Shelley with her mother, Marcella.

The mother-daughter bond is special. For some, it’s a connection that can rival any close relationship — an unconditional love. That’s certainly the case for Shelley and her mother, Marcella. That relationship was so special that Shelley decided to leave a gift in her will to The Ottawa Hospital — a gift that will ensure the love she has for her mother will live on through future generations of healthcare.  

Both women have experienced care at our hospital for decades, and this gift seemed like a natural way for Shelley to say thank you and help others in the future. “My mom is my inspiration,” she says. 

When Shelley was young, the family was living in Southern Ontario and she was diagnosed with scoliosis — a sideways curve of the spine that is most often diagnosed in adolescents. “I initially was cared for by SickKids in Toronto. I was involved in an experimental treatment, and over time it didn’t work and the condition progressed,” explains Shelley. 

The family moved to Renfrew and as her condition worsened, Shelley was referred to the Civic Hospital in 1983 she was just 13 years old. 

She needed spinal corrective surgery and a spinal fusion. “wasn’t in pain, but because the spine was curving, it pressed on my lungs so I would lose my breath easily. It also caused a visible deformity in my back that could lead to chronic pain in the future, so I didn’t want to go through that,” explains Shelley. 

Early introduction to healthcare

With her parents by her side, she was introduced to Dr. Gordon Armstrong, a renowned orthopaedic surgeon who was well known for his work and innovations in scoliosis treatment, including for children with scoliosis like Shelley. I remember the surgery so well. He had white, white hair and I remember thinking he was old, but he was probably 50,” she laughs.

“He had such an amazing sense of humour and he put me at ease. I remember how kind and how reassuring he was because it was a risky surgery.”

— Shelley

The details of the hospital stay are still vivid for her, despite the fact it was 40 years ago. “I can see the room I was in, along with the nurses and the orderlies. There was one orderly I had a crush on, and I’d ring the bell sometimes, so he’d come back in,” laughs Shelley. 

Once the surgery was complete, this young teen now had rods in her back along with hardware — and she dubbed herself a bionic woman. The surgical technique was new at the time. It was called the Luque Rod method, where specialized wires attach each vertebra around the rods — an extraordinarily delicate procedure, recalls Shelley. 

The success of this surgery allowed her to grow up and have what she describes as a great life thanks to the care she received.  

In her twenties, she travelled through Europe exploring Britain, Scotland, and Wales. But she never forgot the impact Dr. Armstrong had on her life. “I was doing some research recently and I came upon an article about him. I learned he had been awarded the Order of Canada in 2001. It came full circle for me and the impact he had on orthopaedic surgery in Ottawa and patients with spinal issues, like me.” 

A lifetime of care at The Ottawa Hospital

While she did enjoy travelling, she was always drawn back to Ottawa, where she eventually moved — drawn back home to her family and her mom. “I wanted to go into natural medicine, but I developed chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia so I couldn’t continue my career,” says Shelley. “I would, however, need the services of The Ottawa Hospital throughout my life, and my mom did too.” 

Shelley was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2004, and then in 2009, she was admitted to the Civic Campus with sepsis. “I had the most amazing care. It was a type of situation where I could have passed away, but the staff were angels watching over me.” 

And when it came to people watching over her, of course, Marcella was always there for her daughter — lending support through these difficult times. The two women faced health challenges over the years, in fact, they were both diagnosed with celiac disease. However, it was just another way to bond as they would often seek out new gluten-free recipes to make together — they especially liked finding new desserts.

Then in 2020, the family received devastating news — Marcella had cancer. She was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroendocrine cancer. Then, not long afterward, she learned she had esophageal cancer.

“This was all during the pandemic, but the team was ready, and my mom got the care that she needed. They were always there for her,” says Shelley. 

Marcella’s care included chemotherapy and radiation — she pushed through the treatments, but sadly passed away in February 2022 at the age of 77. “She was my best friend. She fought hard — she lived one year and seven months, which was good considering how advanced the cancer was when it was discovered.” 

Marcella all bundled up for a walk the first winter she was on chemo.

A legacy gift in memory of a devoted mother

Living a modest life, Shelley reached out to our Foundation team to ask how best she could create a legacy. She wanted to do something to recognize her mother’s life, her mother’s interests, as well as their special bond. “We talked all the time; it was probably me talking the most — we shared everything. She was my confidante,” says Shelley with a smile. 

