COVID-19 at The Ottawa Hospital – signs of hope one year later

A community that rallied to support our hospital, the impact of caring for COVID-19 patients during unprecedented times, and the race to find answers to a relentless virus.

When COVID-19 moved into the Ottawa region in March of 2020, we were in uncharted territory. However, despite the rapidly changing information in the early days, and the unknowns about this virus, something very clear began to emerge – unity. The community would soon show an outpouring of support for The Ottawa Hospital while healthcare teams rallied together to care for patients.

“Thank you to our generous donors – some who reached out for the first time.”
– Tim Kluke

As our front-line workers would go into the hospital each day to face the virus head-on, the community stayed home to help flatten the curve. Nevertheless, it became obvious residents wanted to do more – and they did. Donations both big and small began streaming in and the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund was created. To date, more than $2 million has been generously donated to support our hospital’s COVID-19 efforts and these donations have already been put to work. Tim Kluke, President and CEO of The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, says this support has made a world of a difference supporting both research and care projects. “This proves once again that we really are stronger when we pull together. Thank you to our generous donors – some of whom have even reached out for the first time. Research currently underway will allow us to better understand and treat the virus, to keep our patients and our community safe.” Donations continue to be accepted today.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was another way our community lent a helping hand. The Ottawa Chinese Community quickly mobilized and raised over $120,000 to purchase necessary equipment like ventilators and PPE for our staff.

In Their Own Words: Good Days, Bad Days, and What Keeps Them Coming Back

Stepping into the unknown

While the community united to show their support for our front-line workers, a COVID-19 floor was created at both the General and Civic Campuses to care for the patients who tested positive for the virus. The team at the General Campus that had originally cared for Thoracic, ENT (Ear, Nose, and Throat), and surgical patients would, almost overnight, become the team caring for COVID-19 patients. Little did they know at the time, they would be caring for these patients for well over a year. “We have a background in lungs and breathing issues on our unit, so we were a natural fit to care for these patients,” says Vanessa Large, a registered nurse at our hospital for the past four years.

Vanessa Large, Kristine Belmore, and Leah Mills worked on the “COVID floor” in 2020. Pictured above wearing personal protective equipment (Image 1) and without (Image 2).

Nevertheless, it was a daunting and draining task. Kristine Belmore is a registered nurse who has been at our hospital for 11 years and never did she imagine her career taking this step. “I was working the day the first positive patients came in. We were constantly getting new updates on protocols for caring for these patients – not just daily but during our shifts,” says Belmore. She adds, “It was the equivalent of how I felt when I was a new nurse preparing for a shift — I didn’t sleep well. I was anxious and there was the fear of the unknown.”

Leah Mills was just three years into her career as a registered nurse when she found herself caring for COVID-19 patients. “There was no easing into the COVID transition; it turned our world upside down,” says Leah.

Resilience as weeks turn into months

Dr. Samantha Halman helps a COVID-19 patient communicate with their loved ones via an iPad.
Dr. Samantha Halman helps a patient communicate with their loved ones via an iPad.

In those early weeks of caring for patients, there was the struggle of watching some patients go from appearing stable to suddenly clinging to life. Those days would take an emotional toll on these nurses. “The increase in demand during the surge of patients was overwhelming. Over time it became easier because we had concrete policies in place and we started recognizing a pattern in patient’s decline,” recalls Leah.

“We became their only sources of human connection, we became their second family. We would be there holding an iPad so they could see the friendly smile of a loved one – sometimes it was to say goodbye.” – Vanessa Large

The playbook had to be reinvented and new ideas had to be considered to help calm patients when they struggled to breathe or feared what might happen next. Then there were the layers of PPE, which created an additional level of safety but also a new challenge. “Caring for patients, especially the elderly who can be confused, was difficult because they can’t see your facial expressions – we had to find new ways to reassure patients when they were scared. We also became the link between the patient and the family, through phone calls and video calls – something we’ve never done before,” says Kristine.

Vanessa agrees adding, “We became their only sources of human connection, we became their second family. We would be there holding an iPad so they could see the friendly smile of a loved one – sometimes it was to say goodbye.”

Mentally and emotionally, the long haul of this pandemic started to wear on these nurses. Leah explains they’re used to helping patients heal and get better. “We’re feeling burned out and exhausted seeing patients decline quickly and sometimes die. It’s not what I’ve been used to in my role.”

Thankfully, over the past year, this dedicated care team has helped ensure the majority of COVID-19 patients have been able to regain their health and return home to their loved ones.

The nurses of the “COVID floor”

COVID-19 patient grateful for compassionate care

One of the patients, who experienced firsthand compassionate care on the COVID-19 floor, was Fr. Alex Michalopulos. The Greek Orthodox priest spent 10 days in our hospital. He couldn’t be more thankful to be feeling better today. “For the times when the doctors or nurses came in to see me, for the times when I was reassured—I’m thankful I was well taken care of with love and respect for human life.”

“I have a lot more respect for the medical professionals. I always had, but this time it was at a different level. They were there for me.” – Fr. Alex Michalopulos

Fr. Alex Michalopoulos was treated for COVID-19 at The Ottawa Hospital last year.
Father Alex Michalopoulos of the Greek Orthodox Church. Father Alex was treated for COVID-19 at The Ottawa Hospital last year.

As tears well up in his eyes, and he stops briefly to regain his emotions, Fr. Michalopulos says it’s sometimes good to be on the other side, to feel what others are going through. “I have a lot more respect for the medical professionals. I always had, but this time it was at a different level. They were there for me.”

He adds, “They held my hand. They showed compassion. They showed a lot of respect and love. I will be forever grateful for them.” It was that special touch, and care from complete strangers that helped give Fr. Michalopulos the strength to get back home to the family he loves and eventually to his parish family.

“I will always remember how I was treated by strangers. I admire them and will always pray for them.”

In an effort to do his part to help, Fr. Michalopulos is participating in research that is investigating the long-term effects of the virus. Drs. Sara J. Abdallah and Juthaporn Cowan are checking in on participating patients, like Fr. Michalopulos at three, six, and 12 months after they were initially infected.

He explains why it was important to become involved. “I thought it would be useful to help researchers understand the effects and lingering effects of the virus in gathering information to help create a vaccine and or a cure.”

Giving back through research

Researchers at our hospital have been deeply involved in the global race to combat COVID-19. They are exploring more than 60 research projects to support the worldwide effort to find better ways to treat and prevent the virus. A number of those projects have been supported by donors through the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, including a world-first clinical trial, led by Dr. Rebecca Auer, which aims to protect cancer patients from COVID-19 – to date, 22 patients, have been recruited.

Dr. John Bell in lab
Dr. John Bell is a senior scientist in the cancer therapeutics program at The Ottawa Hospital.
Dr. Carolina llkow in lab
Dr. Carolina Ilkow is a scientist in the cancer therapeutics program at The Ottawa Hospital.

Drs. John Bell and Carolina Ilkow are harnessing their expertise in making cancer-fighting viruses to develop a vaccine against COVID-19 — a made-in-Canada solution. In addition, our Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre is helping to manufacture three other COVID vaccines for clinical trials, as well as an experimental stem cell therapy.

