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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stepping into the unknown

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

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

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

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

Resilience as weeks turn into months

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The nurses of the “COVID floor”

COVID-19 patient grateful for compassionate care

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giving back through research

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

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

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

Pushing forward despite a challenging year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rare pheochromocytoma tumour gives young man the battle of his life
Bryde Fresque needed a skilled team to come up with a diagnosis of pheochromocytoma – a rare tumour that left his future uncertain.

Rare pheochromocytoma tumour gives young man the battle of his life

Bryde Fresque needed a skilled team and a complex surgery to come up with a diagnosis of pheochromocytoma – a rare tumour that left his future uncertain.

Rare is a word used to describe Bryde Fresque on many levels. He has a zest for life that sets him apart. In fact, his physician Dr. Carolyn Nessim, a surgical oncologist and clinician investigator at The Ottawa Hospital saw this firsthand when Bryde faced a diagnosis that would have him battle for his life, with one rare condition after the other. Ultimately, it would take a skilled team to come up with a diagnosis and treatment for Bryde – a pheochromocytoma – an uncommon tumour that left Bryde’s future uncertain.

Bryde’s journey to his diagnosis of a rare cancerous tumour began on Boxing Day of 2012. He was travelling home from Napanee when he started to have pain in his left side. He stopped at a pharmacy just outside Ottawa and by the time he got to the counter he was doubled over in pain. The pharmacist told Bryde to get to the closest hospital — a community hospital was not far away.

Not long after arriving in their emergency room, Bryde was sent by ambulance to The Ottawa Hospital where he could receive care that is more specialized. He was in a tremendous amount of pain. Upon arrival, Bryde was suffering from a spontaneous hemorrhagic rupture of the left adrenal gland and he was bleeding significantly. Thankfully, he was in good hands as our interventional radiologists performed an emergency embolization procedure. This is a procedure where a guide wire was placed in a vessel in his leg and that allowed physicians to get all the way to the bleeding vessel by the adrenal gland, at which point they injected a product that plugged the vessel and stopped the bleeding. He was hospitalized for ten days before he was able to go home.

Unusual symptoms continue to develop

Bryde continued to feel off. A young, active man, Bryde recalls unusual symptoms that he couldn’t shake. “I remember feeling really sweaty, I couldn’t cool down properly. I would stand under the gym’s cold water shower for 15 minutes post bike ride and it didn’t make a difference,” recalls Bryde.

By the summer of 2013, he was going through a battery of tests and questions at our Cancer Centre to try to pinpoint the diagnosis.

“He had such rare conditions – one right after the other.” – Dr. Carolyn Nessim

Bryde kayaking in Iceland with Natalie.
Bryde and Natalie kayaking in Iceland.

Though, at only 32 years old, cancer was the furthest thing from Bryde’s mind. “I was young, healthy, a non-smoker, non-drug user, and active. That active part of my life was actually the only time I initially showed symptoms. That’s when I would overheat on even the coolest days and couldn’t cool down afterwards.”

The spontaneous rupture of Bryde’s adrenal gland six months earlier contributed to the challenge of pinpointing a diagnosis. It was believed he suffered from a large hematoma – a large residual clot after the bleed. “He had such rare conditions – one right after the other. A spontaneous rupture of an adrenal gland happens very rarely. I would say the challenge is that because the blood clot is so significant, it hides the underlying tumour and so it’s difficult to identify on imaging,” says Dr. Nessim.

Pinpointing the cause

Bryde at The Ottawa Hospital
Bryde Fresque was treated for a rare cancer at The Ottawa Hospital.

As time progressed, Bryde developed issues breathing, he couldn’t bend in certain directions, and then he noticed a distention on his left side. Signs that had been pointing to a hematoma didn’t add up because a hematoma should have healed within a few months, according to Dr. Nessim. That’s when she started looking at the fact this could be a tumour.

Bryde’s case ultimately landed with The Ottawa Hospital Sarcoma Tumour Board. “We meet every Friday to discuss complex cases like Bryde’s. Everyone is in the room including medical oncology, radiation oncology, pathology, radiology, and surgery. We take each individual case and we discuss it as a group to determine the best course of action for a patient,” explains Dr. Nessim.

This panel of experts decided that surgery was the best course of action to not only diagnose Bryde’s condition but to treat him at the same time and remove this tumour that had significantly affected his quality of life. Given the large size of the tumour and the extent of organs it seemed to be invading on imaging, this would be a long and extensive operation with many potential risks and complications that would be best mitigated by a specialized team. The sarcoma team is well equipped and knowledgeable in how to do these complex operations. Our hospital is one of the three Cancer Care Ontario designated Sarcoma Centers in the province. Although Bryde did not have a form of sarcoma, the surgical approach for a pheochromocytoma is the same.

Most unusual pre-op visit

By the fall of 2013, the mass located on Bryde’s left side was now the size of a cinder block. Staying true to his rare and unique personality, Bryde, who loves Halloween, showed up for his pre-op appointment on October 31, 2013, wearing his homemade Iron Man costume!

On November 15, a huge team of more than 20 medical professionals assembled in the operating room. As Bryde lay on the operating table awaiting surgery, he recalls Dr. Nessim telling the team about the Halloween pre-op appointment, “Then she looked down at me and said, ‘Take a deep breath, Iron Man’ as I was intubated.”

Bryde had to put his full trust in Dr. Nessim and her team during the complex, 12-hour surgery. The procedure can carry several risks because although Bryde seemed to have a non-functional pheochromocytoma, with the stress of surgery there is always the risk of stimulating the tumour causing it to release adrenaline, which can lead to a serious increase in blood pressure during surgery. Bryde was given some special medications during the operation to help ensure that didn’t happen.

“I feel privileged every time I’ve been able to help a patient.” – Dr. Carolyn Nessim

Dr. Carolyn Nessim, The Ottawa Hospital
Dr. Carolyn Nessim, Bryde’s surgical oncologist.