After she lost her mother, Shelley started thinking about her own mortality — which was not something she’d done in her 30s and 40s — and what would happen when she was gone. With her lifelong interest in medicine, and considering the years of care our hospital provided not only her mother but also herself, Shelley decided to leave a gift in her will — a gift to honour her mom.  

“My mom is the reason why I want to give to the hospital, because she was always a passionate advocate for patient care and healthcare, even when she was sick,” she says.

“This gift will honour my mom, her life, and her spirit. I always think about my mom when it comes to this gift.”

— Shelley

The future of medicine also inspired Shelley. She reads the regular updates from the hospital and our Foundation about the future of healthcare, and she wants to be a part of that — supporting the next generation of care.  

“The new hospital campus being built is going to be amazing, beautiful, and state-of-the-art. I have a lot of family that live in the surrounding areas of Ottawa, and they come to the hospital for care — some are three hours away,” explains Shelley. “This hospital is serving so many people in such a wide area. I have cousins and second cousins who are having children now, so it’s like I’m helping my family in the future by leaving this gift.”  

Inspired by plans for the new hospital campus and research

Marcella at the General Campus receiving emergency radiation for a tumor on her cervical spine.

When she thinks of the new campus, it also makes her reflect on her stays at the Civic and how different it will be for patients in the future. “The single rooms and places where family can stay overnight, it’s just incredible. I don’t want to be in the hospital in the future, but if I must be, that sounds like the best care and space.” 

The advances in medicine and research happening in her hometown are not lost on Shelley. As someone who’s always had an interest in this field, she keeps up with the latest developments from our hospital, and the impact of the work never ceases to amaze her.  

“Ottawa is a relatively small metropolitan area, but we’ve got this huge hospital and all these world-renowned surgeons, doctors, and researchers right here. So, for me, I think that’s amazing.”

“The Ottawa Hospital is a teaching and research hospital, and that inspires me to give because of the many innovations — so much is on the cusp of discovery and it’s exciting.”

— Shelley

And by leaving this gift, she’s ready to help be a part of the future of healthcare. A decision that is dedicated to her mother — a woman who left a loving imprint on her that will never fade. “Mighty Mouse was my nickname for her — she was tiny, but she was the strongest person I’ve ever known.” 

Published: May 2023

Sometimes you meet someone and wonder what drew you together. That’s what happened when Holly Wagg met Lynne Strickland in Patagonia, Chile. Both women lived in Ottawa, but it was a serendipitous meeting almost 10,000 kms from home where they ended up as bunk mates while on an expedition. Soon, they would discover a special bond between them — they both had loved ones who faced leukemia, and while their journeys were different, their stories connected in an unexpected way.

The story begins in the fall of 2015 when Holly’s wife, Julia Wagg, started to feel inexplicably tired. At the time, the Director of Talent Management at Hydro Ottawa was also teaching a course at Carleton’s Sprott School of Business, and juggling life with three children — she had a lot on her plate. But then one day she noticed blood in her mouth and decided she’d better make a dental appointment. By early December, symptoms escalated. “Julia woke up at 2 or 3 a.m. one night and said, ‘I need to go to the hospital.’ She could hardly breathe because she had crushing chest pain,” remembers Holly.

That first visit to the hospital didn’t determine any clear signs of what might be wrong, but Julia’s fatigue persisted into the new year. The family had big plans to travel to Africa, and Julia was determined to go. Holly was leaving early to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, then Julia and their youngest daughter, Addison, would follow two weeks later.

Leukemia diagnosis heard around the world

Holly Wagg has committed to leaving a gift in her will to further advance research.

As Holly summitted the mountain, back home Julia received devastating news. “While I had been up there, she had taken herself to the hospital one morning, and they told her she wasn’t leaving — she had leukemia,” says Holly. “Julia waited four days to tell me so I could finish my climb. When I found out, I raced back as soon as I could.”

The life Holly returned to was much different than the one she had left. Julia was immediately put on a chemotherapy cocktail — 24/7. She remained hospitalized for three to four weeks and when Holly was finally able to visit her in the hospital, she says the reunion was heartbreaking and devastating. “Julia was going through this fight of her life and was having so many complications from chemo. I was researching and I knew what we were facing.”

The couple learned Julia had the acute myeloid leukemia mutation known as FLT3. It was aggressive. “This is like driving your car and slamming your foot down on a gas pedal — that’s how fast the cancer was reproducing. Most people have a 10% chance of surviving five years,” explains Holly. “So, my mission became to make whatever time we had left the best possible time.”