Signs of hope emerge after a long year

As research continues to produce more answers — optimism grows for the team caring for patients. The arrival of the first vaccine in December added a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. “The vaccine brings us hope. I remember how exciting it was when I received mine,” says Kristine.

A nurse at The Ottawa Hospital administers the COVID vaccine to a healthcare worker.
Venus Lucero, a nurse at The Ottawa Hospital, administers the hospital’s first dose of the COVID vaccine.

There is hope someday they can start getting back to the way things used to be, or at least close to it. For Kristine, it would mean not worrying about hugging her children when she comes home from work.

For Leah, it would mean letting her mind shut off for the first time in a year – and truly relax. For Vanessa, it would mean the excitement of spending time with her fiancé, Colin – also a frontline worker – as they’ve been isolated from each other during the pandemic. While there is a feeling of hope, each one takes great pride in the care they’ve been able to provide during these unprecedented times. And how they also helped each other along the way.

Check out Pulse Podcast to hear more about a year of working on the COVID floor.

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

Donate today in support our hospital and help us be ready for the most challenging cases at any time.

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Rare pheochromocytoma tumour gives young man the battle of his life

Bryde Fresque needed a skilled team and a complex surgery to come up with a diagnosis of pheochromocytoma – a rare tumour that left his future uncertain.

Rare is a word used to describe Bryde Fresque on many levels. He has a zest for life that sets him apart. In fact, his physician Dr. Carolyn Nessim, a surgical oncologist and clinician investigator at The Ottawa Hospital saw this firsthand when Bryde faced a diagnosis that would have him battle for his life, with one rare condition after the other. Ultimately, it would take a skilled team to come up with a diagnosis and treatment for Bryde – a pheochromocytoma – an uncommon tumour that left Bryde’s future uncertain.

Bryde’s journey to his diagnosis of a rare cancerous tumour began on Boxing Day of 2012. He was travelling home from Napanee when he started to have pain in his left side. He stopped at a pharmacy just outside Ottawa and by the time he got to the counter he was doubled over in pain. The pharmacist told Bryde to get to the closest hospital — a community hospital was not far away.

Not long after arriving in their emergency room, Bryde was sent by ambulance to The Ottawa Hospital where he could receive care that is more specialized. He was in a tremendous amount of pain. Upon arrival, Bryde was suffering from a spontaneous hemorrhagic rupture of the left adrenal gland and he was bleeding significantly. Thankfully, he was in good hands as our interventional radiologists performed an emergency embolization procedure. This is a procedure where a guide wire was placed in a vessel in his leg and that allowed physicians to get all the way to the bleeding vessel by the adrenal gland, at which point they injected a product that plugged the vessel and stopped the bleeding. He was hospitalized for ten days before he was able to go home.

Unusual symptoms continue to develop

Bryde continued to feel off. A young, active man, Bryde recalls unusual symptoms that he couldn’t shake. “I remember feeling really sweaty, I couldn’t cool down properly. I would stand under the gym’s cold water shower for 15 minutes post bike ride and it didn’t make a difference,” recalls Bryde.

By the summer of 2013, he was going through a battery of tests and questions at our Cancer Centre to try to pinpoint the diagnosis.

“He had such rare conditions – one right after the other.” – Dr. Carolyn Nessim

Bryde kayaking in Iceland with Natalie.
Bryde and Natalie kayaking in Iceland.

Though, at only 32 years old, cancer was the furthest thing from Bryde’s mind. “I was young, healthy, a non-smoker, non-drug user, and active. That active part of my life was actually the only time I initially showed symptoms. That’s when I would overheat on even the coolest days and couldn’t cool down afterwards.”

The spontaneous rupture of Bryde’s adrenal gland six months earlier contributed to the challenge of pinpointing a diagnosis. It was believed he suffered from a large hematoma – a large residual clot after the bleed. “He had such rare conditions – one right after the other. A spontaneous rupture of an adrenal gland happens very rarely. I would say the challenge is that because the blood clot is so significant, it hides the underlying tumour and so it’s difficult to identify on imaging,” says Dr. Nessim.

Pinpointing the cause

Bryde at The Ottawa Hospital
Bryde Fresque was treated for a rare cancer at The Ottawa Hospital.

As time progressed, Bryde developed issues breathing, he couldn’t bend in certain directions, and then he noticed a distention on his left side. Signs that had been pointing to a hematoma didn’t add up because a hematoma should have healed within a few months, according to Dr. Nessim. That’s when she started looking at the fact this could be a tumour.

Bryde’s case ultimately landed with The Ottawa Hospital Sarcoma Tumour Board. “We meet every Friday to discuss complex cases like Bryde’s. Everyone is in the room including medical oncology, radiation oncology, pathology, radiology, and surgery. We take each individual case and we discuss it as a group to determine the best course of action for a patient,” explains Dr. Nessim.

This panel of experts decided that surgery was the best course of action to not only diagnose Bryde’s condition but to treat him at the same time and remove this tumour that had significantly affected his quality of life. Given the large size of the tumour and the extent of organs it seemed to be invading on imaging, this would be a long and extensive operation with many potential risks and complications that would be best mitigated by a specialized team. The sarcoma team is well equipped and knowledgeable in how to do these complex operations. Our hospital is one of the three Cancer Care Ontario designated Sarcoma Centers in the province. Although Bryde did not have a form of sarcoma, the surgical approach for a pheochromocytoma is the same.

Most unusual pre-op visit

By the fall of 2013, the mass located on Bryde’s left side was now the size of a cinder block. Staying true to his rare and unique personality, Bryde, who loves Halloween, showed up for his pre-op appointment on October 31, 2013, wearing his homemade Iron Man costume!

On November 15, a huge team of more than 20 medical professionals assembled in the operating room. As Bryde lay on the operating table awaiting surgery, he recalls Dr. Nessim telling the team about the Halloween pre-op appointment, “Then she looked down at me and said, ‘Take a deep breath, Iron Man’ as I was intubated.”

Bryde had to put his full trust in Dr. Nessim and her team during the complex, 12-hour surgery. The procedure can carry several risks because although Bryde seemed to have a non-functional pheochromocytoma, with the stress of surgery there is always the risk of stimulating the tumour causing it to release adrenaline, which can lead to a serious increase in blood pressure during surgery. Bryde was given some special medications during the operation to help ensure that didn’t happen.

“I feel privileged every time I’ve been able to help a patient.” – Dr. Carolyn Nessim

Dr. Carolyn Nessim, The Ottawa Hospital
Dr. Carolyn Nessim, Bryde’s surgical oncologist.

Just prior to going into the operating room for this intricate surgery, Dr. Nessim reviewed the scans one last time and then visualized each step, planning the order they would follow to remove the tumour successfully. The highly skilled group alongside Dr. Nessim included a urologist, a thoracic surgeon, and a Hepato-Biliary and pancreatic surgeon, along with two anesthesiologists. “It was a big case,” says Dr. Nessim.