Just prior to going into the operating room for this intricate surgery, Dr. Nessim reviewed the scans one last time and then visualized each step, planning the order they would follow to remove the tumour successfully. The highly skilled group alongside Dr. Nessim included a urologist, a thoracic surgeon, and a Hepato-Biliary and pancreatic surgeon, along with two anesthesiologists. “It was a big case,” says Dr. Nessim.

Bryde had his left kidney removed, as well as his left adrenal gland, and a third of his pancreas. They performed a colon, bowel, and diaphragm resection and reconstruction for each, removed his spleen as well as an accessory spleen, which can be found in many patients, 10 lymph nodes, and the hematoma. Thankfully, Dr. Nessim was also able to remove the entire tumour. The surgery was a success.

Finding the answers

Bryde spent a total of 40 days in hospital recovering, and it was during that time that he finally received an explanation for his symptoms. He was diagnosed with pheochromocytoma, which is a rare form of tumour that can be cancerous. They usually form on one of the body’s two adrenal glands, which are located above the kidneys, and approximately 10% of pheochromocytomas spread to other parts of the body. Pheochromocytomas can be dangerous because they may produce an excessive amount of the hormone adrenaline, which makes people sick, primarily by increasing their blood pressure. In Bryde’s case, what made a diagnosis challenging before surgery was that his pheochromocytoma was considered non-functional, and his urinary tests for adrenaline markers were negative. But it’s possible it was releasing low levels of adrenalin all along.

“The Ottawa Hospital is very well positioned in the study and treatment of this rare but dangerous tumour.” – Dr. Neal Rowe.

“It potentially explains all his sweating and feeling very flushed and hot as maybe he had a subclinical release of adrenaline,” confirms Dr. Nessim. Bryde also learned the tumour was cancerous.

Expertise in pheochromocytomas

Bryde with his wife and child
Bryde Fresque, his wife Natalie, and their son Edmond.

Much of the research, around the globe and here at our hospital, focuses on timely detection and treatment of pheochromocytoma. Dr. Neal Rowe is a clinical urologist at The Ottawa Hospital researching this type of tumour. “There are several known genes that increase the risk of a patient developing a pheochromocytoma. By identifying these genes in people, we can test family members, achieve early detection, and better understand the biology behind why these tumors form.” Dr. Rowe says this type of tumour affects between one to two cases per 100,000.

“Thanks to Dr. Nessim and the team at The Ottawa Hospital, I got better – I get to enjoy my life to the fullest. I got to marry the girl of my dreams and I got to become a father.” – Bryde Fresque

“The Ottawa Hospital is very well positioned in the study and treatment of this rare but dangerous tumour. We have a collaborative group of experts in endocrinology and medical genetics in addition to a dedicated team of anesthesiologists and surgeons. With our research and development of various national initiatives, I think we’re front and centre,” says Dr. Rowe.

Moving forward, upwards, and giving back

Today, Bryde is seven years post surgery, and cancer free, with no signs of recurrence. While his recovery took time, he’s back to living his active life and truly grateful for the care he received. In fact, to raise funds and awareness for rare neuro endocrine cancers, Bryde and his wife, Natalie, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, as well as the highest pass in the world, located in Annapurna range of the Himalayas in Nepal – all while still being considered a cancer patient.

Bryde and Natalie at Uhuru Peak on Mount Kilimanjaro.
Bryde and Natalie on Mount Kilimanjaro.

“Being a cancer patient or being sick is a life-changing event. Thanks to Dr. Nessim and the team at The Ottawa Hospital, I got better – I get to enjoy my life to the fullest. I got to marry the girl of my dreams and I got to become a father.” He adds, “I honestly think if I had been anywhere else, if I had been under anyone else’s care, I probably wouldn’t be here today. I really wouldn’t.”

That’s why Bryde also holds an annual Halloween fundraising party, known as Spadinaween, to support our hospital. To date, he’s raised over $10,000 and Dr. Nessim even drops by to show her support.

The special bond between this patient and physician continues, as Bryde even enrolled to help Dr. Nessim with a global research project on sarcomas. For Bryde, it’s an honour to help other patients. “Me giving back to The Ottawa Hospital has come full circle as I was invited to partake in an international study on sarcomas with Dr. Nessim and other doctors from the UK, Italy, the States, Netherlands, and Australia – to help improve the patient experience. If I can turn a negative into a positive. I’m in!”

Seeing Bryde thrive today is what makes those long, grueling days in the operating room and the constant search for answers worthwhile. “It’s why I do my job. It’s the biggest joy and most rewarding,” says Dr. Nessim. “I feel privileged every time I’ve been able to help a patient.”

 

Download Pulse podcast today and hear Bryde and Dr. Nessim share more about his journey with a rare, cancerous tumour.

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

Your donation will help patients like Bryde receive the specialized care when they need it most.

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Life-long educator and writer leaves gift in his will after peaceful passing through the Medical Assistance in Dying program

Clarence Byrd carefully planned how he would leave a gift in his will to The Ottawa Hospital to ensure his legacy as an educator would continue for years to come.

Clarence Byrd was always keenly aware of how he wanted to live his life and what would happen when he was gone. He passed away peacefully on May 30, 2020, through the Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) program. In the days leading up to his passing at his home in downtown Ottawa, he carefully planned how he would leave a gift in his will to The Ottawa Hospital — ensuring his strong belief in philanthropy would continue for years to come.

Clarence and his wife, Ida Chen, were married for 43 years. It was a beautiful life, during which they did almost everything together. “From day one, we were best friends, and our complementary skills allowed us to produce more than 150 books on financial accounting and taxation including Canadian Tax Principles, the leading tax text for Canada’s colleges and universities,” wrote Clarence before he died.

“Our life together was beyond our wildest dreams; it was a wonderful romance.”
– Clarence Byrd

After retiring from teaching 15 years ago, Clarence and Ida were together constantly. They loved the outdoors and enjoyed every minute of their time together hiking, skiing, or biking all over North America.

