Years after losing his dad to cancer, Robert Nsengiyumva faces his own diagnosis

Published: February 2024

When Robert Nsengiyumva was 24, he lost his dad to liver cancer. It was a devastating time for this young man and his family. Little did he know, 25 years later, he’d face a cancer diagnosis himself — stage IV stomach cancer.

After his dad died, Robert assumed the role of father figure to his four younger siblings — two sisters and two brothers. While his mother worked to help support the family, he also stepped forward to help provide care and financial support for his family.

In the years that followed, cancer was no stranger to Robert’s family — several other members also faced a cancer diagnosis. Then in 2021, he received his own devastating diagnosis after experiencing weight loss and abdominal pain, along with nausea and vomiting. “I was 53. I was an active person, and so it was a very difficult time for me,” explains Robert.

Coming to terms with the news was also difficult for those closest to him, like his wife and circle of friends. “I will not lie; it was a like a bomb dropped — it was that shocking. When I decided to tell a few friends what was going on, they didn’t believe me at first. They thought it was a joke — then they realized it was true,” explains Robert.

Understanding a stomach cancer diagnosis

Stomach cancer — also known as gastric cancer — is a growth of cells that starts in the stomach. While it often starts in the lining, it can start in anywhere in the stomach. Thankfully, occurrences have been declining, but it is still one of the most common cancers worldwide.

Robert at the Civic Campus of The Ottawa Hospital. Photo by Ashley Fraser

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, most stomach cancers are found when the disease is advanced and remission is less likely. When it spreads past the stomach wall or into other parts of the body, it’s harder to cure.

In Canada, the five-year survival rate for stomach cancer is 29%.

Due to the stage of Robert’s cancer, treatment began right away. His medical team at The Ottawa Hospital included, Dr. Dominick Bossé, medical oncologist, and Dr. Carolyn Nessim, surgical oncologist, who were ready with a plan. The first course of action was four chemotherapy treatments. These started on October 18, 2021, and the last treatment was at the end of November. Next up would be surgery.

By early January 2022, Robert underwent surgery on his stomach, led by Dr. Nessim. “It was an isolating time. I had to live within four walls because of the pandemic. I had to be careful not to get COVID,” he says.

After a successful operation, Robert was given some time to recover before he resumed chemo treatments. By the end of April, his treatments were done and deemed a success.

“The first round of chemotherapy treatment was very difficult; I suffered a lot, but the final four were much easier. After my treatments were done, I started to improve and feel better,” explains Robert.

Here to say thank you

By July 2022, Robert returned to work part-time. “Then by August, I was back on the job as a Building System Technician in the Public Service, full time. That’s something I never thought would happen when I first received my diagnosis,” says Robert.

“I wanted to support those who faced cancer like me, and so becoming a donor to The Ottawa Hospital was an easy choice.”

— Robert Nsengiyumva

Today, he shows no signs of recurrence, and Robert is making the most of every day.

Robert at the Civic Campus of The Ottawa Hospital. Photo by Ashley Fraser

He’s also deeply grateful for the team of medical experts that were ready to care for him when he needed them most. In fact, he’s always wanted to give back in some way. “I wanted to support those who faced cancer like me, and so becoming a donor to The Ottawa Hospital was an easy choice ,” says Robert.

It’s a monthly donation that allows him to say thank on a regular basis to those who helped give him more time. “This is my way to thank everyone who cared for me. The staff, including the doctors and nurses at The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre, who treated me during my illness. I don’t know how to thank them enough, so I decided to send my donation every month, and it feels good.”

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

Published: December 2023

You would be hard-pressed to find someone living in Ottawa who hasn’t had a slice of Gabriel Pizza. 

Served up in 42 restaurants in Ontario and Quebec, at events including Hope Beach Volleyball, RBC Bluesfest, City Folk, and the Ottawa Dragon Boat Race Festival, or enjoyed while you cheer on the Ottawa Senators, RedBlacks, and 67’s, Gabriel Pizza has been an integral part of the local community’s food scene since 1977. 

When Michael Hanna opened his first location on St. Joseph Boulevard, he not only started something that would make its way to our tables, but he also started something that would make its way into the heart of our city. 

“My dad always had that philosophy of giving back to the community, whether it was a free pizza or giving out a cheque for a baseball team or a hockey team,” says George Hanna, President and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Gabriel Pizza.  