Bryde had his left kidney removed, as well as his left adrenal gland, and a third of his pancreas. They performed a colon, bowel, and diaphragm resection and reconstruction for each, removed his spleen as well as an accessory spleen, which can be found in many patients, 10 lymph nodes, and the hematoma. Thankfully, Dr. Nessim was also able to remove the entire tumour. The surgery was a success.

Finding the answers

Bryde spent a total of 40 days in hospital recovering, and it was during that time that he finally received an explanation for his symptoms. He was diagnosed with pheochromocytoma, which is a rare form of tumour that can be cancerous. They usually form on one of the body’s two adrenal glands, which are located above the kidneys, and approximately 10% of pheochromocytomas spread to other parts of the body. Pheochromocytomas can be dangerous because they may produce an excessive amount of the hormone adrenaline, which makes people sick, primarily by increasing their blood pressure. In Bryde’s case, what made a diagnosis challenging before surgery was that his pheochromocytoma was considered non-functional, and his urinary tests for adrenaline markers were negative. But it’s possible it was releasing low levels of adrenalin all along.

“The Ottawa Hospital is very well positioned in the study and treatment of this rare but dangerous tumour.” – Dr. Neal Rowe.

“It potentially explains all his sweating and feeling very flushed and hot as maybe he had a subclinical release of adrenaline,” confirms Dr. Nessim. Bryde also learned the tumour was cancerous.

Expertise in pheochromocytomas

Bryde with his wife and child
Bryde Fresque, his wife Natalie, and their son Edmond.

Much of the research, around the globe and here at our hospital, focuses on timely detection and treatment of pheochromocytoma. Dr. Neal Rowe is a clinical urologist at The Ottawa Hospital researching this type of tumour. “There are several known genes that increase the risk of a patient developing a pheochromocytoma. By identifying these genes in people, we can test family members, achieve early detection, and better understand the biology behind why these tumors form.” Dr. Rowe says this type of tumour affects between one to two cases per 100,000.

“Thanks to Dr. Nessim and the team at The Ottawa Hospital, I got better – I get to enjoy my life to the fullest. I got to marry the girl of my dreams and I got to become a father.” – Bryde Fresque

“The Ottawa Hospital is very well positioned in the study and treatment of this rare but dangerous tumour. We have a collaborative group of experts in endocrinology and medical genetics in addition to a dedicated team of anesthesiologists and surgeons. With our research and development of various national initiatives, I think we’re front and centre,” says Dr. Rowe.

Moving forward, upwards, and giving back

Today, Bryde is seven years post surgery, and cancer free, with no signs of recurrence. While his recovery took time, he’s back to living his active life and truly grateful for the care he received. In fact, to raise funds and awareness for rare neuro endocrine cancers, Bryde and his wife, Natalie, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, as well as the highest pass in the world, located in Annapurna range of the Himalayas in Nepal – all while still being considered a cancer patient.

Bryde and Natalie at Uhuru Peak on Mount Kilimanjaro.
Bryde and Natalie on Mount Kilimanjaro.

“Being a cancer patient or being sick is a life-changing event. Thanks to Dr. Nessim and the team at The Ottawa Hospital, I got better – I get to enjoy my life to the fullest. I got to marry the girl of my dreams and I got to become a father.” He adds, “I honestly think if I had been anywhere else, if I had been under anyone else’s care, I probably wouldn’t be here today. I really wouldn’t.”

That’s why Bryde also holds an annual Halloween fundraising party, known as Spadinaween, to support our hospital. To date, he’s raised over $10,000 and Dr. Nessim even drops by to show her support.

The special bond between this patient and physician continues, as Bryde even enrolled to help Dr. Nessim with a global research project on sarcomas. For Bryde, it’s an honour to help other patients. “Me giving back to The Ottawa Hospital has come full circle as I was invited to partake in an international study on sarcomas with Dr. Nessim and other doctors from the UK, Italy, the States, Netherlands, and Australia – to help improve the patient experience. If I can turn a negative into a positive. I’m in!”

Seeing Bryde thrive today is what makes those long, grueling days in the operating room and the constant search for answers worthwhile. “It’s why I do my job. It’s the biggest joy and most rewarding,” says Dr. Nessim. “I feel privileged every time I’ve been able to help a patient.”

 

Download Pulse podcast today and hear Bryde and Dr. Nessim share more about his journey with a rare, cancerous tumour.

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

Your donation will help patients like Bryde receive the specialized care when they need it most.

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Life-long educator and writer leaves gift in his will after peaceful passing through the Medical Assistance in Dying program

Clarence Byrd carefully planned how he would leave a gift in his will to The Ottawa Hospital to ensure his legacy as an educator would continue for years to come.

Clarence Byrd was always keenly aware of how he wanted to live his life and what would happen when he was gone. He passed away peacefully on May 30, 2020, through the Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) program. In the days leading up to his passing at his home in downtown Ottawa, he carefully planned how he would leave a gift in his will to The Ottawa Hospital — ensuring his strong belief in philanthropy would continue for years to come.

Clarence and his wife, Ida Chen, were married for 43 years. It was a beautiful life, during which they did almost everything together. “From day one, we were best friends, and our complementary skills allowed us to produce more than 150 books on financial accounting and taxation including Canadian Tax Principles, the leading tax text for Canada’s colleges and universities,” wrote Clarence before he died.

“Our life together was beyond our wildest dreams; it was a wonderful romance.”
– Clarence Byrd

After retiring from teaching 15 years ago, Clarence and Ida were together constantly. They loved the outdoors and enjoyed every minute of their time together hiking, skiing, or biking all over North America.

Shocked by a cancer diagnosis

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

However, in December 2016, Ida faced a shocking diagnosis – glioblastoma, a particularly aggressive type of brain tumour. She faced multiple surgeries, one that included a revolutionary microscope, which was on loan to our hospital at the time. Shortly after that particular surgery, recognizing how vital this piece of equipment was, Clarence and Ida made a substantial contribution towards its purchase. Philanthropy was always an important part of their life and thanks to their generosity, many patients have benefitted from this lifesaving surgical tool, one of only a handful in Canada.

By November 6, 2019, Clarence said goodbye to the love of his life. Ida passed away peacefully with medical assistance. She no longer had to suffer.

Unbelievably, less than four months after Ida’s death, Clarence was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He would learn that because of the tumour’s location, surgery was not an option, and he was given 12 to 18 months to live.

That’s when Clarence set into motion his plan for how he would live the rest of his days and what would happen to his estate when he was gone. He applied for MAiD and was approved. This news gave Clarence the peace of mind he needed, “There was tremendous comfort knowing that I would not have to undergo unnecessary suffering at the end of my life,” wrote Clarence.

Educating others well into the future

Laura Wilding, Advanced Practice Nurse at The Ottawa Hospital and Program Manager, Champlain Regional MAiD Network, helped plan both Clarence and Ida’s procedures. Since MAiD was introduced four years ago, patients have come forward to tell Laura that they want to support the hospital by leaving a gift in their will. Clarence made it very clear to her that’s what he wanted to do. “He actually delayed having MAiD to make sure his donation was allocated the way he wanted,” says Laura.