By the second round of chemo and after 12 weeks as an in-patient, Julia was in remission and was eligible for a stem cell transplant. Her sister was a match, and three weeks later, in May 2016, Julia received the transplant of her sister’s stem cells — and the hope for more time with her family.

However, Julia faced one complication after another and spent the better part of eight months in the hospital. “Her whole team of doctors and nurses up on 5 West and the Bone Marrow Transplant team at The Ottawa Hospital were amazing,” remembers Holly. “She left hospital in December with limited mobility, but started strength training and eventually we had her skiing. We learned how to cross-country ski.”

Making the most of their precious time left together

The family had what Holly describes as the perfect three months of a cancer-free life. During Julia’s cancer care, she never made promises to her children, but there was one exception. She told Addison she would be there to celebrate her sixth birthday — things were going well. A big birthday party was planned with a fairy theme and all their friends came together to celebrate. “It was beautiful and joyous,” remembers Holly.

But after the party, Julia collapsed on the floor in agony from extreme bone pain. By the next day, the same thing happened, and she went to the hospital. The blood work looked normal, so they did a bone marrow biopsy. When Holly and Julia returned to the hospital for the results, Julia couldn’t walk.

Julia’s cancer was back. The couple knew if a patient relapsed within 12 months following a stem-cell transplant, there’s no chance of a second transplant. It had only been 11 months.

Julia passed away in the ICU of The Ottawa Hospital a week-and-a-half later. “She had all the people who loved her around the bed that night. I brought Addi into the room, and I grabbed Harry Potter because that was the story we were reading at the time. As I was reading, Julia’s heartbeat started to decelerate. I wanted to stop, but I knew she needed to hear me. She needed to know we’re all okay,” recalls Holly. “Jules was surrounded by love, and she chose to let go during this beloved bedtime ritual.”

Holly Wagg and her daughter Addison holding a photo of Julia.

Meeting a ‘spitfire’ young researcher

Before Julia passed away at the age of 36, she and Holly had some difficult but honest conversations. During her lengthy time in hospital, Julia witnessed many things as a patient. As a patient at a teaching hospital, she met many rotations of residents, in both the physician and nursing programs. Julia often said yes to the residents who were taking blood for the first time, and she said yes to two doctors who performed their first bone marrow biopsies. She wanted to help.

“One of the physicians who cared for her was Dr. Natasha Kekre. She was a spitfire — she was young, and she was brilliant. She was looking to start a clinical trial at The Ottawa Hospital to offer breakthroughs in leukemia treatment using CAR T-cell therapies. Julia wanted to elevate that research.”

– Holly Wagg

Because of the aggressiveness of her cancer, she also interacted with many physicians who were also researchers. “Julia was very curious and asking them about their projects. One of the physicians who cared for her was Dr. Natasha Kekre. She was a spitfire — she was young, and she was brilliant. She was looking to start clinical trial at The Ottawa Hospital to offer breakthroughs in leukemia treatment using CAR T‑cell therapies. Julia wanted to elevate that research,” explains Holly.

Julia and Holly had read about CAR‑T and knew what the possibilities would mean for patients like Julia in the future. It was the first big game changer to leukemia treatment in more than 20 years. They had seen what was happening in the United States and believed patients in Canada should have access to it. “Being a part of research to improve that path for people going forward was very important to both of us, which is why, for us, that legacy was about making sure other families didn’t have to experience what we did. We wanted to be a part of that change,” says Holly.

Dr. Natasha Kekre,hematologist for The Ottawa Hospital's Blood and Marrow Transplant Program.

Read our Q&A with Dr. Natasha Kekre

What is CAR-T therapy?

CAR T-cell therapy involves removing the patient’s T-cells and genetically engineering them with a disarmed virus to produce synthetic molecules called “chimeric antigen receptors” (CAR). These new CAR T-cells are then injected back into the patient so they can target and attack the cancer.

Julia’s legacy and her commitment to research

With that in mind, Julia decided to leave a gift in her will to support research at The Ottawa Hospital. Her legacy would live on. Holly has also committed to leaving a gift in her will to build on Julia’s wishes and to further fund research that was so important to both of them.

