Three hospital heroes recognized for their care and kindness

Meet three hospital heroes recognized through the Guardian Angel Program for their exceptional care and kindness.

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 Guardian Angel Pin on a chaotic Monday in the Emergency Department, and I remember smiling the entire day.” – Laura Douglas

Laura Douglas GAP
Laura Douglas, registered nurse.

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 Guardian Angel Program.

First-time recipient

Each hospital hero is recognized with a Guardian Angel 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 Guardian Angel Pin.

“We are a very small team and I want to dedicate this Guardian Angel Pin to my fellow technologists, who all deserve it as much as I do.” – Isabelle Sarazin

Isabelle Sarazin GAP
Isabelle Sarazin, EEG technician.

“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 Guardian Angel 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

Nataleigh Oliveira GAP
Nataleigh Oliveira, registered nurse.

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 Guardian Angel 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.”

Honour your hospital hero today by donating to the Guardian Angel Program and say “thank you” to an extraordinary member of our hospital team.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The start of a long journey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Super A.J. is born

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

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

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

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

Giving back to his Hospital Heroes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forever grateful

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

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

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

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

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

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Mid-surgery decision to leave abdomen open for two days saves woman’s life

Excruciating chest pains led Phyllis Holmes to the emergency room where tests revealed a life-threatening twist in her small intestine. Surgeons left her abdomen open for two days after surgery – it’s the reason Phyllis is alive today.

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

Dr. Guillaume Martel and Phyllis Holmes embrace at The Ottawa Hospital.
Dr. Guillaume Martel and Phyllis Holmes

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.

Recovery period

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.

A guardian angel

Dr. Guillaume at The Ottawa Hospital
Dr. Guillaume Martel was part of a team that saved Phyllis’ life.

That’s when Phyllis heard of the Guardian Angel 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 Guardian Angel 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 Guardian Angel 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

The Vered family joined together for a photo.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

Honour a physician, nurse, health care team member, or volunteer for the exceptional care you or a loved one has received at our hospital.

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