“They found that the doctors, nurses, and staff were all so accommodating and knowledgeable about their conditions. This was the reason that Clarence wanted to leave his gift to the hospital.” – Joshua Smith

The couple had successful careers, and it was important to Clarence to use his good fortune to help pave the way for the future, even after he was gone. Laura recalls Clarence saying, “’We have money, we are philanthropists, and we feel strongly that more people need to know and understand MAiD.’

Ida and Clarence in Banff
Clarence and Ida on a hiking adventure – Banff National Park.
Ida and Clarence playing piano
The couple enjoyed playing music together at their home.

Clarence’s accountant, Joshua Smith, a partner at Welch LLP, explains that Clarence and Ida’s experiences at The Ottawa Hospital left an impression. “They found that the doctors, nurses, and staff were all so accommodating and knowledgeable about their conditions. This was the reason that Clarence wanted to leave his gift to the hospital,” says Joshua.

“His generosity will have a long-term impact on care at the hospital and Clarence knew that.” – Laura Wilding

Margaret Tardiff was a close friend of the couple. She emphasized how education was always so important to Clarence and his gift to our hospital will honour that well into the future. “He was always educating himself and others; he felt that education would help people to understand the value of the MAiD program,” says Margaret.

A lasting legacy

Clarence’s legacy will be felt for decades by patients and their families at our hospital. “His generosity will have a long-term impact on care at the hospital and Clarence knew that,” says Laura.

Clarence passed away at the age of 82 in his home, on his own terms, and with his estate planned exactly to his wishes. It marked the end of a well-celebrated life that included 43 years with his beloved wife, Ida. In fact, Clarence wrote in an article for the Ottawa Citizen before his death, “Our life together was beyond our wildest dreams; it was a wonderful romance.”

A wonderful life with a legacy that will live on thanks to Clarence’s forward thinking to support The Ottawa Hospital – a philanthropist to the very end.

Clarence at Yoho National Park
Clarence in Yoho National Park, BC.

You can create a legacy that will impact future generations by considering a gift in your will to support The Ottawa Hospital.

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A day in the life of a trauma surgeon

Trauma surgeon Dr. Maher Matar takes us inside the Trauma Centre and shares the specialized plan in place to care for critically injured patients

“We are the only Level 1 Trauma Centre in eastern Ontario, so we see the most critically injured patients from all across the region, including Quebec in certain circumstances. Our team has the capacity to handle almost any injury.” – Dr. Maher Matar

Dr. Matar, trauma surgeon
Dr. Maher Matar, trauma surgeon at The Ottawa Hospital.

As darkness falls over the city and most are sleeping, that’s when many of our patients arrive at the Trauma Centre. My name is Maher Matar, I’m a trauma surgeon at The Ottawa Hospital, and it’s not unusual to be jolted out of a sound sleep in the middle of the night after a Code One is called. I have just minutes, 20 minutes to be exact, to pull myself together, arrive at the Emergency Department (ED) of the Civic Campus, and join the rest of the trauma team that has assembled. All of us are ready and functioning at 110%. Lives depend on it.

The only Level 1 Trauma Team in the region

We are the only Level 1 Trauma Centre in eastern Ontario, so we see the most critically injured patients from all across the region, including Québec in certain circumstances. Our team has the capacity to handle almost any injury.

Our team includes a trauma team leader like myself, as well as an anesthesiologist, a team of emergency nurses, a group of resident physicians, and respiratory technicians — this allows us to be ready for the wide variety of complex cases that we handle, or when a Code One is called.

A Code One means a patient with significant injuries is coming to the hospital and we need all resources gathered at the ED. It could be a few patients involved in a high-speed motor vehicle collision or a single patient that fell down the stairs. By contrast, a large-scale incident like the Westboro bus crash or any other community disaster results in a Code Orange being called.

Snowmobile crash brings life-threatening injuries

Back on January 18, 2020, I was jolted awake from the comfort of my warm bed, when I got a call in the middle of the night from a nearby Québec hospital. They had a patient with a transected aorta – that means the aorta, the main blood vessel that travels from the heart, had ruptured or torn. When I heard that, I knew the patient’s chances of making it to our hospital were slim.

His name was Cody Howard, and while visiting from Arizona, he had been in a snowmobile crash in Ripon, Québec, about 70 minutes from Ottawa. The fact that he made it to the first hospital was hopeful, but with this type of injury, he could suddenly crash. Cody needed our expertise to help save him.

Trauma team during a training session at The Ottawa Hospital
Doctors, nurses, and specialists work on a trauma patient in an intense training simulation in the trauma bay at The Ottawa Hospital.

I began caring for Cody on that phone call, explaining to the team on the other end of the phone what medications should be started and how Cody should be transferred to our Trauma Centre.

“The patient was lying flat and, incredibly, he was awake and alert. He knew he was in a very precarious situation.” – Dr. Maher Matar

As I drove to the hospital, I called Cheryl Symington, a charge nurse who was working in the ED that night. She’s a team lead and she’s amazing. I told her “This is a bad one. I need everyone on deck.”

The trauma team is ready

I immediately called the vascular surgery team and told them to be on standby as soon as Cody arrived.

Cody made it to the Trauma Centre with his younger brother, Trevor Howard, who had not been involved in the crash. Cody was lying flat and incredibly, he was awake and alert. He knew he was in a very precarious situation. In fact, even a small movement could have been fatal. We did our assessment from A to Z, the same way we do it every single time, making sure we don’t miss any injuries. As this is happening, I’m on the phone with Dr. Prasad Jetty, a vascular surgeon. He also consulted with a cardiac surgeon, Dr. Fraser Rubens. You know, we’re lucky to have that kind of skill close by at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.

“In my 30 plus years as an ED nurse, that was by far the most difficult yet most rewarding night. Dr. Matar, Dr. Jetty, and Dr. Reubens are each highly skilled specialists in their fields. Together they are a team beyond description. The stars aligned that night.”
– Cheryl Syminton

Dr. Rubens came to the trauma bay – a cardiac surgeon rarely comes to the trauma bay – that’s an indicator of the severity of this injury. At this point, the three of us were discussing the patient and we agreed he had a very high chance of dying on the operating table; there was also the potential for paralysis. Everything happened fast – this all took place in the first 30 minutes of Cody arriving.

Making the difficult call to the family

I then called the patient’s father in Arizona who also happens to be a doctor. I had to tell him the grim news. However, I promised him the people taking care of his son were the best in the entire region. I told him to focus on getting to Ottawa and that we’ll take care of the rest.

It’s never easy making those calls. Breaking bad news to family members or letting someone know their loved one is going in for a very serious surgery – it weighs on you. Thankfully, social workers at our hospital are always there to help. If I’m busy caring for the patient, a social worker receives the family and updates them on what’s going on. They play an immense role in our ED.

More injured patients arrive

As Cody’s surgery plan was being made, his brother, Trevor, came up to me and said, ‘there are two more of us’ I said, ‘excuse me?’ I was shocked! He explained that another brother, Bret, and his brother-in-law were also injured in the snowmobile crash and were still at a nearby hospital in Québec.