By 2019, The Ottawa Hospital became one of three centres in the province administering the Ontario CAR T‑cell Therapy program for adults — just the type of progress Julia would have wanted. The program meant the T‑cells could be collected from the patient here, then sent to the U.S. to be genetically engineered into CAR T‑cells. Those cells are returned to the hospital and injected back into the patient so they can target and attack the cancer. The challenge is that it’s only available for patients with a specific type of lymphoma and leukemia. Commercial CAR‑T therapy is also very expensive and time-consuming. The commercial cell manufacturing, testing, and shipping process can take up to eight weeks– time that many of the sickest patients don’t have.

What is a legacy gift or an estate gift?

Both terms refer to a donation to a charity made through your will or estate plans. These donations can take several forms, such as cash, securities, or even property.

That wasn’t good enough for people like Dr. Kekre – she wanted to develop a made-in-Canada solution. Today, she’s helping to lead a Canadian-first CAR T‑cell therapy clinical trial at our hospital. This opens the door to faster, less expensive, and more equitable CAR‑T treatment across Canada. It also provides a platform for the development of even better cellular immunotherapies that may work for more kinds of cancer. World-class research facilities at The Ottawa Hospital, such as the Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre, have played a key role in the development of this platform.

“It was amazing to get updates on the project because we found out that it was going to clinical trial and there were very positive early results,” says Holly. “And then I saw the first face of a trial participant — a man named Owen. Then I read Camille’s story. And that was an amazing one for me.”

A Canadian-first clinical trial gives lymphoma patient a third chance
CAR-T clinical trial provides ‘one last shot’ for leukemia patient

Making the connection

The impact of Julia’s forward thinking became even more personal when Holly had that chance meeting with a stranger in another hemisphere in February 2020. She and Lynne were both seeking adventure in Patagonia. For Holly, it was a big step — the first time she had travelled since Julia’s death. The two women bonded when they realized they had a special connection — Lynne’s daughter, Nicole Strickland, had been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2018 and treated at The Ottawa Hospital. 

“We had that common kind of understanding of seeing a loved one go through leukemia, the challenges, and a stem cell transplant,” explains Lynne. “But then when Nikki relapsed, I remembered Holly had mentioned Julia’s legacy had gone to funding research into CAR‑T.” 

Holly and Lynne in Patagonia.

Nicole was just 19 years old and in military college when she was diagnosed. At the time, she was stationed at CFB Petawawa for job experience with the helicopter squadron. She underwent chemotherapy treatment, but because her cancer was aggressive, her care team at The Ottawa Hospital recommended a stem cell transplant. Nicole’s sister was a 100% match. The stem cell transplant took place in September 2018, and then Nicole went into remission.

By the summer of 2021, Nicole was posted with a new unit in Halifax and getting routine blood work. That’s when she learned her cancer was back. But this time, she was introduced to immunotherapy, which she received in Halifax, followed by CAR‑T therapy — which meant returning to The Ottawa Hospital.

“There was a world of difference between CAR T‑cell therapy and the stem cell transplant,” explains Nicole. “I lost 40 pounds during the stem cell transplant. I couldn’t eat. I almost had to get a feeding tube at one point, which scared me. It took me about eight months to fully recover and then another year to get back into the gym. It was also mentally difficult. But with CAR‑T, I had energy, and my spirits were good. There were just a few days of feeling off and then I was back on my feet.”

How CAR T-cell therapy gave Nicole new hope

Nicole qualified for the Ontario CAR T‑cell Therapy program, which saw her T‑cells shipped to the U.S. to be genetically modified into CAR T‑cells. Once they were shipped back to The Ottawa Hospital, they were then infused into Nicole’s body.

“Unless you’ve been through what my family and I have been through, it’s hard to understand the depth that donating to a cause like that means. CAR-T gave me my life back — I’m just so grateful.”

– Nicole Strickland

Today, 18 months after her CAR‑T treatment, Nicole is now an operations officer and continuing her military career in Halifax and feeling stronger each day. She’s deeply grateful to people like Julia who had the forethought to invest in cancer research. “Unless you’ve been through what my family and I have been through, it’s hard to understand the depth that donating to a cause like that means. CAR‑T gave me my life back — I’m just so grateful.”

It’s those who support research that pave the way for patients like Nicole to have better outcomes. For Lynne, it’s also the work that’s came before breakthroughs like CAR-T that is just as important. “For Nikki’s care during the stem cell treatment, they had a plan, and that plan was because of the research and the investment made by others before CAR‑T was an option. It’s about bringing forth solutions that save not just one person’s life, but their whole family,” says Lynne.

Nicole Strickland was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2018.

