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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Margaret's Gift

Ovarian cancer claimed Margaret Craig’s life. Now her generous gift is opening new doors to preventing the disease. Margaret knew research would ultimately provide the solution to ovarian cancer. Her donation through her will is opening new doors to preventing the disease that claimed her life.

In late 2019, an ovarian cancer study that took place at The Ottawa Hospital made headlines across Canada. It suggests that metformin, a medication commonly used to treat Type 2 diabetes, may hold promise for helping prevent ovarian cancer. This study was possible in part thanks to a retired Ottawa educator, Margaret Craig, who believed that research could beat the disease that would eventually take her life.

Margaret, who went by Peg to her family, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in Tucson, Arizona, just a few days before Christmas 2013.

She hadn’t been feeling well for a couple of months, but couldn’t quite pinpoint what was wrong, other than a failure to lose the couple of pounds she had gained, despite trying, and a slight swelling and firmness in her abdomen.

She decided to visit a walk-in-clinic after she had difficulty breathing. The clinic sent Margaret to an emergency department, where she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

The news left her reeling.

“Part of that was because I had to get back to Ottawa and it was Christmas,” she said in an interview in 2015. “But I got here. I caught a flight in a snowstorm on the busiest travel day of the year, December 22.”

Margaret immediately went to The Ottawa Hospital, where doctors confirmed the diagnosis. She began treatment in January.

“Peg would have been so happy with this result. It’s exactly the kind of cutting-edge research into ovarian cancer she would have wanted. It also gives me a sense of closure regarding Peg’s death.” — Holly Craig, Margaret’s sister

Margaret Craig

Margaret speaking at the Teas, Talks, and Tours symposium

Ovarian cancer hides in plain sight

“I have been told over and over again by the professionals that it is rare to detect ovarian cancer early,” said Margaret. “Mine was caught early enough that they could surgically remove everything that was over a centimeter.”

Margaret learned that there are often no obvious symptoms until the disease is advanced, and no reliable screening test to catch it early.

Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer in women, and among the deadliest, with a five-year survival rate of 45 percent. But researchers at The Ottawa Hospital, backed by the generosity of people like Margaret, are committed to changing these statistics for good.

Grateful for compassionate care

Margaret was so grateful for the compassionate treatment she received at The Ottawa Hospital that she was inspired to give back by investing in cancer research that could help people like her in the future.

She enlisted the help of her sister Holly Craig, a retired university professor and researcher living in Arizona. They spoke at length about Margaret’s desire to support innovative research in her will. Margaret asked Holly to find her a Canadian researcher who was doing groundbreaking work in ovarian cancer.

Holly identified Dr. Barbara Vanderhyden, a senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and the Corinne Boyer Chair in Ovarian Cancer Research at the University of Ottawa.

“It was clear that Dr. Vanderhyden was doing innovative research,” said Holly. “I liked her, and I liked her questions.”

Innovative research inspires gift in will

Holly flew to Ottawa to tour Dr. Vanderhyden’s lab with Margaret and learn more about her research. Margaret was particularly interested in Dr. Vanderhyden’s innovative and bold ideas. The visit convinced Margaret to make a gift in her will.

Dr. Vanderhyden sat with Margaret during her last chemotherapy treatment at The Ottawa Hospital, and was there when she rang the bell to mark the end of her treatment.

On June 2016, Dr. Vanderhyden invited Margaret to speak at an educational symposium called Teas, Talks and Tours she had organized for ovarian cancer patients and their families and friends.

“She was a private person, but she was willing to speak at Dr. Vanderhyden’s event,” said Holly. “That was a big step for her.”

Dr. Barbara Vanderhyden, The Ottawa Hospital
 Dr. Barbara Vanderhyden

At the symposium Margaret met Dr. Curtis McCloskey, a talented, capable young researcher on Dr. Vanderhyden’s research team who showed deep appreciation for her gift to research.

When Margaret reached her last few days, each day Dr. Vanderhyden would have one person on her team write a short story about the impact of Margaret’s donation on their work. Then Dr. Vanderhyden would send these daily stories to Margaret, so that she might be comforted by the legacy that she was leaving behind.

Margaret died from ovarian cancer in September of 2016, and Dr. Vanderhyden was asked to give the eulogy at her funeral.

Gift to cancer research bears fruit

Margaret’s generous gift has been put to good use. In 2019, Dr. McCloskey and Dr. Vanderhyden published a study that offers a new hypothesis about how ovarian cancer forms and suggests how it might be prevented.

The study is the first to show that the natural stiffening of the ovaries called fibrosis occurs with age. It also suggests that the diabetes drug metformin may be able to halt this process.