“I promised him the people taking care of his son were the best trained in the entire region. I told him to focus on getting to Ottawa and we’ll take care of the rest.” – Dr. Maher Matar

Intense training situation with the trauma team at The Ottawa Hospital
Doctors, nurses, and specialists work on a trauma patient in an intense training simulation in the trauma bay at The Ottawa Hospital.

That’s when the compassionate side of caring plays a key role in the work we do – in the work we all do. We can’t have the family arrive in Ottawa and have to go back and forth between two hospitals, worried about their injured kids. They were already dealing with enough stress and needed to be together.

We called the other hospital and we arranged for immediate acceptance of the two family members, regardless of the extent of their injuries. While the brother-in-law had only minor injuries, Bret, had a significant head injury along with an injury in the abdomen. I needed to get him to the operating room to repair a ruptured bladder. The vascular surgery team and cardiac surgery team took Cody for surgery at the Heart Institute and I took Bret into emergency surgery at the Civic Campus, simultaneously.

A successful night as lives are saved

Bret made a quick recovery. After 10 days in our hospital, he was able to fly home. It was a longer road for Cody. Thankfully, he survived surgery but faced paralysis from the waist down. The 37-year-old U.S. military veteran was in a coma for a week and remained in our care until mid-February, when he was stable enough to get a medical flight back home. He had a tough recovery, but he’s learned to walk again. The last time I spoke with him, he told me he’s now hiking.

“When you do hear ‘thank you’ from a patient or a family member, it’s humbling. It doesn’t make you walk prouder, it’s just humbling” – Dr. Maher Matar

That was a successful day. It all started after midnight. All hands were on deck, including the highly-skilled Drs. Jetty and Rubens. We had never worked together before and those two collaborated on that case and saved the patient’s life. Also, there’s the exceptional anesthesia care provided by Dr. Adam Dryden – he worked with speed and efficiency to help save the patient. It was a team effort on many levels.

Humbling to hear the words “thank you”

And, when you hear ‘thank you’ from a patient or a family member, it’s humbling. It doesn’t make you walk prouder, it’s just humbling. There have been cases where I haven’t been able to save a life and that will always haunt me.

At the end of the day, when I walk out the hospital doors, the first thing I do is take a deep breath because the air is different outside. I just look up and I say ‘thank you’ for being able to deliver that specialized care.

Trauma team video

Bret Howard says thank you for the compassionate, lifesaving care

“I truly don’t believe Cody would be alive today if he hadn’t been transferred to The Ottawa Hospital – that saved his life.

“Had we been somewhere other than The Ottawa Hospital, we think the outcome would have been worse, so we’re forever grateful.” – Bret Howard

The way the team stepped in to get all of us together was a special thing to do and we won’t ever forget that – I actually don’t think that’s typical. I couldn’t have imagined going through all of this at one hospital while my brother fought for his life at The Ottawa Hospital. It meant a great deal to my family that we were all together.

Dr. Matar was incredible. Not only with my surgery but to my family – my wife and my parents. He and his team guided them along and was totally in tune with what was going on with me and my brother.

Thank you to the nurses, to the doctors, to the social workers. I could just tell they were invested in the situation with us and truly wanted to help guide us through it. Had we been somewhere other than The Ottawa Hospital, we think the outcome would have been worse, so we’re forever grateful.”

Bret and his brothers
Cody, Trevor, and Bret Howard.

Research advancing trauma care

Research at The Ottawa Hospital is helping to improve survival and quality of life for people who experience severe traumatic injuries. Projects underway include:

  • developing of a simple tool to help detect major bleeding in trauma patients, so that it can be treated earlier.
  • testing new approaches to manage bleeding and blood clots in people with traumatic head injuries.
  • developing of new rehabilitation technologies and prosthetics, including a brain computer interface that could help people control a robot arm just by thinking.
  • developing a tool to help paramedics determine which trauma patients need to be immobilized on backboards, and which can be safely evaluated without immobilization.

Listen to Pulse Podcast and hear Dr. Maher Matar talk about life as a trauma surgeon.

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

Donate today to make sure the trauma centre has access to the specialized tools the staff need to care for each patient who needs lifesaving care.

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Trauma and healing after explosion in Afghanistan

Bushra Saeed-Khan was just eight weeks into what was to be a year-long tour in Afghanistan when her light armoured vehicle ran over an improvised explosive device. She was one of only a few to survive the incident. What followed was a long journey from trauma to healing, including nearly 50 surgeries and years of intensive rehab. The injuries that nearly took her life were repaired by a dedicated team of experts at The Ottawa Hospital.

It was a routine patrol in Kandahar that altered the course of Bushra Saeed-Khan’s life forever. In one brief instant, the detonation of an improvised explosive device (IED) changed everything. She went from a Federal employee on an assignment in Afghanistan, to an amputee trauma survivor grappling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The complexity of Bushra’s traumatic injuries brought her to The Ottawa Hospital where a dedicated team of experts were ready to help her get back home.

Facing a war zone

Bushra was just eight weeks into a year-long tour in Afghanistan when she received permission to accompany troops “outside of the wire” – beyond the protection and confines of a military base. When their mission was complete, they headed back. It was then the light armoured vehicle (LAV) Bushra was travelling in ran over an IED buried underground.

Bushra in Kandahar
Bushra (left), in Kandahar, prior to departing the base on the day of the attack.

She recalls hearing a loud bang, one unlike anything she’s ever heard, before being momentarily knocked out. When she came to, there was silence. Confusion and shock paralyzed her entire body. But it didn’t matter; she was pinned down inside the vehicle, unable to move. Fear filled her every thought. Was she the only survivor? Could the vehicle go up in flames while she was stuck inside it? Was there anyone around to save her? Each racing thought was as anxiety-inducing as the other, while in a war-torn country, miles away from base, from safety, her family, and her home.

Four soldiers and one civilian, who had become Bushra’s friend, died that day, on December 30, 2009. Bushra, one of just five survivors, is lucky to be alive. But she didn’t walk away unscathed. To this day, she continues to feel the ripple effects of the incident more than a decade later.

Seeking medical attention

After witnessing the explosion, troops in the second LAV acted quickly, requesting back up to assist the survivors. As they came to Bushra’s aid, it was clear her injuries were severe. Her entire body was affected by the blast. The force of the explosion was so fierce it left Bushra’s abdomen exposed, and her legs critically wounded – a portion of one completely gone.

Bushra in Germany
Bushra waking in Germany.

Bushra was airlifted by helicopter to a military base for emergency medical care before she was transported to a hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, where she was placed in a medically induced coma. As doctors worked to stabilize her for the long flight to the Trauma Centre at The Ottawa Hospital’s Civic Campus, Bushra was introduced to the name Dr. Nancy Dudek, Medical Director of the Amputee Program. Bushra needed to start to think about recovery and Dr. Dudek would soon become Bushra’s primary caregiver for over a decade. “I didn’t realize at the time just how much of an impact Dr. Dudek would have on my life.”