“It’s about bringing forth solutions that save not just one person's life, but their whole family.”

– Lynne Strickland

For Holly to make that personal connection with Lynne and to see someone as young as Nicole have success is not something she ever expected. “As a donor, somebody who invests in research, I never expected to see any transformation in my lifetime. I’m willing to wait and be patient. But I never expected to see actual change to medical practice in my lifetime. And never mind did I expect to see it just a few short years after my wife’s death.”

And so, Julia’s legacy continues today, not only through her three children Robin, Brandin, and Addison, but also through the research she helped fund — research that is changing the course of cancer care. The more faces Holly connects back to the research and the more stories of survival she learns about, the more she witnesses Julia live on. “When you think about a legacy and about what you leave for others and how you shape a world — how much more powerful can that be knowing that in some way you’ve given other people an extra shot at life?”

Download episode #84 of Pulse Podcast to hear Holly Wagg talk about Julia's life and legacy.

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Published: February 2023

During her 29 years as an elementary school teacher, Pat crossed paths with hundreds of students and their parents. However, there was one family in particular that changed her life.

Having grown up in the Montreal area, Pat attended McGill University where she received her teaching degree. The early days of her career were spent in the classroom before she became a fieldworker who travelled to different schools in her district, conducting workshops on how to use multi-media systems. Back in those days, it was slides and overhead projectors. Pat eventually returned to teaching, and that’s how she met her future husband and the two boys she would eventually adopt as her own.

“I was teaching Robbie in Grade 5, and that’s when I met his dad, John, at a parent-teacher interview. He was a widower — he had lost his wife, and the boys had lost their mother, to cancer. Robbie’s older brother, also named John, was in high school,” explains Pat.

There was a spark, and the couple eventually married. In the early 80s, the family left Quebec and moved to the rural community of St. Eugène, east of Ottawa, where they bought a hobby farm. Pat eventually retired from teaching and opened an antique and craft shop. John, who retired as Vice-President of International Paints Canada, spent his time with horses on the farm. It was a life the couple enjoyed — one filled with fun and laughter. As the couple watched the boys grow into young men — they would soon turn to The Ottawa Hospital for help.

Compassionate care always remembered

The family’s first interaction with our hospital came in 1984 when Robbie was diagnosed with AIDS at age 19. But it would be many years before he would reveal his diagnosis with his family — about two years prior to Robbie’s death, he shared the news with his parents.

“The hospital care team treated him with humour and grace at a time when some people didn’t want to touch or be near AIDS patients. They were wonderful.”

— Pat

Pat and her family.

It was a difficult time for the family, but Pat will never forget how the team cared for their son. “This was the hardest part for me because he had to bear this burden on his own, but The Ottawa Hospital did a fabulous job with Robbie medically. He was on a protocol known as AZT, and he survived longer than most other AIDS patients his age at that time.”

“But Robbie was also a character and was oodles of fun,” explains Pat. “The hospital care team treated him with humour and grace at a time when some people didn’t want to touch or be near AIDS patients. They were wonderful.”

Sadly, Robbie passed away in 1996 at the age of 31. When he died, he was surrounded by love, and to this day, Pat still acknowledges the compassionate palliative care he received at home from Dr. Louise Coulomb.

The Ottawa Hospital impacts each family member

That was just the beginning of the family’s connection to our hospital. After Robbie died, Pat and John Sr. had their own firsthand experiences being cared for at the hospital — mostly from the orthopaedic team. “John Sr. had three knees replaced. I had two knees, and a hip replaced and I’m currently waiting for another hip surgery. I’ve had 13 hand surgeries and multiple foot surgeries. All together, it’s a long list,” says Pat.

Then on July 1, 2015, the family was shocked to learn John Jr. had pancreatic cancer — a devastating diagnosis. In Canada, the five-year survival rate is 10%. Once again, the family turned to the expertise of The Ottawa Hospital, and John Jr. underwent extensive treatment that included Whipple surgery. She credits Drs. Richard Mimeault and Guillaume Martel for saving his life. In fact, Dr. Martel was appointed the first Arnie Vered Family Chair in Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary Research in 2019. This research chair was made possible through generous donations from the Vered Family and other supporters. The goal of the chair is to focus on improving treatment for patients with cancers such as liver, pancreatic, gallbladder, and bile duct.

Pat is leaving a gift in her will to The Ottawa Hospital.

