Dee Marcoux is a problem solver, a pro-active enabler of meaningful action. She views her donations to The Ottawa Hospital as investments in positive change in her community, and in December 2020, Dee made a $500,000 match gift to our hospital that inspired many others to join her in giving back. Now, more than a year into a pandemic that has challenged our healthcare workers like never before, she is once again hoping to inspire the community to join her in honouring healthcare workers. And she is doing it in a unique way.
Q: Your last large donation in December 2020 inspired more than 7,000 others to give in honour of healthcare workers. What is unique about this donation?
A: My donation this April means that all 17,000+ members of The Ottawa Hospital team will receive the newly designed Gratitude Award pin. The Gratitude Award Program replaces the former Guardian Angel Program and is a way for me to support the hospital while thanking each and every member of the team in a tangible way. They have all worked very hard through the unknown, changing, and stressful conditions. I’ve been so impressed with how the hospital team has come together in the past year. We’ve all benefitted from their effort, care, and compassion, and I for one am truly grateful. If I could look each healthcare worker in the eye and say “thank you,” I would. This is my way of doing that.
“It’s been a challenging time, and so I think it’s incredibly important for each of us in the community to look for ways to help.”
— Dee Marcoux
Q: What inspired you to help launch the new Gratitude Award Program?
My husband, Michel, and I like to thank people in tangible ways, and we write a lot of thank you cards. When appropriate, we will also call the “compliments” department of the company to say how impressed we are with the individual who helped us. For The Ottawa Hospital, these pins fit that desire perfectly. You thank the person, their boss knows about it, and you’re making a donation to the hospital at the same time. When I heard about the initiative to introduce the newly redesigned Gratitude Award pin, I said to myself “How can I help make that happen?” My donation is the answer to that question. It’s a concrete way for me to show my gratitude to our healthcare workers. It’s been a challenging time, and so I think it’s incredibly important for each of us in the community to look for ways to help.
Q: Recognizing healthcare workers is something on the minds of many community members right now. What advice would you give them?
I would challenge them to ask themselves, “What am I thankful for?” For anyone who has witnessed the care, commitment, and compassion of The Ottawa Hospital team, I hope they consider putting their thanks into action with a Gratitude Award donation. Seize every opportunity to show thanks. Create a moment for someone by thanking them. Maybe it was a nurse or a doctor who made a difference. Perhaps it was a volunteer who greeted them, an administrator they spoke with on the phone, or a researcher whose important work they admire. Let’s fill lanyards, lab coats, and lapels with Gratitude Award pins. If there is no one in particular they want to honour or you’ve had no interface with the hospital, l hope they will still consider a general donation to the hospital. It doesn’t need to be a large gift — there is great power in collective generosity. Actively support our healthcare system is something we can all do.
When COVID-19 moved into the Ottawa region in March of 2020, we were in uncharted territory. However, despite the rapidly changing information in the early days, and the unknowns about this virus, something very clear began to emerge – unity. The community would soon show an outpouring of support for The Ottawa Hospital while healthcare teams rallied together to care for patients.
“Thank you to our generous donors – some who reached out for the first time.” – Tim Kluke
As our front-line workers would go into the hospital each day to face the virus head-on, the community stayed home to help flatten the curve. Nevertheless, it became obvious residents wanted to do more – and they did. Donations both big and small began streaming in and the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund was created. To date, more than $2 million has been generously donated to support our hospital’s COVID-19 efforts and these donations have already been put to work. Tim Kluke, President and CEO of The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, says this support has made a world of a difference supporting both research and care projects. “This proves once again that we really are stronger when we pull together. Thank you to our generous donors – some of whom have even reached out for the first time. Research currently underway will allow us to better understand and treat the virus, to keep our patients and our community safe.” Donations continue to be accepted today.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was another way our community lent a helping hand. The Ottawa Chinese Community quickly mobilized and raised over $120,000 to purchase necessary equipment like ventilators and PPE for our staff.