Shocked by a cancer diagnosis

Clarence and Ida skating
Clarence and Ida skating on the Rideau Canal Skateway.

However, in December 2016, Ida faced a shocking diagnosis – glioblastoma, a particularly aggressive type of brain tumour. She faced multiple surgeries, one that included a revolutionary microscope, which was on loan to our hospital at the time. Shortly after that particular surgery, recognizing how vital this piece of equipment was, Clarence and Ida made a substantial contribution towards its purchase. Philanthropy was always an important part of their life and thanks to their generosity, many patients have benefitted from this lifesaving surgical tool, one of only a handful in Canada.

By November 6, 2019, Clarence said goodbye to the love of his life. Ida passed away peacefully with medical assistance. She no longer had to suffer.

Unbelievably, less than four months after Ida’s death, Clarence was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He would learn that because of the tumour’s location, surgery was not an option, and he was given 12 to 18 months to live.

That’s when Clarence set into motion his plan for how he would live the rest of his days and what would happen to his estate when he was gone. He applied for MAiD and was approved. This news gave Clarence the peace of mind he needed, “There was tremendous comfort knowing that I would not have to undergo unnecessary suffering at the end of my life,” wrote Clarence.

Educating others well into the future

Laura Wilding, Advanced Practice Nurse at The Ottawa Hospital and Program Manager, Champlain Regional MAiD Network, helped plan both Clarence and Ida’s procedures. Since MAiD was introduced four years ago, patients have come forward to tell Laura that they want to support the hospital by leaving a gift in their will. Clarence made it very clear to her that’s what he wanted to do. “He actually delayed having MAiD to make sure his donation was allocated the way he wanted,” says Laura.

“They found that the doctors, nurses, and staff were all so accommodating and knowledgeable about their conditions. This was the reason that Clarence wanted to leave his gift to the hospital.” – Joshua Smith

The couple had successful careers, and it was important to Clarence to use his good fortune to help pave the way for the future, even after he was gone. Laura recalls Clarence saying, “’We have money, we are philanthropists, and we feel strongly that more people need to know and understand MAiD.’

Ida and Clarence in Banff
Clarence and Ida on a hiking adventure – Banff National Park.
Ida and Clarence playing piano
The couple enjoyed playing music together at their home.

Clarence’s accountant, Joshua Smith, a partner at Welch LLP, explains that Clarence and Ida’s experiences at The Ottawa Hospital left an impression. “They found that the doctors, nurses, and staff were all so accommodating and knowledgeable about their conditions. This was the reason that Clarence wanted to leave his gift to the hospital,” says Joshua.

“His generosity will have a long-term impact on care at the hospital and Clarence knew that.” – Laura Wilding

Margaret Tardiff was a close friend of the couple. She emphasized how education was always so important to Clarence and his gift to our hospital will honour that well into the future. “He was always educating himself and others; he felt that education would help people to understand the value of the MAiD program,” says Margaret.

A lasting legacy

Clarence’s legacy will be felt for decades by patients and their families at our hospital. “His generosity will have a long-term impact on care at the hospital and Clarence knew that,” says Laura.

Clarence passed away at the age of 82 in his home, on his own terms, and with his estate planned exactly to his wishes. It marked the end of a well-celebrated life that included 43 years with his beloved wife, Ida. In fact, Clarence wrote in an article for the Ottawa Citizen before his death, “Our life together was beyond our wildest dreams; it was a wonderful romance.”

A wonderful life with a legacy that will live on thanks to Clarence’s forward thinking to support The Ottawa Hospital – a philanthropist to the very end.

Clarence at Yoho National Park
Clarence in Yoho National Park, BC.

You can create a legacy that will impact future generations by considering a gift in your will to support The Ottawa Hospital.

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Staying on tempo: Cutting-edge surgery technique helps musician get back on her feet
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COVID-19 at The Ottawa Hospital: a year of relentless care and research
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Determined local donor makes $500,000 match gift to honour healthcare workers

Determined to make her community stronger, Dee Marcoux believes that supporting the hospital is critical. In honour of our healthcare workers, she is taking action and inspiring others with her match gift.

Dee Marcoux is no stranger to getting things done. When she sees an opportunity for improvement or a problem that needs solving, she acts. Being complacent simply isn’t in her nature. It’s that determination and drive that inspired Dee to recently give $500,000 to The Ottawa Hospital — a match gift she hopes will inspire others to join her in making charitable donations to our hospital in honour of our healthcare workers.

Dee in Edmonton standing in front of PetroCan oil refinery.

Dee in front of the Petro Canada Edmonton Refinery in 1989.

Resilient from early on

Growing up, Dee’s father served in the Royal Canadian Navy and her family was transferred often. By the time she finished high school, she had attended a dozen schools in both Great Britain and Canada, two of which were right here in Ottawa. As a result, she became fiercely independent, resilient, an adept problem solver, and excellent at managing change.

It wasn’t until Dee attended Queen’s University in 1966, one of only four women in the undergraduate engineering program, that she finally spent four consecutive years in one place. She was drawn to metallurgy and mining, and in 1970, became the university’s first female graduate in that program. After her first four years working in the field, Dee returned to Queen’s to get her MBA.

For decades, Dee excelled in the oil and gas industry, rising through the ranks, becoming an executive in the male-dominated field. That didn’t seem to faze Dee, who has never shied away from marching to the beat of her own drum. In fact, she continued to follow her own path throughout her successful career. Her reputation for being able to tackle big problems and get companies back on track took her to mines in South Africa, Madagascar, and even the Australian outback.

Taking action to honour healthcare workers

Dee and her husband Michel returned to Ottawa in 2017 to help care for her sister, Marilyn Switzer, who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a form of cancer. It was through her sister‘s care that Dee came to know well the needs of the hospital and the important role of healthcare workers.

“The input of our healthcare workers is valuable, and one of the best ways to honour them is to give them the funds they need so they can drive change.” — Dee Marcoux

Dee standing with her family.
Dee with her parents and sister in December 2011.

