“Exemplary” HIV and prostate cancer treatment spanning decades

Lorne Blahut can’t brag enough about the treatment and care he has received over the past two decades at The Ottawa Hospital for HIV and prostate cancer. He describes the care as full person – physical, mental and emotional.

When Lorne Blahut was diagnosed with HIV in 2000, he thought he was going to die. But experts at The Ottawa Hospital, armed with incredible advances in research, had a different plan. Then in 2017, he again found himself face-to-face with another significant health scare — prostate cancer. But Lorne knew he was in good hands.

“Several years ago, my doctor, Stephen Kravcik, told me, ‘You better start planning for your retirement, because you’re not going to die,’” said Lorne. And he was right. The 67-year-old retired 7 years ago from a career at Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Lorne’s original fears of dying when first diagnosed with HIV were well founded. It is estimated that more than 32 million people have died from HIV since the early 1980s and the high fatality rates from early-on in the epidemic remained staggering for years. But then research turned the tide.

Excellence in research

“Certainly, the mid-90s was the heyday of HIV research when new drugs were developed. The Ottawa Hospital group did revolutionary research led by Drs. Bill Cameron and Jonathan Angel,” said Dr. Kravcik, who came to The Ottawa Hospital in 1994 specifically to do HIV research and clinical trials for new drugs under the guidance of Dr. Cameron. He said at that time about 125 of their HIV patients passed away every year.

Today, HIV is no longer a death sentence.

“It’s not even a chronic disease. Most people like Lorne take one or two pills a day and their lives are totally normal. The pills are superb. They are well-tolerated and with them patients do really, really well.” – Dr. Stephen Kravcik

Lorne Blahut grateful for care received at The Ottawa Hospital
Lorne Blahut grateful for care received at The Ottawa Hospital

When Lorne was first diagnosed 20 years ago, patients diagnosed with HIV/AIDS were living longer thanks to the antiretroviral medications, but it wasn’t common for patients to survive for decades.

“Being diagnosed was a horrific shock,” said Lorne. “And for a while I kept the diagnosis to myself. Being in the gay community, there was the fear that people were going to find out. It was intimidating, it was daunting, but there’s the saying that your worst fears are only realized in your head.”

Lorne’s fears proved unfounded when he realized he was in competent, caring hands.

Helping patients navigate their disease

Dr. Kravcik
Dr. Stephen Kravcik

“A number of people helped navigate the whole disease piece. There was a team around from the beginning,” said Lorne. “Dr. Kravcik explained what was going to happen with the various medications and took the time to listen when I asked for clarification. Kim Lancaster, the social worker on the team, helped with the initial diagnosis, with moving forward, and with issues I was dealing with personally.”

Kim Lancaster, who worked in the infectious diseases clinic for nine years, said the main stay of her job was helping people emotionally manage the impact of receiving an HIV positive diagnosis, and helping them figure out how to conduct themselves in their professional, social, and emotional lives. She said there’s still such a stigma attached to the disease.

“Lorne knew he needed help and was courageous to reach out his hand like that,” said Kim. “In the HIV world, many of the people who don’t live well with the disease are those who are too mired in shame, or fearful of discrimination, to access medical and psychosocial support. They don’t invite people into their medical experience.”

“The care was all encompassing. I’ve not only been looked after physically – bodily – but also, I have had mental support.” – Lorne Blahut

Lorne said the numerous levels of care he received during his treatment in the early years helped him cope with having an illness that is so stigmatized. He also benefited greatly from the research conducted at the hospital, and the antiretroviral drugs developed over the years to keep the disease in remission. Lorne survived. Then he suddenly found himself faced with another life-threatening disease – prostate cancer.

“When you get a diagnosis of cancer, it takes a while to sink in,” said Lorne. But he wanted to be informed about his treatment options.

Minimally-invasive robotic procedure

Lorne read up on the two prostate cancer surgery options before deciding that the robotic surgery, offered at The Ottawa Hospital, was the right one for him. The da Vinci Surgical System is a state-of-the-art robotic system that the surgeon operates remotely, using cameras and tiny surgical instruments. This operation is easier to recover from because it is performed through small incisions rather than the traditional larger incision in the lower abdomen. The Ottawa Hospital was the third hospital in Canada to acquire this minimally invasive surgical system, which was purchased with funding from the community.

The da Vinci Surgical System is a state-of-the-art robotic system
The da Vinci Surgical System, a state-of-the-art robotic system

“What particularly struck me when comparing the two surgeries was the recovery. The recovery time is longer with the traditional operation because of the significant incision the surgeon has to make, and you wear a catheter for months. There is also a tendency for there to be more nerve damage because it’s not as precise. So, for me it was a no brainer.”

Preparing for surgeryThe da Vinci Surgical System used in robotic surgeries

Lorne met with surgeon Dr. Chris Morash, who talked about the possible side effects of prostate cancer surgery. Some individuals experience incontinence and/or sexual dysfunction and some might require hormone therapy after the surgery. Several days later, Lorne met with social worker Liane Murphy and expressed his concerns about all of this.

Liane meets with individuals diagnosed with prostate cancer to help them prepare for their surgery and recovery and to talk through any of their concerns.  Her advocacy on Lorne’s behalf led to a positive pre-operation discussion with Dr. Morash who better addressed Lorne’s concerns.  In February 2018, Lorne underwent three-hour robotic surgery. He recovered well and is back to enjoying retirement.

World-class care, right here at home

“I moved here in 1992.  When I retired seven years ago, someone asked me if I was going to move back to Saskatchewan. First thing that came to mind was, ‘I won’t because I can’t get the healthcare I get at The Ottawa Hospital,’” said Lorne. “Overall, my experience with The Ottawa Hospital has been exemplary. The staff has treated me well and been very supportive. I can’t brag enough about them.”

Lorne is certainly not alone in navigating through the diagnoses and treatment of HIV and prostate cancer. Many men go through similar experiences with these diseases. But when it comes to HIV, Lorne is also trailblazing a new domain in healthcare.

“We don’t have a lot of men his age who have survived HIV,” said Tim Hutchinson, former Director of Social Services at The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre who has known Lorne for many years. “He’s a pioneer and role model in what happens next as this population ages, and how it is as a gay man, navigating a healthcare system.”

The Ottawa Hospital is establishing a Research Chair in Gay Men’s Health to create a comprehensive healthcare agenda that will help improve access to, and delivery of gay-relevant healthcare for men of all ages.

Donate today to support the kind of cutting-edge research at The Ottawa Hospital that has helped save patients like Lorne.

