A shocking cancer diagnosis inspires hope and generosity
After a shocking cancer diagnosis that rocked their world, Dan MacMillan and Jenny Chen are showing up for their community by paying it forward and supporting our hospital.
For a long time, Dan MacMillan believed he could control every aspect of his life. His theory was simple – if he kept to himself, put his head down and worked hard, he could overcome anything that came his way. For a while this practice worked well for Dan. Afterall, it helped him through university where he received his Bachelors Honours degree in Economics from University of Ottawa and led him to a successful career as a Vice President and Wealth Advisor at BMO Nesbitt Burns. But in 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit Ottawa, Dan received shocking news that would force him to give up control. At just 51 years old, he heard three, life-altering words, “You have cancer.”
“When we received Dan’s diagnosis we cried.”
– Jenny Chen
It started with the development of a rash, excessive night sweats, and swelling in his neck to the point where he no longer fit into his dress shirts. “My neck got so thick I looked like the incredible Hulk,” explained Dan. It was initially thought to be a minor viral infection, but when his symptoms progressed, Dan’s partner, Jenny Chen, grew concerned and urged him to book an appointment with his doctor. “Jenny was the driving force in encouraging me to get my symptoms checked out,” said Dan. “If it wasn’t for her, I would have put it off even longer.”
After months of tests, lymph node, and bone marrow biopsies, Dan was diagnosed with small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL), a cancer mostly found in the lymph nodes. Though it was caught early, a diagnosis of this magnitude was gut wrenching. “When we received Dan’s diagnosis we cried,” said Jenny.
This was the beginning of an emotional journey through cancer treatment and care at our hospital. One which led them to want to support our hospital.
Q: What prompted you to support our hospital and why do you feel it’s important to give?
Jenny: Before Dan was diagnosed, I was interested in supporting The Ottawa Hospital. I was moved by the level of care patients receive and I wanted to help.
When Dan was diagnosed, I was by his side as a friend. But as he went through six months of chemotherapy treatment, our affection for each other grew and it made me realize life is too short. I proposed to him halfway through his treatment to let him know that I would be right there with him through it all! You have to do whatever you can in the time that you have.
Dan: It was only once I went through treatment and Jenny and I got together that giving became a family affair. The hospital saved my life and the life of my new family, with Jenny and our kids. It’s my way to say “thank you”.
Q: How has this experience impacted you?
Dan: Most of the time I like to keep to myself. But when I was diagnosed with cancer, one of the hardest parts about it was feeling like I needed to go through it alone. It was Jenny who made me realize if I opened up about what I was going through, the heavy weight of it would be shared — not just for me, but for my loved ones as well. It was the best advice I could have received. So while going through one of the hardest years of my life, rather than going through it on my own, I was surrounded by an incredible community of loved ones and friends who wanted to support me and my family any way they could.
When you donate to charity, you’re supporting people you don’t know. But now we feel like we know a part of their story because we’ve gone through this experience ourselves. So by giving, it feels like we’re supporting a community of friends.
Q: Why is it important for others to give?
Jenny: The Ottawa Hospital will impact each and every individual in this city, at one point or another. Everyone will share in The Ottawa Hospital and its resources at different stages of life, whether they realize it now or not. If our community wants world-class care, they have to pitch in.
“The hospital saved my life and the life of my family. It’s my way to say ‘thank you’.”
– Dan MacMillan
Dan: If you’re considering making a gift, all you have to do is look around you. Look at all the individuals in our community that might benefit from the hospital. It’s your neighbour, your friend, or a colleague. Why wouldn’t you want to support them?
For decades, Russell and Linda Grass have given generously in support of countless local charities and initiatives in our community. They were motivated to make a significant contribution to The Ottawa Hospital following a series of health challenges that hit close to home. Linda received care at the former Breast Health Centre, and Russell’s brother required critical care twice through the Division of Urology. Russell himself also receives ongoing, exceptional care through the Division of Urology.
In recognition of their leadership support, we are thrilled to celebrate the establishment of the Grass Family Men’s Health Clinic this June. The Clinic will provide a dedicated space for excellence in men’s healthcare and research. It will also provide an opportunity for collaboration among hospital teams to examine these important healthcare issues.
Thanks to the generous support of the Grass Family, we will be able to provide the very best in men’s healthcare, right here in Ottawa.