“Whatever we can do to help — to grow our city and to make it that much better for our kids and for generations to come — that’s what we’ll do.”

— George Hanna
Michael Hanna in the early days of Gabriel Pizza.

George’s father, Michael, brought that philosophy with him when he moved his family to Canada from Lebanon in 1968. He built upon the Gabriel name, and by 1985, opened a second location. That expansion — both in business and in giving back — has continued ever since. 

In fact, the franchise has now reached 23 locations in the National Capital Region. And in the summer of 2023, they opened their first location in Atlantic Canada, in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. 

Michael Hanna (right) with his brother, Joe, in 1977
Gabriel Pizza’s George Hanna (middle, left) with President and CEO of The Ottawa Hospital, Cameron Love (middle, right) and former Ottawa Senators Chris Neil (far left) and Laurie Boschman (far right).

Even as they expand, George emphasizes the significance of their home base. “Ottawa and Gatineau are where we had all our great success, and this is why we always like to give back to our community, to be thankful for the opportunity that we were given. That’s been our philosophy from the beginning.” 

Gabriel Pizza’s commitment to community is evident each year during Staff Appreciation Week at The Ottawa Hospital, where more than 14,000 slices of pizza are served to staff. Even during the challenges of the pandemic, the business continued to give back. As George puts it, “I’m in the pizza business. If I can give out some free pizza and it makes everybody happy and it helps the hospital save some money to put it towards something else, why not?” 

Their commitment to The Ottawa Hospital and the community goes beyond pizza slices. In 2014, Gabriel Pizza made a significant contribution of $250,000 in support of women’s health, which resulted in the naming of the Hanna Family & Gabriel Pizza Waiting Area at the Rose Ages Breast Health Centre located at the General Campus. Now, Gabriel Pizza has made another significant donation, this time for $500,000 —their largest philanthropic gift to date — to The Campaign to Create Tomorrow

“We need it. Being able to build a state-of-the-art hospital in our community is going to help save people's lives.”

— George Hanna

This ambitious campaign is the largest in Ottawa’s history and sets in motion a vision to completely reshape healthcare by taking groundbreaking research and innovation to unprecedented heights and through building the most technologically advanced hospital in Canada. 

George recognizes the critical need, stating, “We need it. Being able to build a new, state-of-the-art hospital in our community is going to help save people’s lives.” 

For Gabriel Pizza and the Hanna family, George says giving back is more than a one-time event; it’s a way of life. “There’s a sense of pride when you see your company at the forefront of many community initiatives. We were brought up this way.” 

The Hanna family and Gabriel Pizza have long-supported various initiatives at The Ottawa Hospital. Recognition for their generosity can be seen at the hospital’s Cancer Centre.

He also emphasizes that any contribution to the campaign, whether a million or a thousand dollars, whether from a local business or local resident, will go a long way in realizing the vision of a new hospital. For him, it’s about leadership and making a difference.

“I think we need to be responsible as a business and as citizens of the city. I think we need to give back.”

— George Hanna

Looking ahead, George is eager to continue supporting the hospital and the community. He looks forward to next year’s Staff Appreciation Week, already planning to distribute pizzas to express gratitude to the hardworking hospital staff. 

For George and his family, the true reward lies in making a positive impact. “Just knowing that I was able to make a difference, I think that that’s my reward.”

Michel Brazeau was just 19 years old when he faced his first healthcare challenge. After a horrific motorcycle accident, he spent four months at The Ottawa Hospital where healthcare professionals worked to save his leg.  

“Because of the extent of my injuries and the number of surgeries I required, the doctors and nurses were like a lifeline for me,” says Michel. “They listened, answered all my questions, and went above and beyond countless times.” As a result of that accident, he is forever grateful for the care he received. 

In 1992, Michel married Laurie, and just one year later — while they were still just newlyweds — he had reason to once again be grateful for the care at The Ottawa Hospital after Laurie was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She successfully underwent treatment and credits her recovery to her exceptional care team. 

In a tragic coincidence, Michel, now a senior partner at Deloitte Canada, was recently also diagnosed with thyroid cancer, which has progressed aggressively. But the Brazeaus are turning adversity into action.  

Earlier this summer, Michel’s colleagues at Deloitte Ottawa banded together to donate $1 million to The Ottawa Hospital’s Campaign to Create Tomorrow to support the construction of the new hospital campus on Carling Avenue. 