In Their Own Words: Good Days, Bad Days, and What Keeps Them Coming Back
Stepping into the unknown
While the community united to show their support for our front-line workers, a COVID-19 floor was created at both the General and Civic Campuses to care for the patients who tested positive for the virus. The team at the General Campus that had originally cared for Thoracic, ENT (Ear, Nose, and Throat), and surgical patients would, almost overnight, become the team caring for COVID-19 patients. Little did they know at the time, they would be caring for these patients for well over a year. “We have a background in lungs and breathing issues on our unit, so we were a natural fit to care for these patients,” says Vanessa Large, a registered nurse at our hospital for the past four years.
Nevertheless, it was a daunting and draining task. Kristine Belmore is a registered nurse who has been at our hospital for 11 years and never did she imagine her career taking this step. “I was working the day the first positive patients came in. We were constantly getting new updates on protocols for caring for these patients – not just daily but during our shifts,” says Belmore. She adds, “It was the equivalent of how I felt when I was a new nurse preparing for a shift — I didn’t sleep well. I was anxious and there was the fear of the unknown.”
Leah Mills was just three years into her career as a registered nurse when she found herself caring for COVID-19 patients. “There was no easing into the COVID transition; it turned our world upside down,” says Leah.
Resilience as weeks turn into months
In those early weeks of caring for patients, there was the struggle of watching some patients go from appearing stable to suddenly clinging to life. Those days would take an emotional toll on these nurses. “The increase in demand during the surge of patients was overwhelming. Over time it became easier because we had concrete policies in place and we started recognizing a pattern in patient’s decline,” recalls Leah.
“We became their only sources of human connection, we became their second family. We would be there holding an iPad so they could see the friendly smile of a loved one – sometimes it was to say goodbye.” – Vanessa Large
The playbook had to be reinvented and new ideas had to be considered to help calm patients when they struggled to breathe or feared what might happen next. Then there were the layers of PPE, which created an additional level of safety but also a new challenge. “Caring for patients, especially the elderly who can be confused, was difficult because they can’t see your facial expressions – we had to find new ways to reassure patients when they were scared. We also became the link between the patient and the family, through phone calls and video calls – something we’ve never done before,” says Kristine.
Vanessa agrees adding, “We became their only sources of human connection, we became their second family. We would be there holding an iPad so they could see the friendly smile of a loved one – sometimes it was to say goodbye.”
Mentally and emotionally, the long haul of this pandemic started to wear on these nurses. Leah explains they’re used to helping patients heal and get better. “We’re feeling burned out and exhausted seeing patients decline quickly and sometimes die. It’s not what I’ve been used to in my role.”
Thankfully, over the past year, this dedicated care team has helped ensure the majority of COVID-19 patients have been able to regain their health and return home to their loved ones.
The nurses of the “COVID floor”
COVID-19 patient grateful for compassionate care
One of the patients, who experienced firsthand compassionate care on the COVID-19 floor, was Fr. Alex Michalopulos. The Greek Orthodox priest spent 10 days in our hospital. He couldn’t be more thankful to be feeling better today. “For the times when the doctors or nurses came in to see me, for the times when I was reassured—I’m thankful I was well taken care of with love and respect for human life.”
“I have a lot more respect for the medical professionals. I always had, but this time it was at a different level. They were there for me.” – Fr. Alex Michalopulos
As tears well up in his eyes, and he stops briefly to regain his emotions, Fr. Michalopulos says it’s sometimes good to be on the other side, to feel what others are going through. “I have a lot more respect for the medical professionals. I always had, but this time it was at a different level. They were there for me.”
He adds, “They held my hand. They showed compassion. They showed a lot of respect and love. I will be forever grateful for them.” It was that special touch, and care from complete strangers that helped give Fr. Michalopulos the strength to get back home to the family he loves and eventually to his parish family.
“I will always remember how I was treated by strangers. I admire them and will always pray for them.”
In an effort to do his part to help, Fr. Michalopulos is participating in research that is investigating the long-term effects of the virus. Drs. Sara J. Abdallah and Juthaporn Cowan are checking in on participating patients, like Fr. Michalopulos at three, six, and 12 months after they were initially infected.
He explains why it was important to become involved. “I thought it would be useful to help researchers understand the effects and lingering effects of the virus in gathering information to help create a vaccine and or a cure.”