“We hope that someday metformin may prove to be an effective preventative treatment for younger women who are at high risk of ovarian cancer, but who can’t have their ovaries removed because they still want to have children,” said Dr. Vanderhyden. “We are so grateful to donors like Margaret who believe that research is the way forward.”

Holly and the rest of Margaret’s family are thrilled with the impact of Margaret’s gift.

“Peg would have been so happy with this result. It’s exactly the kind of cutting-edge research into ovarian cancer she would have wanted,” said Holly. “It also gives me a sense of closure regarding Peg’s death.”

Hospital staff with a banner thanking a patient

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

We need your help today to help stop cancer in its tracks.

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True love will continue through legacy gifts

When Jim Whitehead’s wife, Pat, passed away, he consolidated the causes he wanted to support down to ten including The Ottawa Hospital. Through this future gift to The Ottawa Hospital, Jim and Pat’s love will continue by providing care and attention to patients in years to come.

True love will continue through legacy gifts

“When I search for you, I never look too far. In every room, in every corner – there you are.”

Jim Whitehead wrote that poem to his late wife, Pat, after she passed away. The two had a magical connection that spanned almost their entire lives, including over 35 years of marriage.

Pat and Jim first met as young children in an Orangeville neighbourhood where Jim lived, and where Pat would visit relatives. Eventually, the pair went their separate ways, and over the course of about 20 years, they each married and had two children, all boys.

It wasn’t until they were in their mid-forties and both living in Ottawa, that their paths would cross again. “We became ‘simultaneously singlelized’ and reunited,” Jim remembers, as a smile stretches across his face.

Love reconnected

Their reconnection was instant. “We both were at a party in Barrhaven, hosted by a mutual friend. When I saw her, I knew that this moment was it.”

The rest, shall we say, is history. The couple married and built their life together in their cozy home near the Civic Campus of The Ottawa Hospital. They shared a love of music, art and travel, all of which is obvious when you look around their home. They also had a deep connection to their community – in fact, Pat generously supported 40 local charities.

After Pat passed away in January 2018, following a seven-year struggle with the effects of Alzheimer dementia, Jim decided to revisit the charities he and his late wife had supported.

 

Patricia Whitehead in sitting on a couch in her home.
Jim’s late wife, Patricia, pictured at their cozy home.

Legacy of their love

Ultimately, he decided to leave a gift in his will to 11 organizations, including The Ottawa Hospital. During his work years, Jim some spent time as an employee of the geriatric unit of the Civic Hospital, now the Civic Campus of The Ottawa Hospital. With the hospital being just a stone’s throw from his front steps, this gift was important to him. “My sons were born there and my two stepsons as well. I worked there, Pat and I were both cared for at the hospital, and I realized that I wanted to do more.”

As Jim sits in his living room, he still grieves for the loss of his beloved wife. However, Pat’s presence fills their home, with the special touches, from the addition she designed to the pictures that hang on the wall to the marionettes that she made herself. Jim reflects on their special bond, which was so strong that it brought the two back together. “We were well matched,” smiles Jim. He continues, “I had never loved or been loved as much, or as well, as with my Patricia.”

Jim’s gift will be a lasting legacy for not only him but also of Pat, and it will honour their deep love of their community and each other. Their love story will continue for generations by providing care and attention to patients in years to come.

Leave a legacy, like Jim, to ensure the best in patient care for generations to come by making a donation to The Ottawa Hospital in your will.

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The Tod Family’s story

Through the years, The Ottawa Hospital was always there when the Tod family needed it. Now, they’re paying that good fortune forward.

For the Tod family, The Ottawa Hospital has been a pillar of support for nearly 60 years.

Charles and Maureen first moved to Ottawa in 1963 with their daughters, Cynthia and Melanie, into a home just blocks from the former Civic Hospital. They’d picked the house because Charles could walk to work easily–but the location soon proved even more ideal than they’d thought.

Through the years, the doctors at The Ottawa Hospital treated the family for ailments of all sorts: from tonsillitis and appendicitis to concussions, sprains, and stitches. It’s where Charles got his hearing aids adjusted, and where Melanie underwent investigative surgery. More recently, it’s where Maureen was treated for a series of mini strokes that caused several falls.

And the connection spread further. Because they were so near the hospital, it wasn’t uncommon for friends undergoing treatment at the hospital to drop by afterward for a cup of comforting tea.

No matter what was wrong, the Tods knew that The Ottawa Hospital was the place to go for world-class care.

Never one to receive and not pay it forward, Maureen began volunteering at the gift shop. She also became a donor–inspiring her daughter Melanie to do the same. So it felt like a natural extension for Maureen to include The Ottawa Hospital in her will.