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Canadian armwrestling legend wins championship after arthroscopic surgery

One look at Devon Larratt’s incredibly large biceps and you might mistake him for a superhero. While he’s not a superhero, he is a world champion with a story that is anything but ordinary. And his climb to the top involved multiple surgeries, intensive rehab, and sheer determination.

It would have been hard not to be impressed while watching Devon Larratt triumphing as the Open World Champion, in both his left and right arm, in the World Armwrestling League. Chants and loud cheers extended from the crowd as Devon, a veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces, faced his opponents time and again from 2008 to 2012. What Devon did not know at this time was that all of the intense training it took to get him on the world stage was leading to the development of debilitating arthritis that was going to jeopardize his greatest passion and career. His only hope to regain his former glory was surgery at The Ottawa Hospital to restore strength in his arms.

A family affair

Devon has been interested in armwrestling for most of his life. At age 18, he entered his first tournament and has represented Canada at international competitions ever since, winning many World Championships. An impressive feat for someone who initially took up armwrestling as a hobby when he was only five years old.

One could say that for the Larratt’s, armwrestling is a family affair. “I grew up armwrestling with my grandmother,” said Devon. “The rumour around the family was that she was the Alberta women’s champion. It’s because of her that I started armwrestling.”

Devon Larratt sitting on an OR table
Devon Larratt, Canadian armwrestling champion

 

Military force

It wasn’t until Devon joined the Canadian Armed Forces that he got serious about his training. Eighteen years in the military provided him with the opportunity to get in the best shape of his life. “If I wasn’t on a mission,” said Devon, “I was pumping iron.”

Even while on tour overseas in Afghanistan, armwrestling played a large role in his life. Competing against fellow troops, he gained the experience he needed to one day earn himself the title as one of the best armwrestlers in the world.

Injury puts dreams on holdelbow xray

Like many athletes, Devon suffered injuries that put his dreams and career in jeopardy. Armwrestling is incredibly demanding on tendons and joints. Years of trauma caused by armwrestling led to the development of osteoarthritis, with extra bone build up in his elbows.

“Both my left and right elbow joints were degraded to a point where I was in constant pain,” remembers Devon. Increased pressure in the elbow joints from abnormal mechanics while armwrestling led to a build up of extra bone in areas it shouldn’t grow. Devon was unaware this abnormal bone was breaking apart, creating loose fragments in his joints.

At the same time, Devon’s arthritis caused chronic inflammation between his elbow joint bones, eroding the cartilage in the joint and causing friction between the elbow bones. This not only caused him significant pain but it also greatly impacted his range of motion.

Unable to compete to the best of his ability and in great pain, Devon was referred to a shoulder and elbow specialist at The Ottawa Hospital.

Specialized technique

Devon’s treatment would involve three surgeries: two operations in his right elbow and one in his left. Due to the nature of his work as an armwrestler and in the military, the surgical team made use of a specialized technique – elbow arthroscopy, a minimally invasive surgery. This technique involves inserting a fibre-optic video camera through a small incision. The view inside the joint is then transmitted to a high-definition video monitor, resulting in a more precise operation. As a minimally invasive surgery, this technique preserves as much of the muscles and tendons in the elbow area as possible.

Over one cup of stray floating bone fragments and a golf-ball-size piece of abnormal bone was extracted from Devon’s elbow. Once the bone was removed, the elbow was recontoured and sculpted to correct any deformity and to restore the normal anatomy of the joint.

Expertise right here in Ottawa

Prior to the development of arthroscopic techniques, surgery involved making a long incision, cutting through layers of muscle to get to the joint. This often resulted in a slower healing time and would require a longer rehabilitation period.

Though there had been many advancements in elbow arthroscopy, until a decade ago, this was a specialty procedure not yet available in Ottawa. But a focused effort on the improvement of minimally invasive techniques at our hospital attracted skilled physicians from across the globe.

Now, with local expertise in elbows and shoulders, coupled with the latest equipment and technology, patients can be treated right here at home, in Ottawa. It is in part thanks to donor support that the latest tools were brought to The Ottawa Hospital to allow arthroscopic procedures to take place.

The potential of stem cells

In the future, athletes like Devon may be able to avoid surgery altogether by benefiting from the healing power of stem cells.

Research at The Ottawa Hospital is underway to better understand how bone regenerates, repairs, and heals. Dr. Daniel Coutu, inaugural Research Chair in Regenerative Orthopaedic Surgery, is investigating the impact that trauma, aging, and chronic degeneration have on bones, which support our joints. The star researcher, who was recruited from Switzerland, focuses on the fundamental biology of bone stem cells. He studies various inflammatory disease models caused by arthritis and is working to determine how stem cells can improve healing and recovery.

Remaining at the leading edge of stem cell research will ensure that our patients have the latest treatment options and the best chance at recovery.

“Stem cell therapy could be a game changer for professional athletes with repetitive strain bone injuries, allowing them to continue to perform to the best of their ability and give them their quality of life back.” – Dr. Daniel Coutu.

 

Dr. Daniel Coutu
Dr. Daniel Coutu

Bone plays a key role in the health of tissues, such as muscle, tendons, and cartilage that are connected to it. Although bone tissue generally repairs itself very easily, damage to the tendons, ligaments, or cartilage, is much more difficult to heal.

Fortunately, the failure rate for orthopaedic surgery is quite low, approximately two to five percent. However, the success rate drops when athletes incur repeated injuries or with age. Dr. Coutu is hoping to help fill this gap through his stem cell research so that athletes like Devon can have a better recovery rate and longer-lasting results.

“With the growing number of baby boomers and athletes suffering with aches and pains in their joints, I am hoping that our collaborative work will prolong the life of their joints. Stem cell research being conducted here in Ottawa could enable these patients to return to normal sporting activities, improving their quality of life,” said Dr. Paul E. Beaulé, Head, Orthopaedic Surgery at The Ottawa Hospital.

Becoming a champion again

After Devon’s surgeries, rehabilitation was his next focus. “I treated rehab like preparation for any other event. This, combined with the incredible work of my surgery team, helped me get back to competing less than a year later,” said Devon.

Just eleven months after undergoing three surgeries on his arms at The Ottawa Hospital, Devon was back on top – a champion once again.

Devon has since competed against and defeated, some of the most legendary armwrestlers, winning himself numerous championships across the globe.

More recently Devon has opened the gym in his garage to the public to help encourage others to be fit, to help train, and to show off his hardware. There is no doubt that armwrestling will continue to play a large role in Devon and his family’s life for years to come.

Devon with weights

“I am so grateful for my care team at The Ottawa Hospital and that we have this level of expertise right here in Ottawa. They helped me get back to competing and doing what I love.” – Devon Larratt

Devon and Dr. Pollock armwrestle

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

Help us make more happy endings like Devon’s. With your support today, we can continue to champion healthy living tomorrow.