Road to healing and recovery

Once Bushra was in our care, experts began working around the clock to repair the extensive damage that had been done by the IED. “I remember the first time I met Bushra,” says Dr. Dudek. “She had just arrived at the hospital and had a lot of injuries. The most critical question I had for her at that time was regarding her leg.” Bushra’s leg was severely damaged, and it was clear they would have to amputate it. Since her femur bone was also fractured, they needed to decide if her orthopedic surgeon would perform a full amputation of the leg or fix her femur and save as much of her leg as possible. “It’s really important, when possible, to include the person who will be receiving the amputation in that decision,” says Dr. Dudek. “We want our patients to have a say in what’s going to happen to their body.” In the end, as a team, they decided to fix Bushra’s fractured femur and perform a through-knee amputation.

This was the first of several surgeries Bushra underwent at our hospital. “Within the first week of being in the trauma unit I had what felt like over 20 surgeries,” says Bushra. “That’s when I stopped trying to keep track.”

The women of the Rehab Centre

Once Bushra was medically well enough to leave the trauma unit, she was moved to the Rehabilitation Centre. This is where she would remain for over a year as an inpatient, followed by six months as an outpatient. Under the care of some of the best physiotherapists and prosthetists in the field, Bushra had to relearn how to perform the most basic tasks, such as lifting her arms, moving her head and sitting upright in bed, before eventually learning how to walk with a prosthetic leg. “I call them ‘the women of the Rehab Centre,’” says Bushra. “They’re just so brilliant in their respective fields, but also so kind and caring. It was really nice to see.”

Bushra at the Rehab Centre, learning to stand.
Bushra learning to stand again.

At the time, Bushra was still in great discomfort, not just from her surgeries but from flashbacks of the incident, her survivor’s guilt, and the thought of living the rest of her life with a disability. Working through those emotions felt like mountains she had to climb and conquer, and some days they were too much to bear. “At one point, I even contemplated suicide. Some days I couldn’t even get out of bed. Not just because of the physical reasons, but mentally I couldn’t deal with everything I had to fight through that day,” says Bushra. It wasn’t long before she was introduced to Dr. Josie Marino, a now-retired psychologist at our hospital. Dr. Marino was instrumental in Bushra’s care, helping her overcome those mental obstacles. “PTSD never really goes away, it comes back when times get rough, but Josie gave me the tools that I needed to cope,” Bushra explains.

“I like giving patients the confidence that they can do more than they think,”
– Marie Andrée.

On those more difficult days, Bushra’s physiotherapist, Marie Andrée Paquin, would adapt and cater the exercises to the pain she was experiencing. If Bushra didn’t feel well enough to leave her room, Marie Andrée would have her perform exercises in bed. On the days she was feeling stronger, she would push her a little bit further. “I like giving patients the confidence that they can do more than they think,” says Marie Andrée.

She even went as far as having Bushra perform exercises that mimicked dance moves so that she could dance at her sister’s wedding. “It was really nice that they were so flexible in my care, tailoring it to exactly what I needed,” says Bushra.

Discovering hope

Bushra, prosthetic leg
Bushra’s prosthesis.

After Bushra’s amputation, she couldn’t help but worry about the future. After all, she had never met someone with a prosthetic leg. “My family and I were very worried about what type of life I would have,” says Bushra. Realizing this, Dr. Dudek asked a former patient of hers to visit with Bushra. “I remember so clearly, this woman walking into my trauma unit room. It was shocking for me to see her walking around and playing with her kids,” says Bushra. “I am thankful that Dr. Dudek introduced me to this woman. That was a pivotal moment for me.” After that meeting, Bushra no longer worried. Rather, she was filled with hope.

This gave Bushra the confidence she needed to try a prosthetic leg. She met with Laura Scholtes, a prosthetist at our hospital, who fitted her with a new artificial limb. It wasn’t long before she got the hang of it and once she did, she was introduced to the Computer-Assisted Rehabilitation Environment (CAREN) System.

The CAREN System

Bushra hasn’t been the only patient who has experienced injury in Afghanistan. In realizing the need, the Canadian Armed Forces and our community raised funds to bring this virtual reality system to Ottawa — one of only two cities in Canada who have it. The CAREN System has been instrumental for patients in the Rehab Centre.

Bushra Saeed on the Computer-Assisted Rehabilitation Environment
Bushra on the CAREN System.

“The CAREN System was amazing,” says Bushra, when asked about her experience with this unique virtual reality rehabilitation equipment. It combines incredibly large 3D graphics and a platform that moves with the person as they explore a virtual 3D world on a remote-controlled treadmill. “It’s very safe and a great way to challenge a patient’s balance,” explains Marie Andrée.

“The CAREN System was really a catalyst in my recovery as I was able to learn how to walk with a prosthesis and push myself in an environment that I knew was safe,” says Bushra. “And it trains you to walk on all kinds of surfaces. There was even a setting for paddle boarding. It was really a lot of fun.” Training in the CAREN System boosted her confidence. Today she’s riding her bicycle, and excelling in her career as a diplomat, something she didn’t expect she would be able to do.

New life after trauma

Bushra with her baby
Bushra holding her daughter.

One of the very first questions on Bushra’s mind after her surgery to reconstruct her abdomen was whether or not she would be able to have a baby. The injuries were so extensive that surgeons had to insert a mesh lining to help rebuild the abdominal wall. At the time, her physicians were unsure if her body would be able to adapt to carry a child to full term. Eight years later, Bushra announced she was pregnant, and much like she adapted to a new normal with a disability, her body was able to adapt to a growing baby.

“They are my guardian angels. My heroes. They saved my life.” – Bushra Saeed-Khan

As Bushra’s belly grew, so did her challenges with her prosthesis. Laura was able to monitor Bushra throughout the duration of her pregnancy to ensure that her prosthesis fit her limb comfortably. But in the last two months of her pregnancy, Bushra was no longer able to walk with ease and temporarily switched to a wheelchair. As she was prepped to undergo a c-section, Dr. Dudek worked alongside Bushra’s obstetrician, Dr. Laura M. Gaudet, to ensure that Bushra had the most accessible birthing room possible, one with a doorframe wide enough to fit her wheelchair, and a bed that could be lowered so that she could more easily get in and out.

The day after Bushra gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Dr. Dudek was there to meet her. “After my initial surgery, my doctors weren’t sure if I would be able to have children. And then eight years later there was Dr. Dudek holding my baby,” says Bushra. “So, it was a special moment. It really felt like everything was coming full circle.”

Today, Bushra is able to play with her two-year-old daughter, just like the patient she met in hospital with the prosthetic leg early on in her recovery. Those feelings of hope have become reality.

More than a decade later

More than a decade after the incident, it would be easy to look at Bushra and be impressed by how far she’s come. But she accepts each compliment about her recovery with humility, because she knows she didn’t do it alone – she was backed by some of the best healthcare workers in the country. “I’m a product of my circumstances and I was fortunate to have the support structure offered by the Rehab Centre at The Ottawa Hospital,” says Bushra. “It felt like a team effort and it’s thanks to my caregivers that I was able to gain independence. They are my guardian angels. My heroes. They saved my life.”

Download Pulse Podcast today and listen to Bushra’s story.