Dee’s desire to effect real change has never slowed and most recently, she decided to act by making a gift to The Ottawa Hospital. “It’s critical that our hospitals are efficient and effective and able to make the changes necessary,” says Dee. “I want to be part of that solution, so my gift is an investment in the people who are making those changes happen.”

Dee knows better than most that there is power in numbers, so she is encouraging others to give and is committed to matching donations up to $500,000 in honour of our healthcare workers. “Our healthcare workers need more than to simply be thanked right now. They need something tangible and immediate. We need to invest in their work,” says Dee.

“I am not discouraged. I figure out what I can do to make things better. We all need to ask ourselves that question.” — Dee Marcoux

This gift is also very personal for Dee. In addition to honouring our healthcare workers, she feels it’s a meaningful tribute to her sister Marilyn, who died in 2018, and her parents, Allan and Kaye, who passed away in 2012 and 2015 respectively — all longtime residents of Ottawa.

Optimism during a challenging time

Recognizing healthcare workers is something on the minds of many community members after months of navigating the pandemic — a trying time for all. However, Dee is quick to point out that our perspective matters and we have the power to make things better. “I’ve always believed that humans are adaptable and thrive on new information and knowledge,” says Dee. “A problem is an opportunity for change and to learn something new. While this is a challenging time, I am not discouraged. I figure out what I can do to make things better. We all need to ask ourselves that question.”

Dee hopes to make a big impact with her gift and wants to give credit where it’s due.

“This past year has reminded us how important healthcare is to all of us — our healthcare workers are the heart and soul of the whole system.” — Dee Marcoux

Dee at botanical garden.
Dee in a kauri forest in New Zealand.

 

Double your impact and join Dee in honouring our healthcare workers with your donation today.

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COVID-19 at The Ottawa Hospital: a year of relentless care and research
A community that rallied to support our hospital, the race to find answers to a relentless virus, and the story of three nurses caring for COVID-19 patients during unprecedented times.
Rare pheochromocytoma tumour gives young man the battle of his life
Bryde Fresque needed a skilled team to come up with a diagnosis of pheochromocytoma – a rare tumour that left his future uncertain.
Life-long educator and writer leaves gift in his will after peaceful passing through the Medical Assistance in Dying program
Clarence Byrd was always keenly aware of how he wanted to live his life and what would happen when he was gone. He carefully planned how he would leave a gift in his will to The Ottawa Hospital to ensure his legacy as an educator would continue for years to come.
Breast cancer survivor Andrea Douglas swimming with coach Swim coach Andrea Smith.

Making waves for breast cancer patients

Andrea Douglas’ swim club was so inspired by her journey battling breast cancer that they created a grassroots event called OlymPINK Masters Sprint. Their inaugural event at the Brewer Pool in 2018 blew their goal out of the water with 120 swimmers, including six Olympians, and $19K raised for The Ottawa Hospital’s Rose Ages Breast Health Centre. OlymPINK raised $44K in year two, and last year an incredible $70K, despite the actual swim being cancelled due to COVID-19.

Breast cancer survivor Andrea Douglas swimming with coach Swim coach Andrea Smith.
Swim coach Andrea Smith (left) carries the OlymPINK torch with breast cancer survivor Andrea Douglas (right).

“Thankfully, The Ottawa Hospital is prepared for each and every one of us receiving a cancer diagnosis.”
– Andrea Douglas

Q: What is OlymPINK and what inspired you to create this fundraiser?

A: When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, my whole world was turned upside down. No one is ever prepared for those words “you have cancer.” Thankfully, The Ottawa Hospital is prepared for each and every one of us receiving a cancer diagnosis. From the very first meeting with my breast oncology surgeon, I knew I was in good hands. And from that day forward, through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, I received incredible care. For my care and for my health today, I remain grateful and felt it was important to give back to the hospital that had saved my life.

Together with the support of my Masters’ swim coach and many wonderful teammates, we came up with the idea of a fundraiser to support the hospital’s Rose Ages Breast Health Centre. One in eight women in Canada will develop breast cancer—we all know someone — neighbours, sisters, friends, mothers, or daughters who have been and will be impacted, and we need to make sure the most up-to-date technology is at hand when they need it most.

 

Q: Why is the Rose Ages Breast Health Centre at The Ottawa Hospital so important for breast cancer patients?

A: You can’t imagine the emotional turmoil you face when you learn about a breast cancer diagnosis or any other life-threatening diagnosis. For those facing breast cancer, it’s important to know that there is the Rose Ages Breast Health Centre that will embrace you with the care you need. And it’s not just about cancer, it’s about breast health. It’s about the best imaging and cutting-edge technology, all under one roof, to guide women through everything from screening to diagnostics to treatment plans.

“We need to work together to be the change, to make that difference, and to save lives.” – Andrea Douglas

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

A: I feel a sense of responsibility that comes with being one of the “lucky” ones. And that’s why I fundraise for The Ottawa Hospital. Because every piece of technology and every bit of research that could mean one less woman faces this disease or has this disease stopped in its tracks sooner, is worth every penny. We need to work together to be the change, to make that difference and to save lives.

Donate today and help patients like Andrea receive the very best care and latest treatment available.

Husband determined to give back after wife’s lifesaving treatment

After collapsing at home, Rie Bull was rushed to The Ottawa Hospital where she was treated for life-threatening brain bleeds. Grateful for how our experts have tackled her complex case over the past three years, Rie’s husband Mike has found a unique way to give back.

The sun has set on THE RIDE, one of Ottawa’s premier cycling events, but that hasn’t stopped Mike Bull, former RIDE captain for Team Enterprise, from participating and giving back as he starts his own virtual ride as a fundraiser for The Ottawa Hospital. Charitable giving, in support of our hospital in particular, is incredibly important to Mike Bull and his family, after his wife, Rie, was rushed to our emergency department after collapsing – the result of a ruptured brain aneurysm.

It is Rie’s journey to recovery and the care that saved her life that inspires Mike to give back each year. “With every year we see that more people are willing to help out, support my ride, and donate. We are fortunate to have such an incredible neuroscience team right here in Ottawa. They saved my wife’s life.”