“My John is alive and well for six years now. He’s a miracle boy. So do you think I owe the hospital something?”

— Pat

Later, tumours were discovered on his liver — another devastating blow. His care team performed what’s known as TACE — transarterial chemoembolization — which is a procedure that involves injecting a combination of cancer-fighting drugs and an agent to cut off the tumour’s blood supply. It causes little to no effect on the function of the liver. “My John is alive and well for six years now. He’s a miracle boy. So do you think I owe the hospital something?” says Pat.

Sadly, John Sr. passed away just a few months after John Jr.’s diagnosis and therefore never knew his son had survived.

Family lessons in giving back

Each time a family member needed our hospital, Pat has been deeply grateful for the expertise and compassion she’s witnessed ─ and that’s how she became a donor. Following each experience, she always made an effort to give back. Over the years, she supported the hospital through the Gratitude Award Program and through annual donations.

“Look at what they’ve done for my family. It meant everything to have that care.”

— Pat

After her husband’s death in November 2015, Pat began to consider the legacy she could leave for generations to come by leaving a gift in her will to The Ottawa Hospital. “Look at what they’ve done for my family. It meant everything to have that care.”

When Pat reflects on why it’s important to support our hospital, she gives credit to her parents and the lessons they taught her about philanthropy. Those lessons live on in her today. “I may have had the best parents a kid ever had, but my mother was exceptional. My dad was too. They were both teachers and mum said, ‘I can’t afford to give a lot of money, but I can afford to canvass.’ She did a lot of door-to-door canvassing, and always said, ‘It’s our duty to leave the world a better place than we received it.’, so a little bit of that has rubbed off on me.”

Pat with pictures of her family.

At only 20 years old, Junie immigrated to Canada from Malaysia with ambitions to study at the University of Toronto. A new life would begin — one that would entice her family to follow her in the years ahead but would be filled with adversity.

While Junie was initially drawn to Canada for her studies, a particular experience in her early years in Toronto cemented her desire to make Canada her home. She remembers a newspaper stand on a busy street in downtown Toronto. “There was a pile of newspapers and I didn’t see anybody around. I noticed people came by, picked up a paper, and dropped some money in a bowl. It was so orderly. I couldn’t believe that people were so nice.” It was the honour system and that’s what Junie loved. “I remember thinking ‘This is a kind of society I want to live in.’”

Junie in Sydney, Australia

In subsequent years, Junie got married and her parents and three siblings followed her path to Canada. Her brother settled in Ottawa and in 1996, Junie, her sister, and their husbands decided to pay a visit to him at his new home. They had a wonderful time reconnecting.

As the two couples headed home after a week, they were involved in a head-on crash just an hour outside of Ottawa. It was a devastating collision, that left the two men dead, and the two sisters badly injured. Junie remembers waking up at the crash site and asking a police officer what happened. “He told me there was an accident and I remember seeing our two husbands slumped over in the front and then I lost consciousness.” The two sisters were rushed to The Ottawa Hospital Trauma Centre.

Eastern Ontario’s only Level 1 Trauma Centre for adults

The Ottawa Hospital is home to the only Level 1 Trauma Centre for adults in eastern Ontario — which is located at the Civic Campus. We care for the most critically injured patients from across the region, including western Quebec.

The team includes a trauma team leader, as well as an anesthesiologist, a team of emergency nurses, a group of resident physicians, and respiratory therapists — this allows them to be ready for the wide variety of complex cases that they handle, or when a Code One is called.

A Code One means a patient with significant injuries is coming to the hospital and all resources gather at the Emergency Department. This code can be called for a scenario when multiple patients are injured, like the motor vehicle collision Junie and her sister were involved in, or for instances where a single patient is injured. By contrast, a large-scale incident or any other community disaster results in a Code Orange being called.

When Junie woke up again, she was in the hospital with significant internal injuries. She learned her sister had suffered multiple fractures and was then told about the unimaginable loss — Junie’s husband and brother-in-law were gone.

“I told myself if I ever get better, I just have to give back. I was just very grateful for all the excellent care that I had received.”

– Junie 

Junie was in the Intensive Care Unit for two weeks and was heavily sedated. She remembers the compassionate care she received, having to rely on others to bathe her and wash her hair. She will never forget their kindness and sensitivity. “I told myself if I ever get better, I just have to give back. I was just very grateful for all the excellent care that I had received,” says Junie.