Giving back through research
Researchers at our hospital have been deeply involved in the global race to combat COVID-19. They are exploring more than 60 research projects to support the worldwide effort to find better ways to treat and prevent the virus. A number of those projects have been supported by donors through the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, including a world-first clinical trial, led by Dr. Rebecca Auer, which aims to protect cancer patients from COVID-19 – to date, 22 patients, have been recruited.
Drs. John Bell and Carolina Ilkow are harnessing their expertise in making cancer-fighting viruses to develop a vaccine against COVID-19 — a made-in-Canada solution. In addition, our Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre is helping to manufacture three other COVID vaccines for clinical trials, as well as an experimental stem cell therapy.
Pushing forward despite a challenging year
As research continues to produce more answers and vaccines continue to roll out across the region, the team caring for patients remains steadfast. “The vaccine brings us hope. I remember how exciting it was when I received mine,” says Kristine.
There is hope someday they can start getting back to the way things used to be, or at least close to it. For Kristine, it would mean not worrying about hugging her children when she comes home from work.
For Leah, it would mean letting her mind shut off for the first time in a year – and truly relax. For Vanessa, it would mean the excitement of spending time with her fiancé, Colin – also a frontline worker – as they’ve been isolated from each other during the pandemic. Despite the challenges, each one takes great pride in the care they’ve been able to provide during these unprecedented times. And how they also helped each other along the way.
The Ottawa Hospital is a leading academic health, research, and learning hospital proudly affiliated with the University of Ottawa.
For many employees, walking through the doors of The Ottawa Hospital is about more than simply going to work — it’s a calling. Each day, they meet patients, many of whom may be experiencing a difficult time in their life. It is our nurses, physicians, volunteers, and more, who offer kindness and compassionate care to help them along the way. Whether it’s through an appointment, recovery from surgery, directions through the hospital, or a friendly conversation as a distraction – the caring attentiveness can go a long way for a patient or family member visiting our hospital.
For Laura Douglas, Isabelle Sarazin, and Nataleigh Oliveira, their compassionate care was rewarded when a donation was made through a special recognition program honouring our hospital heroes.
A moment to remember
Laura Douglas is a registered nurse and vividly remembers when a patient recognized her for her dedication.
“I received my Gratitude Award Pin on a chaotic Monday in the Emergency Department, and I remember smiling the entire day.” – Laura Douglas
The hectic pace of the Emergency Department can make it an intimidating place to work, however, for Laura, it’s where she wants to be. “I love my job, and it’s truly the patients and families that make the many challenging days in my career all worth it. I’m honoured to know I was able to make a small difference.”
When those patients or family members look back on the care and interactions they had with care team members like Laura, many want to say “thank you.” A meaningful way to do that is by honouring their hospital hero through the Gratitude Award Program.
Each hospital hero is recognized with a Gratitude Award Pin, which they wear with pride. It’s a special moment when the pin is presented, especially when someone is recognized for the first time, like Isabelle Sarazin.
Isabelle is an EEG technician at The Ottawa Hospital. She cares for patients in the ICU, Emergency Department, in recovery, as well as those in isolation for COVID-19. Her colleagues recently recognized Isabelle when she received her first Gratitude Award Pin.
“We are a very small team and I want to dedicate this Gratitude Award Pin to my fellow technologists, who all deserve it as much as I do.” – Isabelle Sarazin
“Receiving my pin was amazing. I feel recognized since many people do not know what EEG tests are,” says Isabelle.
As a part of her job, Isabelle performs hours of brainwave recordings at a patient’s bedside. It’s a position which touches many different areas of the hospital and it includes regular interactions with patients. “We are a very small team and I want to dedicate this Gratitude Award Pin to my fellow technologists, who all deserve it as much as I do.”
A moment to remember
As a registered nurse in the Birthing Unit, Nataleigh Oliveira is right alongside mothers and their newborns during a special time. Her role is multi-faceted and sometimes complex.
“I love how I can help my patients in many different ways. Sometimes they need a friend or a coach; someone to validate their feelings and fears, and to guide them through the unknown into the next stage of their lives,” says Nataleigh.
