “I never realized how important The Ottawa Hospital was until I needed it. Until 2019, I had never been sick in all of my 66 years,” he says.

“Take some time to think about what you can do to help others. It feels good to make a positive contribution to help the hospital both now and in the future.” 

— Dan Lynch

For Wendy, standing alongside her husband throughout this journey and witnessing the incredible care he received, fills her with gratitude. “It was a learning experience and we’ll always be a part of the hospital because of the care Dan received.”

Dan and Wendy Lynch
Dan and Wendy Lynch are leaving a gift in their will to our hospital.

The couple decided they wanted to do something significant to say “thank you” to our hospital. Thinking back to those values taught to him many years ago by his parents, Dan and Wendy decided they would leave a gift in their will to support The Ottawa Hospital. “We’re so grateful for what they did for me. Thanks to all the doctors, nurses, orderlies, nursing assistants, and volunteers who work so hard for patients like me. Their compassion and professionalism towards their patients under difficult circumstances is beyond reproach. Now I want to help the people who saved me.” Dan adds, “Drs. Gregory Hundemer, Arleigh McCurdy, and Michael Kennah played an important role in my care, and I can’t thank them enough.”

Dan also offers some friendly advice to others about planning for the future. “Try to do what you can and do all you can. Take some time to think about what you can do to help others. It feels good to make a positive contribution to help the hospital both now and in the future. We never know what will happen. A devastating diagnosis to you, your family, and friends can hit when you least expect. The members of the treatment teams at The Ottawa Hospital will always be there for us; let’s be there for them now and in the years to come.”

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. 

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.