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Celebrating a “re-birthday” each year since having a cancerous brain tumour removed

Nine years ago, The Ottawa Hospital saved Kimberly Mountain’s life after the discovery of a cancerous brain tumour. Today, she’s confident if the cancer comes back, The Ottawa Hospital will be ready to save her again.

We each have a defining moment in our life — a moment that changes our life forever. For some, that moment is not as clearly defined as it is for others. For Kimberly Mountain, that moment was the discovery of a cancerous brain tumour.

In February, 2011, Kimberly was 28 years old and out with her then-boyfriend, Matt Mountain, when she felt a weird, strong twitch on the right side of her face as they were driving. “Then all I remember is waking up. Our car was pulled over on the side of the highway. Paramedics were there, and I heard Matt say, ‘Kim just had a seizure’,” recalls Kimberly.

Kimberly was rushed by ambulance to the trauma centre at the Civic Campus of The Ottawa Hospital. She would have another seizure, and then an MRI revealed a brain tumour on her right frontal lobe. That moment changed her life.

For two weeks, The Ottawa Hospital became Kimberly’s second home. Her family and Matt never left her side. “Oddly enough, my memories of being in the hospital aren’t of a sad time at all. They are actually some of my favourite memories, filled with friends and family. Everyone I loved was there. And we made friends with the amazing nurses and staff,” says Kimberly.

Kimberly Mountain at The Ottawa Hospital

Awake brain surgery

On March 7, 2011, Kimberly had brain surgery. Her surgeon, Dr. Charles Agbi, would keep her awake for the operation. This is a highly-specialized surgical procedure that requires a team approach led by an experienced neurosurgeon and a neuroanesthesiologist. It enables the neurosurgeon to remove tumours that would otherwise be inoperable because they are too close to areas of the brain that control vision, language, and body movement. Regular surgery could result in a significant loss of function. By keeping Kimberly awake, the medical team was able to ask her to move certain body parts and speak during the procedure.

When she thinks back to the operation, she remembers never being worried. “I guess the hospital staff had made me feel safe and confident.”

During surgery, Kimberly could feel the vibrations of the team drilling into her head, but she didn’t mind it. “I kept talking, laughing, and singing Disney songs, like “Hakuna Matata.” I was telling them how I was going to go to Disney World when it was over. Five hours seemed like just one,” says Kimberly.

For Dr. Agbi, this type of interaction is critical to the success of the surgery. “If they’re only answering questions [surgery staff] are asking them, sometimes we might miss something.”

Transformational technology

It is advances in technology like Kimberly experienced that allow neurosurgeons at The Ottawa Hospital to provide transformational care.

In fact, donor support brought a specialized microscope to Ottawa, allowing surgeons to perform fluorescence-guided surgery. The technique requires patients to drink a liquid containing 5-aminolevulinic acid (5-ALA) several hours before surgery. The liquid concentrates in the cancerous tissue and not in normal brain tissue. As a result, malignant gliomas “glow” a fluorescent pink color under a special blue wavelength of light generated by the microscope. This allows surgeons to completely remove the tumour in many more patients, with recent studies showing that this can now be achieved in 70 percent of surgeries compared to the previous 30 percent average. The first surgery of this kind in Canada was performed at The Ottawa Hospital.

Dr. Nicholas sat down, held my hand, and said the word — cancer. Everything went blurry, and this time I couldn’t stop the tears. I had been strong up until that moment.” – Kimberly

Oncologist reveals brain tumour is cancerous

When pathology tests on the tumour came back several weeks later, Kimberly met with her oncologist, Dr. Garth Nicholas, and he revealed the news she feared the most. “Dr. Nicholas sat down, held my hand, and said the word — cancer. Everything went blurry, and this time I couldn’t stop the tears. I had been strong up until that moment,” remembers Kimberly.

During her cancer treatment, Kimberly faced 30 rounds of radiation, followed by chemotherapy. Matt, who had proposed during Kim’s long stay in the hospital, took her on trips to amusement parks or convertible drives to help get her through the difficult times. The couple even made a special trip to Disney World. “All I could think of during my brain surgery was how happy and carefree it was there. The world was suddenly much more exciting, and I was aware of every little smell, feeling, and moment—something I think maybe only cancer patients can appreciate.”

This all provided Kimberly with a distraction from the side effects, the tiredness, and the hair loss. Losing her hair was one of the most difficult parts of treatment. “I hated losing my long, beautiful hair.”

.Kimberly Mountain

Less than a year later, on January 6, 2012, Kimberly received her last chemotherapy treatment. “I asked those pills to eat that cancer.” Her wish would be realized when an MRI could not detect any residual cancer. Kimberly transformed into a cancer survivor.

Kim Mountain and her family as she rings the bell.

Through a mother’s eyes

Kimberly has become known for never showing up for an appointment without a small contingent of supporters. She always has her family by her side, including her mother, Cyndy Pearson. Cyndy laughs that Kimberly always has an entourage—even when she learned her tumour was cancerous. “We were all there. When there’s something important, we’re all there. When Dr. Garth Nicholas leaned over, and said, ‘Kim you have cancer,’ we were all crying.”

A mother and a daughter hugging
Kimberly Mountain and her mother, Cyndy Pearson

Cyndy is grateful to The Ottawa Hospital for saving Kimberly, her youngest of three children. She points out March 7, 2011 is a new date circled on the family’s calendar—Kimberley’s re-birthday.

Cyndy is also forever grateful for Dr. Agbi’s care. “If this surgery hadn’t happened, she wouldn’t be having any more birthdays. If the hospital had not been able to save her…” Cyndy’s voice trails off.

 

Kimberly Mountain

“Even if the cancer does come back, I am confident that The Ottawa Hospital will be able to save me again, thanks to its constant innovative research and clinical trials that are making treatment better and saving lives.” – Kimberly Mountain

Cancer survivor nine years later

Today, Kimberly has a tattoo on the back of her neck that reads “Hakuna Matata – March 7, 2011”. She celebrates every milestone — including being cancer free — with family, friends, and of course Matt, who never left her side and who is now her husband. You could say it’s like a Disney ending.

Not everything went back to normal. “My precious hair will never be the same,” says Kimberly. “There’s a big spot where my hair will never grow back. The whole right side of my head is permanently bald.” However, always finding the positive, Kimberly says she can do her hair in ten seconds these days, thanks to a few different wigs, “I may actually own more wigs than shoes.”

All joking aside, Kimberly is grateful for each day. “Even if the cancer does come back, I am confident that The Ottawa Hospital will be able to save me again, thanks to its constant innovative research and clinical trials that are making treatment better and saving lives.”