Subarachnoid Hemorrhage

Late one night in March 2017, Rie collapsed at home after an aneurysm had bled inside of her brain. She was rushed to The Ottawa Hospital where she was diagnosed with a subarachnoid hemorrhage which was exacerbated by a pre-existing condition requiring blood-thinning medication. Unable to speak for the first three weeks and temporarily forgetting her husband’s name and that of her two sons, her family was fearful and unsure whether or not she would recover.

Dr. Sinclair in the neurosurgery operating room
Dr. John Sinclair, Director of Cerebrovascular Surgery.

Rie underwent an 8-hour operation performed by Dr. John Sinclair, Director of Cerebrovascular Surgery. Post-surgery, he comforted Mike and his sons with a bedside manner that was both caring and compassionate. He fielded questions, explained complex medical concepts in simple terms, and reassured them that Rie was in excellent hands as she recovered.

Ready for the most complex cases

Rie’s bleeding disorder and subsequent aneurysm made her case incredibly complex. Three to four percent of the population at large have aneurysms and don’t even know it. A ruptured aneurysm often causes a sudden severe headache, which people often describe as the worst headache of their life. But when an aneurysm like Rie’s ruptures, 50% of patients do not survive the hemorrhage or die shortly after. Of the 50% of patients who survive, half survive with a life-altering impairment.

Despite the complexity of Rie’s case, her care team was ready and equipped with the knowledge and tools they needed to save her life. According to Mike, their prayers have been answered and Rie has made excellent progress.

Rie Bull
Rie Bull at home.

“She spent over a month in the ICU, a month in the Neurological Acute Care Unit, and five weeks in the Acquired Brain Injury Rehabilitation Centre. All staff members took fantastic care of my wife.” – Mike Bull

As part of her recovery, Rie had to learn English all over again, as she had reverted to her first language of Japanese. When Mike and Rie saw Dr. Sinclair in January of 2018, he was very pleased by Rie’s recovery.

Thanks to the support of donors like Mike and Rie, The Ottawa Hospital can conduct groundbreaking research to better understand how the brain functions and to continue to be among the best in Canada, recognized internationally for leading research in Parkinson’s, stroke, neuromuscular disease, and multiple sclerosis.

Grateful for exceptional care

Mike now affectionately calls it “old home week” every time he and Rie visit The Ottawa Hospital for appointments or check-ups. They are constantly running into doctors, nurses, orderlies, and custodians who are genuinely happy to see how far Rie has come and understand that her recovery is remarkable. To Mike and Rie, each one of them has played an important role in Rie’s journey.

Mike Bull with his family in support of The Ottawa Hospital
Mike and Rie Bull with their sons.

Mike is more determined than ever to give back and make a difference. He will continue to get outdoors, hop on his bike, and raise funds and awareness for our hospital. He hopes his virtual ride will serve as a reminder to everyone how important donor support is to help patients receive the care they need. “It’s doing something good for your body, for research, and the community overall. It will always be a way to say, ‘thank you, thank you, thank you’ to the team at The Ottawa Hospital!”

Donate today to join Mike and Rie in supporting lifesaving research at The Ottawa Hospital.

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Sportscaster A.J. Jakubec’s three-star selection after 66 days in hospital

After spending 66 days in The Ottawa Hospital battling acute pancreatitis, TSN 1200 sportscaster A.J. Jakubec will be forever grateful for the compassionate and lifesaving care he received.

TSN 1200 sportscaster A.J. Jakubec had never heard of acute pancreatitis before December 2019. Today, he’s all too familiar with the illness, which can cause life-threatening complications, and is determined to show his gratitude to his hospital heroes who helped save him.

The morning of December 2, 2019, A.J. woke up in the worst pain he’s ever experienced. The pain was so intense he was vomiting. Scared and desperate for help, he called 911 and was rushed to The Ottawa Hospital’s Emergency Department. “I was admitted to hospital and knew it wasn’t good, but I didn’t know how it would play out,” says A.J.

The situation wasn’t good. A.J. needed to be intubated and spent eight days in the ICU. His family rushed to his bedside from Edmonton. For A.J., those first days were a blur, but for his parents and sister, they were frightening.

A.J. broadcasting at the 2016 Grey Cup
A.J. broadcasting from the Grey Cup in 2016.

The start of a long journey

An MRI would reveal the shocking diagnosis of acute pancreatitis. This is a sudden inflammation of the pancreas. It can range from mild discomfort to a severe, life-threatening illness. “The acute pancreatitis was caused by gallstones. The gallstones were removed, but they had been blocking my bile duct, pancreas area, and my pancreas suffered quite a bit of damage.”

Lynne, with A.J. in ICU at the General Campus
A.J. in ICU at the General Campus with his mother, Lynne, by his side.

While the situation looked dire, physicians at The Ottawa Hospital had a plan to help A.J. and to get him back to doing what he loves most – covering sports.

“I get emotional thinking about the support I received from so many different people who work at the hospital. To describe it as 10/10 would not do it justice in terms of how the healthcare team went beyond the call of duty.”
– A.J. Jakubec

By December 9, A.J. was improving and out of the ICU, although his journey was not even close to being over. He would spend 66 days in hospital – over two periods – 37 days the first time and 29 the second time when he was re-admitted to hospital after getting an infection.

Due to the severity of his acute pancreatitis, A.J. became very weak. At one point, he needed to use a walker to help him begin building up his strength again. But despite the complexity of his case and the extent of care he required, A.J. attributes his ultimate recovery to the high-caliber and compassionate care he received.

“There were different low points at that time with the destabilization of my kidneys. I had five endoscopy procedures. I was in a lot of pain, but after months of incredible care, I was finally released on Feb 27, 2020.”

Super A.J. is born

“I get emotional thinking about the support I received from so many different people who work at the hospital. To describe it as 10/10 would not do it justice in terms of how the healthcare team went beyond the call of duty,” says A.J.