Why is supporting men’s health important to your family?
It can be difficult when facing a health scare. We know this from personal experience. So, we believe it is important for there to be a clinic, right here in Ottawa, that is dedicated to men’s health issues. From research to diagnostics and testing to ongoing care — we wanted to be part of ensuring the people of Ottawa had access to this kind of excellent care.
Why do you feel it’s important to give back to our community?
The Ottawa community has been good to us — professionally and personally. We wanted to give back to the city that has given so much to us. And we wanted to do it at the hospital that cared so well for us in our time of need.
We also wanted to teach our three children and four grandchildren that when you’re blessed with health and success it’s important to give back to the community.
Why is it important to you to have world class healthcare in Ottawa?
To have a world-class city you need to have a world-class hospital. When we look at the employees at our own companies, the large majority are men. We hope this Men’s Health Clinic can be a benefit to them and their loved ones should they find themselves needing care.
Growing up, Dan Lynch learned to help others whenever he could. It was something instilled in him as a young boy by his parents and it’s a quality he’s carried throughout his life. It’s what inspired him and his wife, Wendy, to leave a gift in their will to support multiple myeloma research at The Ottawa Hospital following his care at the Cancer Center’s Medical Day Care Unit.
Born and raised in Montreal, Dan spent 30 years as an aircraft mechanic. He met Wendy in 1988, thanks to some mutual friends who invited them to a party. Two years later, they married and by 1991, they settled on a picturesque piece of property in Green Valley, Ontario — near Lancaster. It’s a sprawling 43 acres which keeps Dan busy. “There’s always something to do here with about 200,000 trees. I’m up early to feed the dog and cats, and then I’m on my way, but by 1 p.m. I need to relax because I get tired easier these days,” he says.
Flu-like symptoms and concern for his kidneys
The reason for his fatigue these days dates back to July 2019. It all started when he had persistent flu symptoms for two weeks — he just couldn’t shake them. Wendy’s prompting convinced him to go to the Glengarry Memorial Hospital in nearby Alexandria. “Blood tests revealed my creatinine levels were extremely high, and there were concerns about my kidney function,” explains Dan.
“I never realized how important The Ottawa Hospital was until I needed it. Until 2019, I had never been sick in all of my 66 years.”
– Dan Lynch
Based on those test results, doctors had Dan transferred by ambulance to The Ottawa Hospital for possible emergency dialysis. However, following further testing, Dan and Wendy received a devastating diagnosis. “The doctors told me that the problem with my kidneys was the result of my having cancer – multiple myeloma,” he remembers.
The news was shocking. While Dan hadn’t been feeling well, he never imagined the words cancer or multiple myeloma.
What is multiple myeloma?
Multiple myeloma is a rare form of cancer that forms in plasma cells. These cells are a type of white blood cell that produce antibodies to help fight off infection. When someone is diagnosed with multiple myeloma, their plasma cells are changing, dividing uncontrollably — making more cells that are abnormal.
Symptoms can include bone pain, fatigue, and weakness from anemia, kidney abnormalities — all symptoms that Dan had experienced.
Men are more likely than women to be diagnosed with multiple myeloma and the median age of diagnosis is 68. This form of cancer is discovered through routine blood tests for other conditions, or a doctor might order a test for it if a patient has the symptoms. There are a variety of ways to treat patients with this type of cancer, including a stem cell transplant.
“It was a learning experience and we’ll always be a part of the hospital because of the care Dan received.”
— Wendy Lynch
There are two major types of stem cell transplants. Allogeneic, when stem cells come from a donor, and autologous, when a patient, like Dan, can provide their stem cells.
Initially, Dan remained in hospital for about ten days to stabilize him. He then returned to our Cancer Centre every Friday for chemotherapy treatment for 16 weeks. This would prepare him for a stem cell transplant and Dan learned he could be his own donor. “Not everyone is able to donate their own stem cells. I felt very lucky to be able to do so, thus reducing the chances of infection and/or incompatibility with the donor’s cells,” he admits.
Medical Day Care Unit plays a crucial role
By January 2020, Dan’s care team had harvested his stem cells, four bags in fact, and froze them in preparation for replacing them back into his body. On February 17, Dan was admitted to the hospital and given a large dose of chemotherapy. Two days later — his reinfusion day — his now healthy stem cells were placed back in his body, giving Dan a new lease on life.