“It is an endlessly rewarding role and the astonishment I feel from witnessing the miracle of a new life never, ever fades.” – Nataleigh Oliveira
It’s this dedication, in a role that is unpredictable and challenging, that families are extremely grateful for. And it’s a job that Nataleigh embraces even when her back aches after a 12-hour shift. “I am making coffee for the partner, who has been up for 24 hours and tucking them in with a pillow and blankets for a rest. I rejoice with parents who, after a long battle of infertility, have a healthy baby, and I weep with them when I help deliver their stillborn child; each of whom I carry in my heart and will never forget.”
Nataleigh is incredibly touched to be recognized as a hospital hero and to receive a Gratitude Award Pin, knowing that someone acknowledged all the love she puts into her work as a nurse. “It is an endlessly rewarding role and the astonishment I feel from witnessing the miracle of a new life never, ever fades.”
TSN 1200 sportscaster A.J. Jakubec had never heard of acute pancreatitis before December 2019. Today, he’s all too familiar with the illness, which can cause life-threatening complications, and is determined to show his gratitude to his hospital heroes who helped save him.
The morning of December 2, 2019, A.J. woke up in the worst pain he’s ever experienced. The pain was so intense he was vomiting. Scared and desperate for help, he called 911 and was rushed to The Ottawa Hospital’s Emergency Department. “I was admitted to hospital and knew it wasn’t good, but I didn’t know how it would play out,” says A.J.
The situation wasn’t good. A.J. needed to be intubated and spent eight days in the ICU. His family rushed to his bedside from Edmonton. For A.J., those first days were a blur, but for his parents and sister, they were frightening.
The start of a long journey
An MRI would reveal the shocking diagnosis of acute pancreatitis. This is a sudden inflammation of the pancreas. It can range from mild discomfort to a severe, life-threatening illness. “The acute pancreatitis was caused by gallstones. The gallstones were removed, but they had been blocking my bile duct, pancreas area, and my pancreas suffered quite a bit of damage.”
While the situation looked dire, physicians at The Ottawa Hospital had a plan to help A.J. and to get him back to doing what he loves most – covering sports.
“I get emotional thinking about the support I received from so many different people who work at the hospital. To describe it as 10/10 would not do it justice in terms of how the healthcare team went beyond the call of duty.”
— A.J. Jakubec
By December 9, A.J. was improving and out of the ICU, although his journey was not even close to being over. He would spend 66 days in hospital – over two periods – 37 days the first time and 29 the second time when he was re-admitted to hospital after getting an infection.
Due to the severity of his acute pancreatitis, A.J. became very weak. At one point, he needed to use a walker to help him begin building up his strength again. But despite the complexity of his case and the extent of care he required, A.J. attributes his ultimate recovery to the high-caliber and compassionate care he received.
“There were different low points at that time with the destabilization of my kidneys. I had five endoscopy procedures. I was in a lot of pain, but after months of incredible care, I was finally released on Feb 27, 2020.”
Super A.J. is born
“I get emotional thinking about the support I received from so many different people who work at the hospital. To describe it as 10/10 would not do it justice in terms of how the healthcare team went beyond the call of duty,” says A.J.
He adds it was the consistent, compassionate care from so many different people that was instrumental in his recovery. That support team led to A.J.’s new nickname – ‘Super A.J.’ It all started in January 2020, when he started gaining confidence and he started feeling stronger. “I was starting to get better and Kenzie, a nurse who cared for me, saw the progress I was making. She was really supportive, and she dubbed me ‘Super A.J.’ She even wrote it on my whiteboard. From that point on, everyone was calling me ‘Super A.J.’”
The nickname reminds A.J. of all he’s overcome. “I changed my twitter handle to ‘Super A.J.’ and I think I’ll probably keep that forever just because it motivates and reminds me that if I can get through that, I can get through anything.”
Giving back to his Hospital Heroes
A.J.’s parents, Zane and Lynne Jakubec, were filled with gratitude after witnessing the incredible care and compassion their son received while in hospital. They wanted to give back and honour those who helped get their son back on his feet.
“They asked me who I wanted to recognize and I immediately was thinking of about eight to ten people. It was really difficult, but I ended up narrowing it down to three, Angela Richardson, Nicole Dannel, and Alex Rowe.” You could say they were his three-star selection.
“While we couldn’t afford a large donation, we needed to recognize the doctors, nurses and staff for their hard work, their excellence, compassion, and the healing that we witnessed.”