With your support today, we can give new life to patients, just like Bushra.

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A Conversation with the CEO

Join us for this exclusive opportunity to meet the new President and CEO of The Ottawa Hospital, Cameron Love. You’ll hear Cameron’s vision and strategy for the future of our hospitalYou’ll also get a glimpse of the new Civic development site on Carling Avenue. 

Our Speakers

Cameron Love, President & CEO of The Ottawa Hospital

Cameron Love:

Cameron Love is the President and Chief Executive Officer of The Ottawa Hospital. He took on this leadership role as of July 1, 2020, in an unprecedented time as Ontario’s health system adapts to new a service model in the wake of COVID-19.  Through this experience, and as Executive Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer of The Ottawa Hospital since 2014, he was responsible for the leadership and oversight of programs and services across the hospital, and their integration into regional programs throughout the Champlain region. He’s been with TOH for over twenty years.

Evan Solomon

Evan Solomon:

Evan Solomon is Host of CTV’s weekly political program, Question Period and host of Power Play. He also hosts a daily radio program on 580 CFRA. Solomon is a two-time Gemini Award-winner and best-selling author who has covered federal and provincial politics, news, and current events for more than 15 years.

Husband determined to give back after wife’s lifesaving treatment

After collapsing at home, Rie Bull was rushed to The Ottawa Hospital where she was treated for life-threatening brain bleeds. Grateful for how our experts have tackled her complex case over the past three years, Rie’s husband Mike has found a unique way to give back.

The sun has set on THE RIDE, one of Ottawa’s premier cycling events, but that hasn’t stopped Mike Bull, former RIDE captain for Team Enterprise, from participating and giving back as he starts his own virtual ride as a fundraiser for The Ottawa Hospital. Charitable giving, in support of our hospital in particular, is incredibly important to Mike Bull and his family, after his wife, Rie, was rushed to our emergency department after collapsing – the result of a ruptured brain aneurysm.

It is Rie’s journey to recovery and the care that saved her life that inspires Mike to give back each year. “With every year we see that more people are willing to help out, support my ride, and donate. We are fortunate to have such an incredible neuroscience team right here in Ottawa. They saved my wife’s life.”

Subarachnoid Hemorrhage

Late one night in March 2017, Rie collapsed at home after an aneurysm had bled inside of her brain. She was rushed to The Ottawa Hospital where she was diagnosed with a subarachnoid hemorrhage which was exacerbated by a pre-existing condition requiring blood-thinning medication. Unable to speak for the first three weeks and temporarily forgetting her husband’s name and that of her two sons, her family was fearful and unsure whether or not she would recover.

Dr. Sinclair in the neurosurgery operating room
Dr. John Sinclair, Director of Cerebrovascular Surgery.

Rie underwent an 8-hour operation performed by Dr. John Sinclair, Director of Cerebrovascular Surgery. Post-surgery, he comforted Mike and his sons with a bedside manner that was both caring and compassionate. He fielded questions, explained complex medical concepts in simple terms, and reassured them that Rie was in excellent hands as she recovered.

Ready for the most complex cases

Rie’s bleeding disorder and subsequent aneurysm made her case incredibly complex. Three to four percent of the population at large have aneurysms and don’t even know it. A ruptured aneurysm often causes a sudden severe headache, which people often describe as the worst headache of their life. But when an aneurysm like Rie’s ruptures, 50% of patients do not survive the hemorrhage or die shortly after. Of the 50% of patients who survive, half survive with a life-altering impairment.

Despite the complexity of Rie’s case, her care team was ready and equipped with the knowledge and tools they needed to save her life. According to Mike, their prayers have been answered and Rie has made excellent progress.

Rie Bull
Rie Bull at home.

“She spent over a month in the ICU, a month in the Neurological Acute Care Unit, and five weeks in the Acquired Brain Injury Rehabilitation Centre. All staff members took fantastic care of my wife.” – Mike Bull

As part of her recovery, Rie had to learn English all over again, as she had reverted to her first language of Japanese. When Mike and Rie saw Dr. Sinclair in January of 2018, he was very pleased by Rie’s recovery.

Thanks to the support of donors like Mike and Rie, The Ottawa Hospital can conduct groundbreaking research to better understand how the brain functions and to continue to be among the best in Canada, recognized internationally for leading research in Parkinson’s, stroke, neuromuscular disease, and multiple sclerosis.

Grateful for exceptional care

Mike now affectionately calls it “old home week” every time he and Rie visit The Ottawa Hospital for appointments or check-ups. They are constantly running into doctors, nurses, orderlies, and custodians who are genuinely happy to see how far Rie has come and understand that her recovery is remarkable. To Mike and Rie, each one of them has played an important role in Rie’s journey.

Mike Bull with his family in support of The Ottawa Hospital
Mike and Rie Bull with their sons.

Mike is more determined than ever to give back and make a difference. He will continue to get outdoors, hop on his bike, and raise funds and awareness for our hospital. He hopes his virtual ride will serve as a reminder to everyone how important donor support is to help patients receive the care they need. “It’s doing something good for your body, for research, and the community overall. It will always be a way to say, ‘thank you, thank you, thank you’ to the team at The Ottawa Hospital!”

Donate today to join Mike and Rie in supporting lifesaving research at The Ottawa Hospital.

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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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Clarence Byrd was always keenly aware of how he wanted to live his life and what would happen when he was gone. He carefully planned how he would leave a gift in his will to The Ottawa Hospital to ensure his legacy as an educator would continue for years to come.

Fierce determination pushes patient to walk again after Guillain Barré Syndrome diagnosis

Avid cyclist Fran Cosper had his life change when he woke one night and couldn’t feel his legs. Doctors at The Ottawa Hospital diagnosed him with Guillain Barré Syndrome. Although he was paralyzed, Fran was determined to walk again.

Long-distance cyclist Fran Cosper described himself as being in the best shape of his life as he headed into the winter of 2017. However, in mid-February he woke up in the middle of the night unable to feel his legs. The next morning, when Fran tried getting out of bed, he slammed onto the floor – his strong legs suddenly useless. Soon after, he was diagnosed with Guillain Barré Syndrome (GBS) – facing the possibility of permanent paralysis. Little did he know the road ahead would involve a team of experts, the help of 3D virtual reality at The Ottawa Hospital, and a determination not only to walk again, but also to help other patients.

When Fran first experienced those sudden symptoms, he initially thought it couldn’t be anything serious as he was very health conscious. He attempted to make his way to the basement that morning to work out. “I went to get on my hands and knees, and fell face-first on the carpet. I thought, ‘Well, I can’t move. This is much more serious.’ My wife, Elise, came down and saw that I had facial paralysis, and thought I’d had a stroke.”

But Fran knew that strokes typically affect only one side of the body and that something else — something serious — was happening.

What is Guillain Barré Syndrome?

Fran is secured to an adjustable bed prior to using the CAREN machine at the Ottawa Hospital Rehab Centre.
Fran in hospital.