Nickname Super AJ, written on message board for AJ
Super A.J. is the nickname staff gave him as he started to get stronger.

He adds it was the consistent, compassionate care from so many different people that was instrumental in his recovery. That support team led to A.J.’s new nickname – ‘Super A.J.’ It all started in January 2020, when he started gaining confidence and he started feeling stronger. “I was starting to get better and Kenzie, a nurse who cared for me, saw the progress I was making. She was really supportive, and she dubbed me ‘Super A.J.’ She even wrote it on my whiteboard. From that point on, everyone was calling me ‘Super A.J.’

The nickname reminds A.J. of all he’s overcome. “I changed my twitter handle to ‘Super A.J.’ and I think I’ll probably keep that forever just because it motivates and reminds me that if I can get through that, I can get through anything.”

Giving back to his Hospital Heroes

A.J.’s parents, Zane and Lynne Jakubec, were filled with gratitude after witnessing the incredible care and compassion their son received while in hospital. They wanted to give back and honour those who helped get their son back on his feet.

“They asked me who I wanted to recognize and I immediately was thinking of about eight to ten people. It was really difficult, but I ended up narrowing it down to three, Angela Richardson, Nicole Dannel, and Alex Rowe.” You could say they were his three-star selection.

“While we couldn’t afford a large donation, we needed to recognize the doctors, nurses and staff for their hard work, their excellence, compassion, and the healing that we witnessed.” – Zane and Lynne Jakubec

A.J. leaving The Ottawa Hospital
A.J. leaving hospital after 66 days of care.

The couple made a donation to the celebrate these three hospital heroes through a program designed to recognize and thank hospital staff who have gone above and beyond. For A.J. and his parents, it was a way to say thank you for the care, the extra visits, and mental support they each provided to help him get better. “While we couldn’t afford a large donation, we needed to recognize the doctors, nurses, and staff for their hard work, their excellence, compassion, and the healing that we witnessed,” says Zane.

They will be forever grateful for the staff they describe as dedicated and hard working and how they took the time to genuinely care for A.J. “Little gestures like bringing in a warm blanket, trying to find something special in the unit fridge, sharing a brief sports talk – those all add up,” says Lynne.

“It’s something that will stay with me forever – that people cared that much. The physical, the emotional, and the mental support – thank you doesn’t really do justice but I’m so grateful for the care I received.” – A.J. Jakubec

For A.J., it’s hard to put into words the gratitude he feels to be back in the broadcast booth today. He thinks back to the day when he left the hospital that second and final time. “I had staff lined up cheering me on the way out. That was really emotional. That’s why it’s something that will stay with me forever because the people cared that much. The physical, the emotional, and the mental support – thank you doesn’t really do justice but I’m so grateful for the care I received.”

Forever grateful

For A.J., it’s hard to put into words the gratitude he feels to be back in the broadcast booth today.

He remembers those first three weeks in hospital being incredibly difficult and he had become very weak. He wasn’t walking much – in fact, he had to use a walker. But it was a significant turning point when, on Christmas Eve, he was given a pass to go home to have Christmas dinner with his family. “It was a big positive for my psyche,” says A.J.

He also thinks back to the day when he left the hospital that second and final time. “I had staff lined up cheering me on the way out. That was really emotional. That’s why it’s something that will stay with me forever because the people cared that much. The physical, the emotional, and the mental support – thank you doesn’t really do justice but I’m so grateful for the care I received.”

Hear A.J. Jakubec on Pulse: The Ottawa Hospital Foundation Podcast, as he shares his story and says thank you for the exceptional care he received at our hospital.

You can honour your hospital hero by making a donation in recognition of someone at The Ottawa Hospital who went the extra mile to help you or a loved one in their time of need.

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Life-changing cancer diagnosis and treatment inspires donor

When test results came back showing George Knight had prostate cancer, he was determined to act quickly and beat it. Now he’s equally determined to support the hospital that saved him and to become a volunteer to help future patients.

George was faithful when it came to his annual health checkups and was fortunate enough to have always been relatively healthy. For that reason, he didn’t think too much of it when his prostate-specific antigen (PSA) numbers started to creep up. But his family doctor referred him to The Ottawa Hospital where he met urologist Dr. Brian Blew who ordered a biopsy. The results were shocking – prostate cancer. It was the beginning of a health journey George never anticipated, finding himself at the centre of a cancer battle under the care of an exceptional team of doctors, nurses, and radiotherapists. Now, more than a year later, George is a proud monthly donor to the hospital, determined to give back through philanthropy and volunteering his time to help other patients.

George and Maria on vacation
George and Maria on vacation.

Shocking news

In April 2019, George and his wife Maria, had just returned from an annual trip to Mexico when he received the news that the biopsy results showed he had prostate cancer. George’s PSA levels had always been on the higher side and the recent increase could very well have been a result of aging, so he was shocked to learn that he had intermediate risk prostate cancer. Dr. Blew offered George two options: have the prostate removed surgically or undergo radiation. George wanted to act quickly and felt radiation was his best course of action. “I wanted to get on this right away, so I immediately started radiation. I had 20 treatments in total. I felt very fortunate because I know some men need to have more.” said George.

“We have a rare gem of a facility here in Ottawa and by giving, I know it will help future patients receive the same level of care I received.” – George Knight

Compassionate care

George was grateful for the quick treatment and for how well he was taken care of. “I had excellent care from all of my doctors. Dr. Blew, Dr. Alain Haddad, and Dr. J.M. Bourque, and all of the nurses and radiotherapists. They were all absolutely amazing. I couldn’t have asked for any better.” While he was understandably worried, his care team quickly put him at ease.

George Knight
George Knight

Following his radiation, George is feeling better than ever. He is back to doing his many hobbies and he and Maria are back at the yoga studio where he practices twice a week. “I feel 100% — better than I’ve felt in a long time. I have more energy now and my PSA numbers are back in an acceptable range. I got very lucky. I’m feeling wonderful.”