For now, Kimberly takes it one day at a time, celebrating life’s little moments each day.

Donate today to ensure we can provide patients like Kimberly with the advanced care they need.

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Innovative 3D printing sets The Ottawa Hospital apart

The Ottawa Hospital’s 3D Printing Laboratory takes an innovative approach and develops PPE to help safeguard colleagues who care for patients critically ill from COVID-19.

The Ottawa Hospital was the first Canadian hospital to have an integrated medical 3D printing program for pre-surgical planning and education. Since the arrival of the program, made possible by the generosity of a donor, The Ottawa Hospital has been a leader in innovative advancements in this area. Doctors have been able to harness 3D printing to create detailed anatomical plans before a patient arrives in the operating room, reducing the need for invasive surgery, and ultimately improving outcomes with a significant cost savings. It’s this program, which positions the hospital’s Medical Imaging Department at the forefront of international developments in radiology and is revolutionizing the way surgery is done. It’s this kind of forward thinking that allowed The Ottawa Hospital to be ready when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Ottawa, mobilizing innovative 3D printing technology at the hospital, in local companies, and out in the community, to quickly create PPE for front-line workers.

Ready to face the pandemic

Dr. Adnan Sheikh
Dr. Adnan Sheikh holding a 3D printed replica

As members of The Ottawa Hospital’s 3D Printing Laboratory watched how COVID-19 was spreading throughout China and Europe, they quickly became aware of how some parts of the world were facing dramatic equipment shortages. That’s when Dr. Adnan Sheikh, Director of the 3D Printing Laboratory, and his team started to think creatively about how they could help their colleagues be better prepared for the pandemic.

“I reached out to Dr. David Neilipovitz, Department Head of Critical Care, to offer help and we identified many areas where the 3D Printing Lab would be in the best position to help in case of any shortages,” says Dr. Sheikh.

From that conversation, the 3D printing team started developing several different designs of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) to help safeguard colleagues who would be caring for patients critically ill from COVID-19.

“We were able to create oxygen tents, goggles, tube connectors, intubation shields, and face shields which are a key piece of equipment,” explains Dr. Sheikh.

These transformational advancements wouldn’t have been possible just five years ago.

“This is an innovative technology. It’s really evolved and it’s changing the way we practice medicine.” — Dr. Adnan Sheikh

Testing the prototypes

Once the 3D lab began producing pieces of PPE, each one needed to be tested. Dr. Neilipovitz played a key role in testing these designs in advance, allowing The Ottawa Hospital to be innovative during challenging times.

“Thanks to our 3D team, they allowed us to think outside the box and quickly find us solutions to be ready to help our patients.” — Dr. David Neilipovitz

In fact, Dr. Neilipovitz and his team in the ICU were instrumental in helping the 3D team refine and test prototypes to ensure they were up to the task. A crucial step in the process and one that required patience, expertise, and an open mind.

A perfect example was an intubation shield designed with the help of Leonard Lapensee, an Imaging Technician, who works at the hospital. The ICU team tested this prototype; they modified it and it was later mass-produced. This is now used in the ICU, operating rooms, and emergency rooms.

Dr. Neilipovitz trying on a prototype mask
Dr. David Neilipovitz trying on a prototype mask

 

3D face mask with valve
The end result which includes a 3D-printed blue valve at the top

 

Community support takes The Ottawa Hospital to the next level

Once they received the green light for the 3D equipment, The Ottawa Hospital was then able to produce as much quantity as the lab could handle. However, the collaboration went beyond the lab and even the walls of The Ottawa Hospital.

“We knew we had limited resources and were aware that we wouldn’t be able to manufacture and print everything in the lab. So, we prototyped these devices and pushed them out for production at different sites at The Ottawa Hospital. We also reached out to volunteers in the community who had offered to help.”

There was a collaboration with the University of Ottawa Makerspace led by engineering professor Dr. Hanan Anis and her team to help with the design and prototyping process. It didn’t stop there—the community support continued to grow to help produce PPE such as face shields, and even headbands.

A good example of that support was when Ottawa resident Marc Beal stepped forward to lend a hand. “Due to resource constraints, we needed help printing headbands for face shields. Marc and his friends, who have home 3D printers, approached us and printed these headbands for us,” explains Dr. Sheikh.

Marc Beal working at home
Marc Beal working at home on his 3D printer

 

Dr. David Neilipovitz with an oxygen hood
Dr. David Neilipovitz testing an oxygen hood

 

Another key piece of equipment was the oxygen helmet, which is used with patients who require a constant flow of oxygen. Once again, the 3D lab was able to prototype it. “We tested it and once we were convinced that it would help our patients, we reached out to Darcy Cullum at Ottawa Mould Craft, who was happy to work with us.”

Ultimately, that community support allowed The Ottawa Hospital to ensure staff have the PPE needed to keep both care team members and patients safe during the peak of COVID-19.

The best part of all, notes Dr. Sheikh, is that this all came about organically. “Colleagues helping colleagues—having an open mind and being willing to integrate what we can contribute. That included assessing the gear and testing it out to make it reality. I feel privileged to live in Ottawa; our community support system is the best in the world!”

COVID-19 may have turned the world upside down but it was a forward-thinking donor in 2016, who allowed The Ottawa Hospital to have the technology in place to be ready when our patients needed us most.

“With COVID-19 everything has changed. 3D printing now has a different role in the medical world.” — Dr. Adnan Sheikh

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

Donate today to ensure The Ottawa Hospital is equipped with the most advanced technology when patients need it most.

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Care, innovation, and research projects underway thanks to latest round of COVID-19 donor support.

After only a few short weeks, $1.7M has been donated to support our hospital’s fight against COVID-19. This incredible generosity from our community has allowed us to provide seed funding for 21 different care, innovation, and research projects.

In the latest round of funding from the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, supported entirely through the generosity of donors, new research, innovation, and care projects have been approved for seed funding and will now get underway. These vital projects are the latest initiatives chosen out of more than 160 ideas submitted to the COVID-19 Ideas Hub.

The Hub was created by the hospital to allow any staff, regardless of background or role, to submit innovative ideas to combat COVID-19. Teams of experts evaluated the feasibility, available funding, and whether the idea could positively impact The Ottawa Hospital, patients, and the community.