Laurie and Michel Brazeau

Now Michel and Laurie are making a generous gift of their own and personally offering to triple each Giving Tuesday donation on November 28, up to $100,000. 

Michel and Laurie’s three children

“This donation means a lot to us and it’s deeply personal,” says Laurie. “We want to be good role models for our three children and show them what it means to meaningfully contribute to your community. We want them to look back and be proud of the impact we left behind as a family.” 

Michel is facing the future with bravery, humour, and most of all the support of his family. His hope is that their healthcare journey will inspire others to contribute to the campaign as well. 

“This hospital will be for everyone — we will all need the care of The Ottawa Hospital at some point. And the more innovative the facility the better the care and the better the talent it will attract,” says Michel. “We want to do what we can to ensure our kids and their kids have the very best healthcare.”  

Thank you, Michel and Laurie, for sharing your inspiring story and for your generous Giving Tuesday match gift.  

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

Ryma Nasrallah

Ryma Nasrallah has built her career around philanthropy. A Partner at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, Ryma specializes in advising registered charities and non-profit organizations, and she’s often helped charitable organizations and foundations get off the ground. She recently took it one step further and made it personal, making her largest ever donation to our Campaign to Create Tomorrow. With an ambitious $500-million fundraising goal, it is the largest campaign in our city’s history.

Now, on top of her roles as the Vice-Chair of the Canadian Bar Association’s Charities and Not-for-Profit Section and serving on the executive of the Ontario Bar Association’s Charities and Not-for-Profit Section, Ryma has joined The Ottawa Hospital Foundation’s Board of Directors.

Learn more about what motivated Ryma to give and get involved — and what you can gain by giving gifts of securities

Q: You recently made your largest gift ever when you gave to the Campaign to Create Tomorrow — what motivated this?

A: After joining the Board of Directors of The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, I was inspired by all the donors who had generously contributed to the Campaign to Create Tomorrow. I wanted to push myself to make my most significant donation in hopes I would inspire others around me to do the same and help reshape the future of healthcare in Ottawa.

Q: What impact do you hope your gift will have and why should others give?   

A: I hope my gift will bring The Ottawa Hospital one step closer to delivering a new, state-of-the-art hospital. Building a new hospital is a once-in-a-generation opportunity, and I believe we all have a duty to do what we can to help. Every dollar counts. 

Q: Why did you decide to join the Foundation’s Board of Directors?

A: I joined to give back and strengthen my ties to The Ottawa Hospital, because healthcare is so important to me and my family. I am excited to support the largest fundraising campaign in Ottawa’s history and to help The Ottawa Hospital transform and revolutionize healthcare.

Q: Based on your experience with your own clients, what are the benefits of giving gifts of securities?

A: The benefits of gifting publicly listed securities are threefold. 

First, gifting publicly listed securities entitles the donor to an official donation receipt equal to the fair market value of the securities on the date they are donated to a registered charity. An official donation receipt will result in a charitable deduction for corporate donors or a non-refundable charitable tax credit for individual donors that will reduce income taxes. 

Second, the donor may be exempt from paying any capital gains tax on the appreciated value of the publicly listed securities. In order to receive this favourable tax treatment, the donor must gift the publicly listed securities directly to the registered charity. If the donor sells the securities in the open market and donates the cash proceeds, they will be subject to income tax on any resulting capital gain. By donating the publicly listed securities directly to a registered charity, the donor benefits by paying no capital gains tax on the disposition, and the charity benefits by receiving the full value of the securities.

Third, if the publicly listed securities are held by a corporation — including an individual’s holding company or business — the full amount of the capital gain is added to the corporation’s capital dividend account (CDA). Amounts in the CDA allow the corporation to pay tax-free dividends to its shareholders. Usually, only half of a capital gain is added to the capital dividend account. This extra amount in the CDA can be distributed to the shareholders of the corporation on a tax-free basis, which results in additional tax savings.

Q: What would you tell a donor who is nervous to try giving a gift of securities?

A: There is no reason to be nervous about gifting publicly listed securities. Although it may sound daunting, it is frequently done. Foundation staff are familiar with the process and are ready to help. They will work closely with the donor’s financial advisor to complete the donation. The benefits of gifting publicly listed securities significantly outweigh any additional steps.