“I’m in remission. The disease is not curable, but it can be treated. The staff at the Cancer Centre saved my life.”
— Dan Lynch
Both of these procedures happened as an outpatient in our Medical Day Care Unit (MDCU). The Ottawa Hospital Transplantation and Cellular Therapy (TCT) Program performs about 200 transplants a year. Our TCT program was the first program outside of the United States to receive accreditation from the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy (FACT), which sets the global standard for top quality patient care in cellular therapies. The TCT provides care across four sites including the MDCU where Dan received his stem cell transplant.
“I’m in remission. The disease is not curable, but it can be treated. The staff at the Cancer Centre saved my life,” says Dan.
Forever grateful to The Ottawa Hospital
On March 7, 2020, he returned home to the couple’s sprawling land — the property that brought so much joy to him and his wife — to start the next chapter of their lives.
Today, Dan and Wendy are thankful for our hospital — admitting they didn’t realize the significant role it played. “I never realized how important The Ottawa Hospital was until I needed it. Until 2019, I had never been sick in all of my 66 years,” he says.
“Take some time to think about what you can do to help others. It feels good to make a positive contribution to help the hospital both now and in the future.”
— Dan Lynch
For Wendy, standing alongside her husband throughout this journey and witnessing the incredible care he received, fills her with gratitude. “It was a learning experience and we’ll always be a part of the hospital because of the care Dan received.”
The couple decided they wanted to do something significant to say “thank you” to our hospital. Thinking back to those values taught to him many years ago by his parents, Dan and Wendy decided they would leave a gift in their will to support The Ottawa Hospital. “We’re so grateful for what they did for me. Thanks to all the doctors, nurses, orderlies, nursing assistants, and volunteers who work so hard for patients like me. Their compassion and professionalism towards their patients under difficult circumstances is beyond reproach. Now I want to help the people who saved me.” Dan adds, “Drs. Gregory Hundemer, Arleigh McCurdy, and Michael Kennah played an important role in my care, and I can’t thank them enough.”
Dan also offers some friendly advice to others about planning for the future. “Try to do what you can and do all you can. Take some time to think about what you can do to help others. It feels good to make a positive contribution to help the hospital both now and in the future. We never know what will happen. A devastating diagnosis to you, your family, and friends can hit when you least expect. The members of the treatment teams at The Ottawa Hospital will always be there for us; let’s be there for them now and in the years to come.”
Dee Marcoux is a problem solver, a pro-active enabler of meaningful action. She views her donations to The Ottawa Hospital as investments in positive change in her community, and in December 2020, Dee made a $500,000 match gift to our hospital that inspired many others to join her in giving back. Now, more than a year into a pandemic that has challenged our healthcare workers like never before, she is once again hoping to inspire the community to join her in honouring healthcare workers. And she is doing it in a unique way.
Q: Your last large donation in December 2020 inspired more than 7,000 others to give in honour of healthcare workers. What is unique about this donation?
A: My donation this April means that all 17,000+ members of The Ottawa Hospital team will receive the newly designed Gratitude Award pin. The Gratitude Award Program replaces the former Guardian Angel Program and is a way for me to support the hospital while thanking each and every member of the team in a tangible way. They have all worked very hard through the unknown, changing, and stressful conditions. I’ve been so impressed with how the hospital team has come together in the past year. We’ve all benefitted from their effort, care, and compassion, and I for one am truly grateful. If I could look each healthcare worker in the eye and say “thank you,” I would. This is my way of doing that.
“It’s been a challenging time, and so I think it’s incredibly important for each of us in the community to look for ways to help.”
— Dee Marcoux
Q: What inspired you to help launch the new Gratitude Award Program?
My husband, Michel, and I like to thank people in tangible ways, and we write a lot of thank you cards. When appropriate, we will also call the “compliments” department of the company to say how impressed we are with the individual who helped us. For The Ottawa Hospital, these pins fit that desire perfectly. You thank the person, their boss knows about it, and you’re making a donation to the hospital at the same time. When I heard about the initiative to introduce the newly redesigned Gratitude Award pin, I said to myself “How can I help make that happen?” My donation is the answer to that question. It’s a concrete way for me to show my gratitude to our healthcare workers. It’s been a challenging time, and so I think it’s incredibly important for each of us in the community to look for ways to help.