The following care, innovation, and research projects have been selected for seed funding which is made possible by the many generous donors who supported the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund – thank you to all who have donated.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy for COVID pneumonia

Dr. Boet 
Dr. Sylvain Boet

When COVID-19 takes over the lungs, it can feel like you can’t get enough air into your body, no matter how much you gasp. When this kind of COVID pneumonia sets in, the only option is to hook the patient up to an artificial breathing machine (a ventilator), with a tube down the throat (intubation). Unfortunately, only half of people with COVID-19 who require intubation will survive after this invasive, last-resort treatment. Dr. Sylvain Boet and his colleagues believe that hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) may be able to help some people with COVID-19 pneumonia avoid mechanical ventilation and increase survival. HBOT involves placing patients in a pressurized room or chamber so they can breathe 100% oxygen. It can increase the delivery of oxygen to tissues by 10 to 20-fold and can also boost the immune system and help the body fight infections. Small studies in other countries suggest that HBOT may help treat patients with COVID-19 pneumonia, but more research is needed. Dr. Boet and his team will initiate a study of HBOT in people with COVID-19 pneumonia at The Ottawa Hospital, and will work with colleagues around the world to explore the possibility of expanding the trial to other hospitals.

“Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is safe and non-invasive, and our aim is to help COVID-19 patients with pneumonia avoid the need for an artificial breathing machine.”
– Dr. Sylvain Boet, scientist and anesthesiologist at The Ottawa Hospital

UPDATE:
Dr. Boet has assembled a team of national and international experts in hyperbaric oxygen therapy and has carried out a systematic review and a media appearance in support of the study. His team has secured approval from Health Canada and Clinical Trials Ontario and recently applied for over $1.2 million in funding for the study. Funding from the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund provided seed funding for this research project.

Innovative prototypes to protect our people

Developing innovative solutions to address staff safety is critical during this pandemic. It is vital that our people have the best tools to support them for the duration of the crisis. This initiative will use seed funding to support the development and testing of prototypes for priority Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), devices, and supplies to support patient care and staff safety.

Some of the projects supported by this initiative will look at developing, piloting and evaluating equipment like a helmet-based ventilation system for patients in respiratory distress, 3D printed custom-fit sterilizable masks and glideoscope blades for fast intubation, and producing N100 masks for Operating Room staff. It will also look at evaluating barrier methods such as a negative pressure COVID box to improve the safety of aerosol-generating medical procedures (such as intubation or suction), and at creating virtual reality educational videos for safe practices in clinical settings, including various treatment scenarios and how to safely put on and remove PPE.

Dr. Castellucci
Dr. Lana Castellucci

Preventing dangerous blood clots in COVID-19 patients

Drs. Marc Carrier, Lana Castellucci and colleagues are contributing to an international clinical trial  to find out whether a high dose of blood thinner can prevent dangerous blood clots in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. About 60 percent of these patients develop blood clots, which can be deadly if they travel to the lungs. Not only can blood thinners prevent clots, there is some evidence that they may also alter the course of a COVID-19 infection by interfering with the ability of the virus to latch onto and invade human cells. Patients hospitalized with COVID-19 already receive a low dose of blood thinner as part of their normal care. The researchers will test whether a higher dose can reduce death, transfer to intensive care or the need for mechanical ventilation. The team will also look at how the treatment affects blood clots and major bleeding. This study will immediately impact the clinical care of patients with severe COVID-19 in 13 sites across Canada as well as at sites in the United States and Europe.

“We know patients with COVID-19 are at higher risk of blood clots, which is why we are looking at ways to protect them,” – Dr. Lana Castellucci, associate scientist at The Ottawa Hospital

UPDATE:
The COVID-19 Emergency Fund has helped this team to participate in two blood thinner studies assessing different dosing of blood thinners in COVID-19 patients. To date, 22 patients have been recruited in the ATTACC trial and one in the RAPID COVID COAG trial, which has only recently been open for recruitment.

Leading the way to a common approach for testing strategies in the region

In order to enhance the efficiency of COVID-19 testing, more research is needed to better understand the various testing approaches available and in which settings (e.g. hospital-based or community-based) these testing approaches are most effective.

Currently, a variety of testing approaches are being investigated throughout the region by multiple healthcare groups.  Through this project, our hospital will assume a leadership role and create a team that will help to centralize and guide testing strategies adopted across the region.

Having this centralized oversight is especially important to ensuring the safety of healthcare workers, patients, and the public as procedures and surgeries resume.

The team will also develop predictive algorithms for determining the probability of COVID-19 prior to a test being administered and will streamline the use of innovative apps for contact tracing.

Data Dashboard_COVID Cases
A view of just some of the information a real-time active monitoring system can produce.

Using big data to find promising drugs for COVID-19

Dr. Derek MacFadden and his colleagues plan to identify promising drugs to treat COVID-19 by analyzing past data from 3,000 Ontario patients treated for other kinds of coronavirus infections between 2014 and 2018. Once the team identifies which drugs are associated with the best patient outcomes, they will use the same process to see how effective those drugs have been at treating patients with COVID-19. The drugs they identify in this screening process would then be tested in a lab to confirm their anti-viral activity against COVID-19. Drugs that pass this stage could potentially be used in future clinical trials for patients infected with or at risk of contracting COVID-19. Unlike most lab-based drug screening approaches, this big data approach has the benefit of seeing how drugs work in humans infected with the virus, and what dose is needed to be effective.

Dr. Derek MacFadden 
Dr. Derek MacFadden

“By looking at which drugs have been successful at treating past coronavirus infections, we can predict which ones are likely to work against COVID-19,” – Dr. Derek MacFadden, scientist at The Ottawa Hospital

UPDATE:
Researchers are finalizing their analysis, combing through large amounts of data. Once the analyses are finalized, the research team will be publishing their methods and results. The hope is that these results will be a guide for further research.

The Ottawa Hospital - Virtual Care

 

Optimizing the capabilities of virtual care

To help limit the spread of COVID-19 or any future widespread illness, while also avoiding disruption of care services, it will be essential to explore enhancements of the hospital’s virtual care offerings. With this project, a team will be assembled to evaluate the virtual care initiatives at The Ottawa Hospital.

This initiative will explore topics such as post-discharge virtual care following a surgery, virtual care for populations with chronic illness or disability, adapting ambulatory care to virtual visits, and looking at how virtual options could be used to provide support to our health partners in the community.

Thorough evaluation, including understanding the potential challenges and barriers from the perspective of patients and providers, will be key to determining the feasibility and sustainability of virtual care programs.

Enhancing patient care through data and analytics

Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been a significant demand for COVID-19 data to support a variety of work at the hospital including research efforts, quality improvement activities, and clinical care. This project will see the creation of a common data mart that leverages the data within Epic, the hospital’s digital health network. This will link data at the individual patient level to COVID-19 infection status, demographics, medical history, lab and medical imaging testing, and pharmacy orders.

This initiative will enable projects using data to look at a variety of topics from evaluating treatment protocols in ICU patients to predicting COVID-19 in certain populations. Ultimately, it will enhance the hospital’s ability to support high-quality patient care and our COVID-19 research agenda.