— Zane and Lynne Jakubec
The couple made a donation to the celebrate these three hospital heroes through a program designed to recognize and thank hospital staff who have gone above and beyond. For A.J. and his parents, it was a way to say thank you for the care, the extra visits, and mental support they each provided to help him get better. “While we couldn’t afford a large donation, we needed to recognize the doctors, nurses, and staff for their hard work, their excellence, compassion, and the healing that we witnessed,” says Zane.
They will be forever grateful for the staff they describe as dedicated and hard working and how they took the time to genuinely care for A.J. “Little gestures like bringing in a warm blanket, trying to find something special in the unit fridge, sharing a brief sports talk – those all add up,” says Lynne.
“It’s something that will stay with me forever – that people cared that much. The physical, the emotional, and the mental support – thank you doesn’t really do justice but I’m so grateful for the care I received.”
— A.J. Jakubec
For A.J., it’s hard to put into words the gratitude he feels to be back in the broadcast booth today. He thinks back to the day when he left the hospital that second and final time. “I had staff lined up cheering me on the way out. That was really emotional. That’s why it’s something that will stay with me forever because the people cared that much. The physical, the emotional, and the mental support – thank you doesn’t really do justice but I’m so grateful for the care I received.”
For A.J., it’s hard to put into words the gratitude he feels to be back in the broadcast booth today.
He remembers those first three weeks in hospital being incredibly difficult and he had become very weak. He wasn’t walking much – in fact, he had to use a walker. But it was a significant turning point when, on Christmas Eve, he was given a pass to go home to have Christmas dinner with his family. “It was a big positive for my psyche,” says A.J.
He also thinks back to the day when he left the hospital that second and final time. “I had staff lined up cheering me on the way out. That was really emotional. That’s why it’s something that will stay with me forever because the people cared that much. The physical, the emotional, and the mental support – thank you doesn’t really do justice but I’m so grateful for the care I received.”
Hear A.J. Jakubec on Pulse: The Ottawa Hospital Foundation Podcast, as he shares his story and says thank you for the exceptional care he received at our hospital.
Excruciating chest pains woke Phyllis Holmes from a deep sleep. A trip to the emergency room revealed a twist in her small intestine. Doctors used an uncommon technique that involved leaving her abdomen clamped open for two days after surgery – it’s the reason Phyllis is alive today.
The first of many miracles
For 18 months Phyllis experienced on-and-off pain in her chest. Some episodes lasted for only a few minutes, while others lasted for several hours. Unable to pinpoint the cause of her pain, Phyllis’ doctor started an elimination process; sending her for various tests, including a visit to the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. When results revealed it wasn’t her heart that was causing such discomfort, doctors ordered a CT scan hoping it would provide some answers.
However, only a few days prior to her scheduled appointment, Phyllis jolted awake in excruciating pain. Lying next to her, concerned, was her husband, Brian Jackson, who insisted they pay a visit to the emergency room. Her pain persisted as they checked in at The Ottawa Hospital’s General Campus. Recognizing the severity of her pain, the admitting staff immediately put her in an examination room.
A life-threatening diagnosis
After several tests, Phyllis underwent a CT scan. The results showed her life was on the line.
As Phyllis recalls her experience, she describes hearing only one thing – they would need to perform emergency surgery immediately. “That was all I heard,” said Phyllis. “We have to do emergency surgery or you may be faced with a life-threatening circumstance.”
What the CT scan revealed was a small twist in her intestine, causing her entire bowel to turn purple, almost black. “Her whole small intestine was dying,” said Phyllis’ surgeon, Dr. Guillaume Martel, “which is not survivable. But we got to her quickly, and that day, things lined up perfectly.”
Traditionally, with a bowel in such a condition, surgeons would have removed the section of the bowel that was compromised. However, in Phyllis’ case, almost her entire bowel was jeopardized. Removing such a large portion of her bowel would have reduced her to being fed through IV nutrition for the rest of her life.
A mid-surgery decision
Once Phyllis was in the operating room, doctors were able to more accurately assess the severity of the damage caused to her intestine. Some vitality in her bowel remained— an encouraging sign that there was a chance it could be saved. Rather than remove the intestine, they decided to leave her abdomen clamped open and wait.