Q: Recognizing healthcare workers is something on the minds of many community members right now. What advice would you give them?
I would challenge them to ask themselves, “What am I thankful for?” For anyone who has witnessed the care, commitment, and compassion of The Ottawa Hospital team, I hope they consider putting their thanks into action with a Gratitude Award donation. Seize every opportunity to show thanks. Create a moment for someone by thanking them. Maybe it was a nurse or a doctor who made a difference. Perhaps it was a volunteer who greeted them, an administrator they spoke with on the phone, or a researcher whose important work they admire. Let’s fill lanyards, lab coats, and lapels with Gratitude Award pins. If there is no one in particular they want to honour or you’ve had no interface with the hospital, l hope they will still consider a general donation to the hospital. It doesn’t need to be a large gift — there is great power in collective generosity. Actively support our healthcare system is something we can all do.
When COVID-19 moved into the Ottawa region in March of 2020, we were in uncharted territory. However, despite the rapidly changing information in the early days, and the unknowns about this virus, something very clear began to emerge – unity. The community would soon show an outpouring of support for The Ottawa Hospital while healthcare teams rallied together to care for patients.
“Thank you to our generous donors – some who reached out for the first time.” – Tim Kluke
As our front-line workers would go into the hospital each day to face the virus head-on, the community stayed home to help flatten the curve. Nevertheless, it became obvious residents wanted to do more – and they did. Donations both big and small began streaming in and the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund was created. To date, more than $2 million has been generously donated to support our hospital’s COVID-19 efforts and these donations have already been put to work. Tim Kluke, President and CEO of The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, says this support has made a world of a difference supporting both research and care projects. “This proves once again that we really are stronger when we pull together. Thank you to our generous donors – some of whom have even reached out for the first time. Research currently underway will allow us to better understand and treat the virus, to keep our patients and our community safe.” Donations continue to be accepted today.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was another way our community lent a helping hand. The Ottawa Chinese Community quickly mobilized and raised over $120,000 to purchase necessary equipment like ventilators and PPE for our staff.
In Their Own Words: Good Days, Bad Days, and What Keeps Them Coming Back
Stepping into the unknown
While the community united to show their support for our front-line workers, a COVID-19 floor was created at both the General and Civic Campuses to care for the patients who tested positive for the virus. The team at the General Campus that had originally cared for Thoracic, ENT (Ear, Nose, and Throat), and surgical patients would, almost overnight, become the team caring for COVID-19 patients. Little did they know at the time, they would be caring for these patients for well over a year. “We have a background in lungs and breathing issues on our unit, so we were a natural fit to care for these patients,” says Vanessa Large, a registered nurse at our hospital for the past four years.
Nevertheless, it was a daunting and draining task. Kristine Belmore is a registered nurse who has been at our hospital for 11 years and never did she imagine her career taking this step. “I was working the day the first positive patients came in. We were constantly getting new updates on protocols for caring for these patients – not just daily but during our shifts,” says Belmore. She adds, “It was the equivalent of how I felt when I was a new nurse preparing for a shift — I didn’t sleep well. I was anxious and there was the fear of the unknown.”
Leah Mills was just three years into her career as a registered nurse when she found herself caring for COVID-19 patients. “There was no easing into the COVID transition; it turned our world upside down,” says Leah.
Resilience as weeks turn into months
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
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.
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.
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.
The Ottawa Hospital is a leading academic health, research, and learning hospital proudly affiliated with the University of Ottawa.
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
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
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
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
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.
“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.”
The Ottawa Hospital is a leading academic health, research, and learning hospital proudly affiliated with the University of Ottawa.
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
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.’”
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.
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 give $500,000 to The Ottawa Hospital in December 2020— a match gift that inspired others to join her in honouring our healthcare workers.
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’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 in December 2020, she encouraged others to give with her match gift of $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.”
“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
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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
“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 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!”
After an incredibly rare accident on his farm in Perth, Olympic equestrian Ian Millar was rushed to The Ottawa Hospital Trauma Centre with a severe arm injury with tremendous blood loss. A skilled team was ready to provide the care he needed to get him back doing what he loves most.
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