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

There is still work to do! Donate today to the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund to support our researchers, innovators, and care providers who are combatting this virus each day.

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A second chance after dire lung cancer diagnosis

At the age of 47 and with no risk factors, Andrea Redway was ‘shocked beyond belief’ when diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. The Ottawa Hospital was ready.

Immunotherapy provides a second chance after dire lung cancer diagnosis

As a lawyer, Andrea Redway has worked on international initiatives relating to justice reform. She’s travelled the world tackling big projects and has always been ready to face new challenges head-on—but nothing could have prepared Andrea for a stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis. This diagnosis rocked her world and left her wondering how long she would survive.

The first signs of trouble appeared in January 2015 when Andrea developed a cough that persisted. In March, she left on a work trip abroad. It was an exciting career opportunity with the added bonus of being able to bring her husband and two children, who were 8 and 11 at the time. Three weeks after returning home, the cough continued and she couldn’t shake her jet lag. “Usually I’m over jet lag in a week. I was still so exhausted, and thought maybe I had pneumonia,” recalls Andrea.

“Here I was, 47 years old and I had no risk factors. I would never
have thought that I could get lung cancer.” – Andrea Redway

Grim diagnosis

With no family doctor, she went to a walk-in clinic and was prescribed antibiotics. Within a few days, she started noticing other symptoms. “I had strange pains in my leg and then some cramping in my abdomen. The exhaustion continued.”

Andrea received a referral to a family doctor and an x-ray was ordered. The results showed a large mass on her lung. Within a week, she received the grim diagnosis—stage 4 lung cancer. The cancer had already spread to her bones, adrenal glands, brain and there were early signs of it in her colon. She was shocked beyond belief. “Here I was, 47 years old and I had no risk factors. I would never have thought that I could get lung cancer.”

Andrea Redway and family
Andrea, husband Michael Cayley, with their two children in Tofino, B.C. post diagnosis.

All Andrea and her husband could think about was getting on treatment right away. She had to, for the sake of her children.

She was referred to Dr. Garth Nicholas, an oncologist at The Ottawa Hospital and began chemotherapy treatment along with a small amount of radiation. Six weeks later, a scan revealed the chemotherapy was only partially working.

 

Dr. Garth Nicholas at The Ottawa Hospital
Dr. Garth Nicholas is an oncologist at The Ottawa Hospital

 

Clinging to life

Dr. Nicholas was aware of a new clinical trial, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. It was an immunotherapy treatment specifically used to treat stage 4 lung cancer, but it wasn’t yet available in Canada. He applied for the compassionate care program with the drug company and Andrea was given one dose of the drug, Nivolumab. Today, Nivolumab is now routinely used to treat many people with lung cancer. It is also used to treat other cancers, most notably melanoma.

But Andrea’s cancer continued to progress and she became very sick. Back in hospital, it was discovered that she had a perforated bowel. She recalls the situation being dire, “I needed emergency surgery or that was going to be the end of the line for me.”

Given the progression of Andrea’s cancer, it was uncertain if surgery was a viable option, but her care team at The Ottawa Hospital wanted to give Andrea the chance to have more time with her family. “Dr. Guillaume Martel, who is my saviour, did the surgery. Here I am today as a result,” says Andrea.

Once she recovered from surgery, Andrea was able to resume treatment to take on the cancer, which had ravaged her body. One month later, she received her second dose of immunotherapy. “I continued with immunotherapy for about two years. I completed my treatment in September 2017 and I’ve been great ever since.”

“Everything else is gone. It’s amazing—totally amazing. With little kids, we’ve had so many special moments since then.” – Andrea Redway

Eight months after starting treatment, Andrea’s scan showed the cancer was gone from outside of her lungs and the primary tumour on her lung had shrunk to about half. “When the tumour showed up on the scan originally, it was six centimeters. Now, it’s about 2.5 centimeters. It’s been described as mostly necrotic or dead.”

Transformational results

While Andrea did experience side effects like fatigue, dry eyes and joint pain, she says it was a small price to pay because immunotherapy was a game changer. “Everything else is gone. It’s amazing—totally amazing. With little kids, we’ve had so many special moments since then.”

Dr. Nicholas explains how much cancer treatment has improved in just four years since Andrea’s initial diagnosis. “Immunotherapy has become a standard part of the treatment of lung cancer over the past four years or so. There are rare patients like Andrea for whom it is an extraordinarily effective treatment, much better than any other therapy we’ve had in the past.”

However, Dr. Nicholas adds that not every lung cancer patient has a positive response like Andrea, and more research needs to be done. “There is a lot of ongoing research into why some tumours respond to immunotherapy while others do not, and whether we can do anything to alter non-responding tumours in order to make them respond.”

Today, Andrea continues to embrace those special moments, grateful to be watching her children grow.

 

You can help give all patients like Andrea hope by supporting life-saving research at The Ottawa Hospital today.

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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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Minimally invasive surgery ‘perfectly’ restores hearing

After a brain tumour threatened to make Denis Paquette deaf in both ears, and traditional brain surgery deamed too risky, The Ottawa Hospital doctors were challenged to work collaboratively to find a solution.

Minimally invasive surgery ‘perfectly’ restores hearing

After a brain tumour began growing in to his ear, Denis Paquette was at risk of losing his hearing in both ears – a circumstance that would strip him of his ability to hear his wife’s voice forever. With traditional brain surgery deemed too risky, Dr. Fahad Alkherayf and Dr. Shaun Kilty were challenged to find a safer solution – removing the tumour through his nose.

A life unlike most

Since birth, Denis Paquette, now 66, has been deaf in one ear. It’s clear he has a deep-rooted understanding of the nuances of having such an impairment. After all, it’s all he’s ever known. Holding the phone to his good ear and turning his head while in conversation to better hear someone are habits he was quick to establish.

But in 2016, these little tricks, which he has cultivated throughout his life, started to fail him. Conversations were getting harder to hear and Denis’ wife, Nicole,

Hospital around the world are looking to The Ottawa Hospital tDr. Fahad AlKherayf and Dr. Shaun Kilty standing in an operating room at The Ottawa Hospital.
Hospitals around the world are looking to The Ottawa Hospital to learn about the type of minimally invasive brain surgery performed by Dr. Fahad Alkherayf (right) and Dr. Shaun Kilty.

noticed that Denis was progressively increasing the volume on the television.

“I was beginning to be frustrated because people were talking to me, but I was just getting parts of the conversation,” said Denis.