“George’s donation will allow us to continue to develop the best tools for assessment and treatment.” – Dr. Blew

Accordingly, he thinks the excellent care he received helped him get back to good health quickly, and he wants his story to encourage others to get checked. “We caught it really early so that made a really big difference. Now I nag my male friends that are over 50 years old to go and get checked. They hum and haw but it’s important because sometimes you feel fine, even when you aren’t,” said George.

Dr. Blew is quick to echo the importance of regular screening. “Mr. Knight was very knowledgeable about PSA screening and understood a high PSA is not always due to prostate cancer but requires assessment to determine if treatment is needed instead of monitoring. George’s donation will allow us to continue to develop the best tools for assessment and treatment.”

Turning gratitude into action

The care George received has inspired him to sign up to be a volunteer at the hospital, something he has never done before. “I saw a quote online by Jim Rohn that said, ‘Only by giving are you able to receive more than you already have’ and it really struck a chord with me. This is why I need to give back.” In this same spirit, he has also decided to become a monthly donor. “I trusted the hospital with my health and now I trust it with my support. I want the hospital to have regular support that they can count on. We have a rare gem of a facility here in Ottawa and by giving, I know it will help future patients receive the same level of care I received.”

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

Join George in becoming a monthly donor and help patients like him receive the very best care and latest treatment available.

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Healthcare trailblazer dedicated to serving others

Hélène Létourneau-Donnelly has been a trailblazer for The Ottawa Hospital as a healthcare provider, a donor, and volunteer. Now, she wants to leave a lasting legacy for the next generation.

Healthcare trailblazer to breast cancer survivor

When you look at the inspiring life of Hélène Létourneau-Donnelly, there is a common theme that has been weaved throughout. She has consistently worked hard in one capacity or another to help others. You could say it’s in her DNA.

For Hélène, this compassion came from her family roots. “I came from parents who were role models, inspired to help others to have a better quality of life—it didn’t matter what the person did, and it didn’t matter the circumstance.”

A career in caring for others

That’s exactly the path she carved out in both her professional and personal life. Hélène was drawn to a career in healthcare and quickly began to leave her mark–right here at what is now The Ottawa Hospital. Her nursing career began at the then Ottawa General Hospital in 1959, where one week after graduating as an RN, she assumed the position of Assistant Director of Nursing. Only a few years later, her talents were recognized from across town and she became a director in nursing at the then Civic Hospital. She was a young woman, who chose to follow her career aspirations of caring for others, at a time when other women her age were getting married and having children. Hélène would be instrumental in leading that position for the next 27 years.

This strong, independent woman would go on to blaze a trail for healthcare. She’s recognized for developing and establishing, with the support of her committed staff, a list of major hospital programs. They include the Comprehensive Surgical Day Care, which was a first in Canada, Ottawa’s first Triage Nurse Program in the Emergency Department, the Cerebral Vascular Service and Poison Information Centre, also a first in Ottawa, and the city’s first Operating Room Technical Course. She is respected for completing a PhD (Education), without thesis, on a part-time basis during this hectic time.

Whether it was advancing care for patients or her life-long commitment to the education and wellness needs of women, Hélène has routinely been a voice and passionate advocate for others.

Giving back

Anytime she has seen a need, Hélène has acted. That included during her own personal health journey when diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 at the age of 70. She was cared for at The Ottawa Hospital and while the treatment was excellent, Hélène saw an opportunity to improve the process for patients by consolidating care. “I’m pleased we have realized the vision of cancer leaders at The Ottawa Hospital with the opening the new Rose Ages Breast Health Centre. It will make a rough journey smoother for patients, families and caregivers,” says Hélène.

That dedication and commitment to giving back doesn’t go unnoticed. Dr. Jean Seely, head of Breast Imaging in the department of Medical Imaging at The Ottawa Hospital, says Hélène is a very generous donor and understands the need. “Hélène has donated effectively to sustain the goals of promoting clinical education and delivering high quality and patient-centered care at The Ottawa Hospital—the same approach she used during her successful career.” Dr. Seely adds, “She embodies The Ottawa Hospital mission to provide each patient with the world-class care, exceptional service and compassion we would want for our loved ones.” Dr. Seely feels fortunate to have collaborated with Hélène to help make this centre a reality.

Hélène’s actions and commitment to care at The Ottawa Hospital have long since continued into retirement as a volunteer and as a donor—she continues to find ways to give back. Hélène has been particularly interested in supporting women’s health through the Shirley E. Greenberg Women’s Health Centre and the Rose Ages Breast Health Centre, which has a room named after her.

A new journey

Hélène Létourneau-Donnelly and Philip Donnelly
Hélène Létourneau-Donnelly and her husband, Philip Donnelly, at their home.

Her retirement years have also presented her with new opportunities. In fact, it wasn’t until she was 68 that she fell in love with and married Philip Donnelly and became a wife for the first time. “He is a man who is the epitome of kindness and compassion,” smiles Hélène. With their marriage, Hélène welcomed two new important roles in life as a stepmother and step-grandmother. This new family immediately made her think more about the future and the legacy she wanted to leave for the next generation. It is of the utmost importance to Hélène that her stepchildren, step-grandchildren and the children of her friends have access to the world-class healthcare in Ottawa. “I would encourage people to think about the legacy they want to leave and how they can support future generations by leaving a gift in their will to support The Ottawa Hospital.”

With that, Hélène will continue to blaze a trail for future generations and inspire others to give back, just as she has.

 “I would encourage people to think about their legacy and how they can support future generations by leaving a gift in their will to support The Ottawa Hospital.”
– Hélène Létourneau-Donnelly

You, too, can have a legacy like Hélène by leaving a gift in your will to ensure your children and grandchildren have world-class healthcare when they need it.

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Life-long educator and writer leaves gift in his will after peaceful passing through the Medical Assistance in Dying program
Clarence Byrd was always keenly aware of how he wanted to live his life and what would happen when he was gone. He carefully planned how he would leave a gift in his will to The Ottawa Hospital to ensure his legacy as an educator would continue for years to come.