Clinical trial changes the practice of medicine

During Junie’s early days in the hospital, her brother Lawrence observed this compassionate care firsthand as he visited daily, supporting both of his sisters during their devastating loss. He also stayed by Junie’s side while her condition was critical — she was losing a significant amount of blood.

Junie’s brother Lawrence and his wife, Catherine

Junie had multiple blood transfusions to keep her alive and was asked to participate in a clinical trial to improve when blood transfusions should be given in critical care. Lawrence was impressed by the skilled team he observed, and he signed consent for his sister to participate in the trial, in hopes that it would help her and future patients.

“This research has saved thousands of lives and improved blood transfusions for millions of people.”

– Dr. Dean Fergusson

Not only did Junie get better but her participation in this research also helped to change the practice of transfusions worldwide. Dr. Dean Fergusson, Senior Scientist and Director of the Clinical Epidemiology Program at our hospital, explains what this means for patients. “Today, patients all around the world receive blood transfusions based on a more restrictive protocol developed at The Ottawa Hospital,” he says. “Thanks to patients like Junie, we now have a much better idea of when to transfuse, how long the blood should be stored for, and how to prevent bleeding in the first place, so patients can avoid transfusions. This research has saved thousands of lives and improved blood transfusions for millions of people.”

Filled with gratitude to this day

Today, Junie is living in Toronto with her second husband and is deeply grateful to this day for the exceptional care she and her sister received. Not long after she returned home, Junie became a monthly donor to our hospital – holding true to the promise she made while she was in the hospital that she would give back to those who cared for her.

Giving is something that her late mother instilled in her — Junie’s father died when she was very young. It helped mold the person she is today. “We were a working-class family, we weren’t rich, but we persevered. My mother was just an amazing person. She was selfless. So, my siblings and I learned from that — when you receive something good, you try to pay it back in kind, especially with deeds. I think that has a lot of influence on me,” explains Junie.

Junie visiting family

Strength is an attribute Junie also has carried on from her mother. At the age of 55, Junie was diagnosed with breast cancer. Right after her breast cancer operation, she faced an ovarian cancer diagnosis. She has seen firsthand the need for philanthropy in healthcare to provide the most advanced care. Despite everything she’s faced in life, Junie describes herself as lucky. “It’s still been a good life. It’s been 13 years since I was diagnosed with those kinds of cancers and I’m still here. I am very lucky. I’m a very lucky woman.”

“That’s why, when I die, I can leave something behind to help those who cared for me. That’s my motive.”

– Junie 

Now retired after a successful career in banking, Junie thinks to the future and how she can continue to pay it forward. That’s why she’s decided to leave a gift in her will to The Ottawa Hospital so patients will have the latest technology and most advanced treatment options to save their lives, just like she experienced. “That’s why, when I die, I can leave something behind to help those who cared for me. That’s my motive.”

Why Planned Giving is important?

By leaving a gift in your will to The Ottawa Hospital, you will be helping to shape the future of healthcare. It’s an extraordinary opportunity that you will give future generations – just imagine your legacy.

We’re here to provide you with the guidance you need to leave a gift in your will to support our hospital. This is an opportunity for you to create stronger healthcare for tomorrow, with a larger gift than perhaps you thought possible – larger than those made during your lifetime. Just imagine the legacy you will leave.

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

Originally published: September, 2021

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

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

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

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

— Dr. Kirsty Boyd

Ready for the most challenging cases

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

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

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

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

Thinking outside the box

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

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

Dr. Kirsty Boyd
Dr. Kirsty Boyd

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

— Dr. Kirsty Boyd

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

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

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

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

The role of reconstructive surgery in trauma

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

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

— Karen Toop

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

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

Outstanding compassionate care

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

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

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

— Ryan Toop

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

Going home to her family

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

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

— Karen Toop

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

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

Leaving a gift in her will

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flu-like symptoms and concern for his kidneys 

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

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

– Dan Lynch

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

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

What is multiple myeloma? 

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

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

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

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

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

— Wendy Lynch

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

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

Medical Day Care Unit plays a crucial role 

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

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

— Dan Lynch

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

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

Forever grateful to The Ottawa Hospital 

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

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

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

— Dan Lynch

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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 and Ida on a hiking adventure – Banff National Park.
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.

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

Published: May 2020

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-centred 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

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

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

Ovarian cancer hides in plain sight

Margaret Craig
Margaret speaking at the Teas, Talks, and Tours symposium

“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

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

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.”

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.”

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

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’s 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.

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