Journey to diagnosis

Concerned about his hearing, Denis visited his family doctor. He was sent for various hearing tests, each showing that something was wrong. It was then that Denis was referred to Dr. David Schramm, a hearing specialist at The Ottawa Hospital. Dr. Schramm ordered an MRI that revealed Denis had a rare tumour growing in his skull and in to his inner ear. These weren’t the results Denis and Nicole were expecting.

“I didn’t know what to expect, so it was really shocking news,” said Denis.

Denis needed specialized surgery to remove the tumour and required the expertise of neurosurgeon Dr. Fahad Alkherayf and ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist Dr. Shaun Kilty.

Due to the complexity of Denis’ diagnosis, Dr. Alkherayf and his team were challenged to remove the tumour without jeopardizing his hearing completely.

“The tumour was growing in his skull and in to his inner ear, putting pressure on his hearing nerve on the good ear. There was a risk he would lose the rest of his hearing,” said Dr. Alkherayf.

“Despite it being a benign lesion, the impact of it was huge.” – Dr. Fahad Alkherayf

Dr. Alkherayf knew that removing the tumour through Denis’ ear could risk permanently damaging what little hearing he had left. With this in mind, Dr. Alkherayf recommended that Denis undergo the newly-available minimally invasive brain surgery. With this technique, his tumour would be removed through his nostrils instead of through his ear.

The risk was high

Traditionally, brain surgery for a case such as Denis’ would take place through the ear and require a large incision through the skull. But with only one good ear to start with, performing brain surgery in this way could permanently and completely impair his hearing.

Not only could Denis lose his hearing, the traditional method of removing such a tumour has a greater risk of complication, a higher chance of infection, and demands a longer recovery period – up to six months. It would also leave a large scar, beginning in front of his ear and extending all the way up and behind it. The thought of undergoing such a procedure alone was nerve-racking.

A new surgery technique

Over the last several years, Dr. Alkherayf has advanced new techniques for removing various types of brain tumours, known as minimally invasive surgery.

Minimally invasive surgery has transformed the way operations are performed by allowing surgeries to be carried out as keyhole procedures, a surgical procedure that provides access to parts of the body without having to make large incisions. This operation is much safer, with risk of infection and recovery time greatly reduced. In many cases, patients are discharged within just a few days of surgery.

“It’s quicker to recover for patients,” said Dr. Kilty. “Because they don’t have to recover from the extensive dissection that traditional approaches [surgeries] require.”

Performing these types of surgeries requires two physicians – a neurosurgeon to remove the tumour and an ENT to provide access to the tumour through the nose and to control the endoscope. Due to the complex nature of these surgeries, Dr. Alkherayf is among a small group willing to perform them. Many are looking to The Ottawa Hospital to learn about this innovative surgery. “We have become one of the top places in Canada for this technique,” said Dr. Alkherayf.

Denis Paquette sitting outside at a table at The Ottawa Hospital.
Denis Paquette’s hearing was restored after receiving minimally invasive brain surgery at The Ottawa Hospital.

“They did a miracle on me”

On July 20, 2016, Denis underwent a five-hour operation during which Dr. Alkherayf and Dr. Kilty were able to successfully access and remove the tumour through his nose. The insertion of a microscopic tube that would travel from the cavity of where the tumour once was to his sinuses which would prevent future buildup of fluid and prevent the chance of reoccurrence.

When he woke up, Denis was astounded that he could hear his wife’s voice. “I woke up and wow,” said Denis, “I could hear!”

Just two days after his surgery, he was discharged.

“They did a miracle on me. They did something fantastic,” said Denis, whose hearing tests have been perfect ever since.

“They did a miracle on me. They did something fantastic.” – Denis Paquette

Thanks to the care Denis received at The Ottawa Hospital and the benefits of minimally invasive surgery, he can now enjoy watching his television shows and conversing with his wife without issue. He no longer fears a life without sound.

Your support today will allow us to continue to provide the latest treatments for patients like Denis.

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Local activist donor pledges $500,000 to take on cancer

Gavin Murphy is unwavering when it comes to his desire to maintain a world-class health care system in our city. As a result, he’s willing to step forward and be an activist donor.

Local activist donor pledges $500,000 to take on cancer

Gavin Murphy is unwavering when it comes to his desire to maintain a world-class health care system in our city. He’s unwilling to settle for anything less and he doesn’t think anyone in our community should either. Gavin believes each resident needs to play an active role in giving back, and that’s why this self-described “activist” donor is sharing his story – a story he hopes will lead to a cure for cancer.

This New Edinburgh resident has committed $500,000 to support the Radiation Medicine Program at The Ottawa Hospital – it’s what he wants his lasting legacy to be.

While the Ottawa lawyer isn’t looking for public recognition, he’s not shy about sharing the news of his gift as he hopes it will inspire others to do the same. “Scarce government resources requires those in a position to give significant gifts to step forward and support The Ottawa Hospital.” Gavin adds, “By giving serious thought to my philanthropy, I am hoping to help improve discovery and care for our families, friends, and neighbours.”

Gavin’s interest in cutting-edge research is what enticed him to make this tremendous gift to Radiation Medicine Program with the hope that findings will one day be published. He’s excited about the opportunities which lie ahead and the advancements that will be made.

 

“I want to give this money while I’m still alive. It’s great that people leave money in their estates, I think that’s wonderful but I want to see the fruits of my labour, in my lifetime.” – Gavin Murphy

 

 

Gavin Murphy takes pride in describing himself an activist donor.
Gavin Murphy takes pride in describing himself an activist donor.

It’s the fruits of his labour, which will leave his fingerprints on advancements in cancer care to help others in the future. For Gavin, that’s truly exciting. “I like the idea of funding new, innovative technology. It will leave a lasting legacy and this gift is providing the building blocks for future research in this field.”

Donor support is vital to providing doctors and researchers with state-of-the-art tools. It’s also what allows The Ottawa Hospital to be a trailblazer when it comes to transformational advancements. Dr. Miller MacPherson, the Head of Medical Physics at The Ottawa Hospital says, “It’s the generosity of donors like Gavin which allows The Ottawa Hospital to be innovative with new technologies. This support will provide insight for new discoveries and will have an impact on care through research and technology advancements in the field of cancer research.”
Dr. Jason Pantarotto, Head of Radiation Oncology at The Ottawa Hospital, echoes that sentiment, noting that donations to the Radiation Medicine Program are particularly precious. “Despite radiotherapy being a key treatment for nearly 5,000 cancer patients each year in Ottawa, the amount of research dollars available to improve the science is pretty sparse. We are extremely grateful to donors, such as Gavin, who see the benefits of investing in the team and equipment that exists here at The Ottawa Hospital.”

For Gavin, his ultimate goal is to help find a cure for cancer.