Decoding the mystery of Parkinson’s disease

For more than 200 years, no one has been able to solve the Parkinson puzzle. While the exact cause of the disease remains a mystery, dedicated researchers at The Ottawa Hospital are gaining ground—determined to solve the puzzle.

Dr. Michael Schlossmacher
Dr. Michael Schlossmacher in his lab at The Ottawa Hospital.

For more than 200 years, no one has been able to solve the Parkinson puzzle. Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s. It affects approximately 100,000 Canadians—8,000 here in Ottawa. The national number is expected to double by 2050. Each day, many of those patients face uncontrolled trembling in their hands and limbs, the inability to speak loudly, loss of sense of smell, and pains from stiffness.

While the exact cause of the disease remains a mystery, dedicated researchers at The Ottawa Hospital are gaining ground—determined to solve the puzzle. Ottawa is a recognized centre for neuroscience research. Dr. Michael Schlossmacher is the director of the Neuroscience program at The Ottawa Hospital and while he admits Parkinson’s is complicated and complex, there is hope.

“I strongly believe we can solve that riddle. We have the expertise to make a major contribution to a cure for this disease.” Dr. Michael Schlossmacher

Predicting the risk of Parkinson’s

For Schlossmacher, a step forward in unravelling the mystery of this disease came when he was struck by the idea of a mathematical equation, which could potentially foreshadow the disease before it develops. “I’m convinced that by entering known risk factors for Parkinson’s into this model, it is indeed possible to predict who will get the disease.”

Risk factors for Parkinson’s disease include:

  • age
  • chronic constipation
  • reduced sense of smell
  • family history
  • chronic inflammation such as hepatitis or types of inflammatory bowel disease,
  • environmental exposures
  • head injuries
  • gender, as Parkinson’s affect more men than women

Dr. Schlossmacher and his team of researchers are currently combing through data to test the accuracy of their theory to predict Parkinson’s.

To date, Dr. Schlossmacher and his team have analyzed more than 1,000 people, and the results are promising. “The surprising thing so far is the prediction formula is right in 88 to 91 percent of the cases to tell us who has Parkinson’s and who doesn’t—and this is without even examining the movements of a patient.”

The goal is now to expand to field testing in the next two years. According to Dr. Schlossmacher, should the results show the mathematical equation works, this could allow doctors to identify patients who have high scores. “We could modify some of the risk factors, and potentially delay or avoid developing Parkinson’s altogether.”

Partners Investing in Parkinson’s Research

Team PIPR RFR
Team PIPR co-captain Karin Fuller, left, with Elaine Goetz and fellow co-captain, Kristy Shortall-Cain.

Research is costly and community support is vital to help unleash new discoveries. In 2009, a group of investment advisors came together to create Partners Investing in Parkinson’s Research, more commonly known as PIPR. Each year, the group participates in Run for a Reason and raises money as a part of Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend. In 11 years, the group has raised $1.4 million for The Ottawa Hospital’s researchers and clinicians.

PIPR has not only helped to fund research toward better treatment and hopefully a cure for Parkinson’s, but the group has also brought much-needed attention to the disease. For Dr. Schlossmacher, funding for research from groups like PIPR, means more hope for the future. He is quick to add that PIPR has galvanized the momentum in our community because they see how committed The Ottawa Hospital is to making a difference.

“This investment by PIPR into research at The Ottawa Hospital has been a total game-changer for us. It has allowed us to pursue projects that otherwise would not yet be funded.”

Donor dollars translate into results

Dr. Sachs practicing the use of 3D technology
Dr. Adam Sachs practicing the use of 3D technology for neurosurgery.

PIPR’s support helped bring deep brain stimulation surgery (DBS) to The Ottawa Hospital. For someone like Karin Fuller, co-captain of team PIPR, she knows the positive impact this type of technology can have. “When my dad had that surgery he had to go to Toronto, which meant going back and forth for the appointments. It was a lot for him and for our family. Helping to bring DBS to our community is a tangible example of what we’ve been able to do as a group to support The Ottawa Hospital,” says Karin.

Also developed at The Ottawa Hospital is the world’s first 3D virtual reality system for neurosurgery. It is being used to increase the accuracy of DBS surgery for patients with Parkinson’s. Our neurosurgeons are the first in the world to use this technology in this way and the goal is to improve the outcome for patients.

Promise for the future

It’s also expected that one day 3D technology could be in every department throughout the hospital. The possibilities for this technology are endless and, in the future, it could help countless patients, beyond Parkinson’s disease.

When Dr. Schlossmacher looks at the puzzle of Parkinson’s, which he’s been investigating for 20 years, he sees promise.

“At The Ottawa Hospital, we think outside the box and that’s how we’re able to unravel mysteries through our research. Research which we hope will one day be transformational.”   Dr. Michael Schlossmacher

He also has sheer determination in his eyes. “To the chagrin of my wife, I will not retire until I put a dent into it. The good news is, I may have 20 years left in the tank but, ultimately, I’d like to put myself out of business.”

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

We need your help to fund research into diseases like Parkinson’s at The Ottawa Hospital and to provide more hope for patients in the future.

More Inspiring Stories

A meningioma tumour leaves mother facing blindness
In the fall of 2020, Michele Juma noticed the vision in her left eye was becoming cloudy. Fearing blindness, she travelled to The Ottawa Hospital where she received specialized care after learning she had a meningioma tumour – and time was not on her side to save her vision.
Staying on tempo: Cutting-edge surgery technique helps musician get back on her feet
When painful leg ulcers threatened Mina King’s mobility and ability to play the piano with ease, experts at The Ottawa Hospital came together in perfect unison with cutting-edge surgery techniques and compassionate care.
New approach to treating brain tumours changed young patient’s life
Following a decade of mini-seizures, Stefanie Scrivens was diagnosed with grade 2 oligodendroglioma. She would be one of the first to benefit from a new treatment option that could increase her chance of survival – and it’s working.