Q: With proposed tax changes on the horizon next year, when is the best time for donors to give gifts of securities and what should donors know about these changes?

A: The 2023 Federal Budget introduced new rules for the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) regime that will increase the tax cost for high-income individuals donating publicly listed securities to registered charities. The AMT is a parallel tax calculation that allows fewer deductions, exemptions, and tax credits than under the ordinary income tax rules, and that currently applies a flat 15% tax rate with a $40,000 basic exemption. The taxpayer pays the AMT or regular tax, whichever is the highest.

Budget 2023 proposed changes to the AMT calculation include increasing the AMT rate to 20.5% and the basic exemption to $173,000, which raises the amount of income an individual would need to trigger the AMT. Notable changes for high-income individuals donating publicly listed securities include adjusting the inclusion rate for capital gains resulting from the donation of publicly listed securities from 0% to 30% and limiting the charitable donation tax credit by half. These changes will reduce the financial incentive for these individuals to donate publicly listed securities.

The proposed changes will come into force for taxation years that begin after 2023. So, to take full advantage of the current tax benefits, the best time for individual donors to gift publicly listed securities is before December 31, 2023.

Honouring strong ties to the community that embraced his family

Ten thousand dollars can buy you a decent used car. Maybe a trip to Europe and certainly a few months’ worth of groceries. However, for Kareem and Souhaila Saickley, $10,000 in 1954 provided them an opportunity to leave Lebanon for the opportunity to build a future for their family in Canada. 

Years later, the residents of Ottawa would reap the benefits of that decision, in terms of the Saikaley family’s deep commitment to community development and philanthropy here.

“I was born and raised in Ottawa,” says Charles Saikaley, Kareem and Souhaila’s son. “All my children and grandchildren were born in Ottawa, and we are very happy and proud of that.”

It is that love for family and that pride for community that resulted in a recent decision by Charles and his wife Majida to contribute $1 million to The Ottawa Hospital’s Campaign to Create Tomorrow.  

Majida and Charles Saikaley

“It is important that all residents of Ottawa and eastern Ontario be able to benefit from a new state-of-the-art hospital.”

— Charles Saikaley

Charles was a real estate lawyer and partner with Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall. He retired from law and now runs Saickley Enterprises Ltd., the family company that owns and manages several apartment buildings in the city. With four daughters and now three granddaughters, Charles says he recognizes the importance of building one of the most modern, patient-centred, and technologically advanced hospital in the country — right here in Ottawa.

“We have all been part of the Ottawa healthcare system,” he says. “It is important that all residents of Ottawa and eastern Ontario be able to benefit from a new state-of-the-art hospital, and I hope it will benefit my children and grandchildren long after I’m gone. I hope this gift will be a teaching moment for my children and others about the need to give back to the community.”

The family also hopes their gift will inspire others, especially those in the Lebanese community, to contribute to the campaign. It 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 by taking groundbreaking research and innovation to unprecedented heights.

“I think it is important for the Lebanese community that major gifts like these are recognized and are symbolic of the philanthropy of those people of Lebanese origin living in Ottawa.”   

“I felt it was important if we are able to, we should give back to the city in some form or another.”

— Charles Saikaley

But most importantly, Charles says he wants this gift to be a legacy for their family, a way to honour the Saikaleys’ strong ties to the very community that embraced a young Kareem and Souhaila so many years ago.

Sadly, Souhaila passed away ten years ago, but to the end, she remained proud of the life she gave her children and proud of the community her family helped build.

Charles and Majida’s gift is the latest example of the impact their extended family has had on our community over the years and their dedication in continuing to see it thrive. “I felt it was important, if we are able to, that we should give back to the city in some form or another.”

Join the Saikaley family in helping create a better tomorrow through a donation today.

About the Campaign to Create Tomorrow

The Campaign to Create Tomorrow is the largest fundraising campaign in our region’s history. It will help fulfil the most ambitious vision ever for the future of The Ottawa Hospital, focused on four critical pillars.  


See how we’ll become the most technologically advanced hospital in the country, using the latest tools to provide the right care in the right space with the right provider.
Learn More


Through our unique collaborative model of clinicians and researchers working side-by-side, we will bring groundbreaking discoveries to patients in Ottawa — and around the world.
Learn More


From trauma care to cancer advancements to neuroscience, we will strengthen our critical services for patients across the region.
Learn More

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.”