“This gift will provide a foundation to greater understanding of cancer and I hope it will help obliterate cancer sometime down the road.”- Gavin Murphy

The reality is The Ottawa Hospital will touch each person in our community in some way. For Gavin, that’s a good reason for not only himself but also for others to step forward. “If people want to be well looked after in a world-class system, we have to ensure a world-class system is maintained.”

The way Gavin sees it, we’ll all need The Ottawa Hospital at some point, and there’s a way for each person in our community to support it. “You need people who are in the position to give, and those who can give smaller amounts, in greater numbers to support the hospital equally.”

To be a donor like Gavin, supporting patient-centred care and life-saving research at The Ottawa Hospital, please donate.

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Brain tumour diagnosis leads mom down unimaginable path

In 2016, Natasha Lewis was diagnosed with a brain tumour and her quality of life began to deteriorate. She received kind, compassionate care at The Ottawa Hospital – one of the few hospitals in Canada that could help her because of the complexity of her diagnosis.

It was an unimaginable brain tumour diagnosis that Natasha Lewis never saw coming. It started one morning, in 2016; the mother of three remembers waking up with a strange symptom.

“I looked in the mirror and noticed my tongue was twisting to the left,” recalled Natasha. Her first thought was that she had a stroke, but she was confused by the fact the rest of her body seemed normal.

She went for tests at The Ottawa Hospital  and three days later, her life changed. Natasha was driving when she got the call. Tests revealed a tumour in her brain. “I felt so sick when I heard the news that I had to pull over.”

Diagnosis shatters mom’s world

Natasha Lewis with her husband
Natasha Lewis with her husband, Marvin.

Natasha had a schwannoma tumour, which is rarely found in the brain. Her mind was racing. “I was only 38 years old, a wife, and mother of three young children.”

When she got home to St. Isidore, east of Ottawa, she sat with her youngest daughter as she relayed the information to her husband. “I had tears falling down my face. I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

All this time she thought she was healthy. “I was losing weight, running, and training for marathons and triathlons.” All she could think about were her three, beautiful, young children. What would this mean for them?

“We’re in the right place. We’re in Canada, we’re close to Ottawa, we’ll get the best care.”
– Marvin Lewis

However, her husband, Marvin, was a pillar of strength. She remembers him saying, “We’re in the right place. We’re in Canada, we’re close to Ottawa, we’ll get the best care.” She adds, “He has never been so right.”

The challenge of non-cancerous brain tumours

Natasha was cared for at The Ottawa Hospital – one of the few hospitals in Canada that could help her because of the complexity of her diagnosis. Dr. Fahad Alkherayf, a world-class skull-based surgeon told her the tumour was benign and he would closely monitor her in the months ahead.

Normally, a schwannoma is a tumour that grows in the sheaths of nerves in the peripheral nervous system, or the parts of the nervous system that aren’t in your brain or spinal cord. Schwannomas are usually low-grade tumours, meaning they can often be successfully treated, but they’re still serious and can be life-threatening. It is estimated that in 2021, there will be 27 new primary brain tumours diagnosed every day in Canada. Non-malignant tumours account for almost two-thirds of all primary brain tumours.

Condition deteriorating

Less than a year later, while the tumour had grown only slightly, Natasha’s quality of life was deteriorating.

She was scared to see what was happening with her body. Initially, there was drooling from both sides of her mouth, then Natasha started slurring her words. It was a little embarrassing, but she could handle it. In addition, swallowing became more difficult and her shoulder felt like it was on fire. That’s when she lost the ability to move it and couldn’t use it to work out. Even worse, she couldn’t lift her children.

By May 2018, it was time to operate when the side effects continued to worsen.

Surgeons ready for complex procedure

It was an intricate 10-hour brain surgery. Dr. Alkherayf brought in ear surgeon, Dr. David Schramm, a colleague at The Ottawa Hospital, to assist because of where the tumor was located. Dr. Alkherayf wanted to have another highly-skilled surgeon with him because the tumour was near the ear canal.

Hospital-bound Natasha with Dr. Fahad Alkerayf
Natasha with Dr. Alkherayf

The surgical team accessed her brain through the base of the skull. While minimally invasive surgeries are becoming more common than open surgeries, where the brain is accessed through a more invasive and significant incision, it wasn’t an option for Natasha because there were too many nerves to navigate. With traditional surgery, patients can spend a week recovering in the hospital.  With minimally invasive surgery, they sometimes go home the same day. In Natasha’s case, though complex and intricate, open surgery was the less risky option and she benefitted from the expertise available to her right here in Ottawa.

Dr. Alkherayf knew they likely couldn’t remove all of the tumour because of those surrounding nerves; damaging them meant Natasha might  lose her ability to hear and swallow. While these risks were terrifying for Natasha, Dr. Alkherayf made her feel confident and gave her hope.

“I remember Dr. Alkherayf said there would be another chapter in my life. I held on to those words.”
– Natasha Lewis

Incredibly, her surgeons were able to remove ninety-nine percent of the tumour leaving only a small sliver so they didn’t have to cut the nerves.

Journey continues after remarkable recovery

Following her surgery, Natasha made a remarkable recovery. She has her hearing — it’s a little muffled but she’s told over time it will return to normal. She’s back at work, her speech is back to normal, and she can swallow without difficulty.

This active mom’s recovery has been nothing short of remarkable. Four months post-surgery, Natasha ran the Commander’s challenge at the Army Run. She started training for a marathon and she has the dream of qualifying for the Boston Marathon.

However, in 2019, she received news the tumour had grown back, despite being told the odds of that were low. Natasha was devastated, but her healthcare team would turn to the CyberKnife – a revolutionary piece of equipment that arrived at The Ottawa Hospital in 2010, as a result of donor support.

“At first I was nervous to have the CyberKnife treatment. I had to go by myself because we had no one to watch the kids. However, the staff was very patient, kind, and made you feel warm and safe. I was able to watch a movie and the machine did the work,” recalls Natasha. She would have three, one-hour treatments.

Natasha and her family
Natasha and her family

“I had to go by myself because we had no one to watch the kids. However, the staff was very patient, kind, and made you feel warm and safe.”
– Natasha Lewis

Today, she prays that “Jim,” the name she’s given the tumour, will not come back. While, there’s uncertainty over what will happen next, she continues to be active with her running and most importantly, she can run, play with, and hug her three children. “I can hear them laugh and tell me they love me. There is no greater feeling in the world,” smiles Natasha.

Listen to Pulse Podcast to learn more about Natasha’s story and how Dr. Fahad Alkherayf provided her with specialized care.

Your support will ensure all patients, like Natasha, have access to the very latest lifesaving technologies at The Ottawa Hospital.

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