For two days Phyllis lay sedated in the intensive care unit, her abdomen left open. Throughout that time, Brian recalls the nurses and doctors were attentive and compassionate, letting him know what was going on every step of the way. “I was always in the loop about what was going on,” said Brian, something that he was grateful for during a particularly emotional and stressful time.
“Leaving a patient open can be a form of damage control,” explained Dr. Martel. This technique relieved a lot of pressure in Phyllis’ abdomen, allowing time to see whether her bowel would survive. However, it can be difficult for a doctor to know if this technique will work for one patient over another. Luckily, in Phyllis’ case, it did.
The wait was over
When Phyllis was brought back to the operating room for her second surgery, Dr. Balaa, the surgeon, told Brian what to expect. It could be a long procedure, where they would remove part of her intestine, and in its place attach a colostomy bag. Brian settled in for a long and stressful wait, unsure of what life might be like once Phyllis’ surgery was complete. But less than an hour later, Dr. Balaa appeared with incredible news.
When they took off the covering, a sheet that protected her abdomen while she lay clamped open, her intestine was healthy and back to normal again. To their amazement, her intestine remained viable and all they needed to do was stitch her back up.
The next morning Phyllis woke to Brian’s warm smile at her bedside. While she was unaware of the incredible turn of events, she was grateful to be alive.
She remained at the hospital for a week after the first surgery. While she recovered, Phyllis recalls receiving exceptional care. “The doctors always had so much time for me when they did their rounds,” said Phyllis. “They were very patient and engaged in my situation, it was heartwarming and wonderful.” Phyllis was so grateful, she wanted to show her appreciation.
That’s when Phyllis heard of the Gratitude Award Program. This program was developed as a thoughtful way for patients to say thank you to the caregivers who go above and beyond to provide extraordinary care, every day. It’s a way for patients, like Phyllis, to recognize caregivers by giving a gift in their honour to The Ottawa Hospital. The caregivers are presented with a Gratitude Award pin and a special message from the patient letting them know the special care given did not go unnoticed.
Honouring Dr. Martel and several others through the Gratitude Award Program was a meaningful way for Phyllis to say thank you. “I wanted to be able to give something in return,” said Phyllis.
Dr. Martel was touched by the gesture. “When you receive a pin from a patient like Phyllis, it’s very gratifying,” explained Dr. Martel. “It’s something you can feel good about receiving.”
A healing experience
Phyllis’ journey at The Ottawa Hospital was far more than an emergency room visit and two surgeries. When asked to reflect on her experience, she tells a story of compassionate care and healing, both physically and mentally. “I felt that even though I was there to heal physically, I was getting psychological support as well,” Phyllis explained. “Everyone would use eye contact, or they’d touch my hand with compassion. It was very personal. I saw the divinity in those people,” explained Phyllis. “I saw it. I experienced it first-hand. And it is healing. That is the healing that takes place when you have those very special encounters. It heals you.”
Today, Phyllis feels incredibly grateful for the care she received at The Ottawa Hospital. “It was second to none,” she said.
Dr. Guillaume Martel
In August 2019, Dr. Guillaume Martel was announced as the first Arnie Vered Family Chair in Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary Research. Dr. Martel is a gifted surgeon at The Ottawa Hospital who has saved and prolonged the lives of countless patients, particularly those with cancer. An international search conducted for this Research Chair found the best candidate right here in Ottawa. This Research Chair provides the opportunity for innovative clinical trials and cutting-edge surgical techniques that will benefit our patients for years to come. This was made possible through the generous support of the Vered Family, alongside other donors.
“When Arnie got sick, he needed to travel to Montreal for treatment. It was so hard for him to be away from home and our six children. We wanted to help make it possible for people to receive treatment right here in Ottawa. This Chair is an important part of his legacy.” – Liz Vered, donor
Karen Toop was hit by a snowplow while crossing the street in January 2012. She was critically injured when she arrived at our Trauma Centre. A multi-disciplinary team was ready to care for the injuries that some only see once in their career.
When Fatima Siadat’s vision started to deteriorate, she turned to our hospital for specialized eye care. A newcomer to Canada and unable to speak English or French, Fatima was met with exceptional care and kindness which prompted her to become a regular supporter of our hospital.
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