“It will be helpful to people to have the care available. And at almost 90, I haven’t needed a lot of care, but when I did, I got great care, and I’m still doing well. I want to pass that on.”


Stories of Donors Who've Cared

Annie's Story
Annie’s dear husband, Hernan, lost his battle with cancer. But with a gift in her will, she hopes it’s a fight that future Canadians will win.
Kathleen's Story
Kathleen spent her life dedicated to bettering the lives of children. And that legacy lives on, training neo-natal nurses through a gift in her will.
The Tod Family’s Story
Through the years, The Ottawa Hospital was always there when the Tod family needed it. Now, they’re paying that good fortune forward.

Kathleen’s Story

Kathleen spent her life dedicated to bettering the lives of children. And that legacy lives on, training neo-natal nurses through a gift in her will.

Kathleen was born in Kemptville, Ontario, in 1906. From an early age, she had a real knack with children that led her to pursue her teaching certification in 1925.

Certificate in hand, Kathleen began teaching in a small, one-room schoolhouse, filled with students from grade one all the way to grade eight. She spent two years moulding minds and teaching the values of compassion, duty, and looking out for one another.

Her keen interest in children only grew in that time and Kathleen decided to take it a step further. She moved to Guelph, where she completed a degree in Household Science in 1929 that enabled her to work as a dietician at Sick Kids in Toronto before resuming her teaching career in Home Economics.

The work was challenging for Kathleen – but also deeply satisfying. While it broke her heart to see little ones suffering so much, it also drove her to do her very best to give them whatever small comfort she could.

In fact, the injustice of small children starting life with such a disadvantage – of lives filled with promise, cut short all too soon by disease – never left her. And it’s what inspired this centenarian to leave a gift in her will that could aid in the training of nurses who wish to specialize in neo-natal care.

Kathleen spent her lifetime dedicated to nurturing our next generation. And that legacy will last for many lifetimes more, thanks to her legacy gift to The Ottawa Hospital.


Stories of Donors Who've Cared

Annie's Story
Annie’s dear husband, Hernan, lost his battle with cancer. But with a gift in her will, she hopes it’s a fight that future Canadians will win.
Kathleen’s Story
Kathleen spent her life dedicated to bettering the lives of children. And that legacy lives on, training neo-natal nurses through a gift in her will.
The Tod Family’s Story
Through the years, The Ottawa Hospital was always there when the Tod family needed it. Now, they’re paying that good fortune forward.

Annie’s Story

Annie’s dear husband, Hernan, lost his battle with cancer. But with a gift in her will, she hopes it’s a fight that future Canadians will win.  

When Annie and Hernan moved to Ottawa, they had two suitcases, a toddler, and $500 in their pockets.

Annie became Chief Financial Officer of The Ottawa Hospital Foundation. Over the years, she saw first-hand the importance of life-saving care: when a rare virus devastated her kidneys and put her on dialysis, the doctors at The Ottawa Hospital fixed her up. And, Hernan received a successful corneal transplant there.

“I noticed that a growing number of people in and around Ottawa were leaving gifts in their wills to the Hospital. Even though this type of giving doesn’t usually generate much attention, I came to learn what an important source of revenue it is to clinical research, the purchase of medical equipment and the delivery of world-class patient care.”

So, around the time that Annie’s kidney disease was resolved, the couple decided to include a gift to The Ottawa Hospital in their estate plans.

They didn’t think much on it until 2015, when Hernan was diagnosed with appendiceal cancer (or cancer of the appendix, a very rare form of cancer). The Ottawa Hospital was there once again. He fought with everything he had. Tragically, the cancer won, taking Hernan’s life in the end.

Today, Annie misses Hernan terribly–but she does her best to live life to the fullest, like her husband would have wanted. And, she knows that his legacy of kindness and community lives on, thanks to the gift in their will.

“When I look back on my life, I think of me and Hernan as a pair. We have built so much–and we will leave so much. We made beautiful, bright children. We worked hard for the betterment of others. And, we left our bequests to The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, so that those who follow us will receive the best possible healthcare when they need it most.”


Stories from our caring donors

Annie's Story
Annie’s dear husband, Hernan, lost his battle with cancer. But with a gift in her will, she hopes it’s a fight that future Canadians will win.
Kathleen’s Story
Kathleen spent her life dedicated to bettering the lives of children. And that legacy lives on, training neo-natal nurses through a gift in her will.
The Tod Family’s Story
Through the years, The Ottawa Hospital was always there when the Tod family needed it. Now, they’re paying that good fortune forward.