After a thorough assessment, Fran was diagnosed with GBS. This rare autoimmune disorder causes the immune system to attack the nerves, damaging the myelin sheath, which is the nerves’ protective covering. As a result, the brain can’t transmit signals to the nerves in the muscles, causing weakness, numbness or, as in Fran’s case, paralysis.

An infection or virus can bring on GBS. The 56-year-old had had two colds back-to-back, which may have thrown his immune system into overdrive. Within days, his balance was off, and he had difficulty lifting pots to cook dinner. Hours later, the disease was full blown, attacking his nervous system and Fran couldn’t move.

“It was like having an out-of-body experience. I mean my brain was working fine but my body wasn’t doing what I asked it to do.”
– Fran Cosper

“We see patients with Guillain Barré Syndrome at The Ottawa Hospital Rehabilitation Centre probably five or six times a year,” says Dr. Vidya Sreenivasan, a doctor of physical medicine and rehabilitation. Some have mild cases, but others, like Fran’s, are more serious.

A more challenging road to recovery

About one in 100,000 Canadians contracts GBS every year. Recovery can take more than a year because the nerves re-grow slowly, one millimetre per month. For Fran, the journey would be much longer.

The disease continued its nerve damage following his admission to the hospital. After two weeks, he transferred to the Rehab Centre, where his care team included doctors, psychologists, social workers, recreation therapists, physiotherapists, respirologists, occupational therapists, and nurses.

“I decided at that point, I was going to fight it. I was going to fight back and do the best I could to get better even though I didn’t know what the outcome was going to be.”
– Fran Cosper

Fran was completely dependent on this team for all of his care. He needed to be washed, dressed, and turned in bed. He couldn’t even close his eyes. The nurses had to tape his eyelids shut so he could sleep.

“It was like having an out-of-body experience. I mean my brain was working fine but my body wasn’t doing what I asked it to do,” says Fran. He also faced excruciating pain because of the damage done to his nerves. As Fran lay there unable to move in his hospital bed, he made a decision.

“Oddly, I wasn’t afraid. I decided at that point, I was going to fight it. I was going to fight back and do the best I could to get better even though I didn’t know what the outcome was going to be.”

Rehab team ready with state-of-the art technology

Fran’s excellent fitness level, as well as his determination and positive attitude, helped him through when it came to the rigorous therapy plan. He had physiotherapy five hours a day, including three times a week in the Rehab Centre pool. Within two months, he could stand and take steps with help. He learned to walk again thanks in part to our Virtual Reality lab – one of only two in Canada.

Fran in pool.
Fran would visit the Rehab Centre pool three times a week.

“The pool and this 3D room were invaluable. It would have taken me a lot longer to get my legs back if I didn’t have access to those tools.” – Fran Cosper

The CAREN (Computer-Assisted Rehabilitation Environment) system combines room-sized 3D graphics, a platform that moves with the patient in a harness, as they explore the 3D world, a dual-tread remote-controlled treadmill, and world-class motion analysis technology. Preprogrammed visual presentations allow the patient to respond to an environmental stimulus by shifting weight, increasing or decreasing speed and even making specific motions. Difficulty levels can be increased gradually as the patient progresses further in their rehabilitation treatment plans.

Fran in VR lab.
Fran learning to walk again thanks in part to our Virtual Reality lab – one of only two in Canada.

“This room is right out of sci-fi. It really challenges your body. After an hour of doing exercises, I was just sweating. The pool and this 3D room were invaluable. It would have taken me a lot longer to get my legs back if I didn’t have access to those tools.”

“I’d basically been swiped off the planet for a year. But the only negative thing about being in the hospital was the disease itself.” – Fran Cosper

For Dr. Nancy Dudek, Medical Director, Amputee Program at The Ottawa Hospital Rehabilitation Centre, this unique system offers many benefits to patients. “There’s no end to things you can do with that sort of creativity. To be able to be hooked up to a harness without the support of the parallel bars still gives you the safety aspect. It’s a very innovative and beneficial system.”

Installed in 2010 in partnership with the Canadian Forces and with support from the community, the CAREN system was initially used in part to help injured soldiers returning from Afghanistan. Since then, many patients have benefitted, including those who have had a traumatic brain injury, stroke, neuromuscular disease, amputation, or chronic pain.

Continuing the road to recovery

Released from the Rehab Centre in October 2017, tears were shed by Fran and nurses who cared for him. It was those nurses who helped Fran with day-to-day care, teaching him how to wash and dress himself and be independent again.

Fran on exercise ball
Fran receiving care from the rehab team.

“I can honestly say that the kindness and level of care I got really humbled me. The nurses and staff have just been marvellous,” says Fran. “I’d basically been swiped off the planet for a year. But the only negative thing about being in the hospital was the disease itself.”

He walked out of the Rehab Centre using a walker. When he returned a month later for a follow-up appointment, he walked in on his own.

Today, Fran is back riding his bike – not quite to the 100-kilometer distances, yet, but his therapy continues. He still deals with pain, and his arms were slower to recover. His fine motor skills in his fingers are taking longer to get back to normal. As a saxophone player, he’s motivated to get his fingers working again.

“I’m kind of at the point now where I’m thinking I may be able to play again someday. I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to play my sax because my fine dexterity is improving – it’s a work in progress.”

Giving back as a volunteer

Fran will never forget two volunteers in particular who were there for him when he was being cared for at the Rehab Centre. Chris and Claude would come and take Fran for coffee and to talk. Initially, he had no idea who these blue-vested people were, but Fran quickly learned the important role they play at the hospital.

“I remember asking Chris why he was a volunteer. Chris explained to me that he had an inoperable brain tumour, and he was going to die. He told me, ‘I figured the hospital took such good care of me that I would spend the rest of my time volunteering.’ I broke into tears and decided right there I had to become a volunteer,” says Fran.

Fran in blue vest.
Today, Fran gives back as a volunteer at our hospital.

Pre-COVID, Fran would spend two days a week meeting patients, sometimes visiting his old room at the Rehab Centre, inspiring them about what is possible. “I remember seeing a woman in a hallway; she was on a gurney and going in for surgery – she was by herself. I stopped, leaned over, and told her it was going to be ok. Afterwards, I saw her again and she said, ‘Thank you.’

That’s why Fran proudly wears the blue vest. He’s experienced the dark days and today, he’s happy to be able to help others when they need a reassuring voice to help them through – just like Chris and Claude helped him. He’s also grateful to be able to volunteer his time at the hospital that cared for him during his long journey to recovery.

Listen to Fran Cosper in his own words during a guest appearance on Pulse: The Ottawa Hospital Foundation Podcast.

Your donation will help make sure patients like Fran have access to state-of-the-art equipment necessary to help them recover.

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Specialized therapy helps teacher with traumatic brain injury make remarkable recovery
After sustaining a severe traumatic brain injury, doctors weren’t sure if Casey Delaney would ever walk, talk, or return to her passion for teaching ever again. Today, she’s back in the classroom thanks to specialized therapy at The Ottawa Hospital.

The Virtual Run for a Reason raises $130,000

SEPTEMBER 9, 2020 OTTAWA, ON – It was a year of overcoming adversity in light of COVID-19 and supporters of The Ottawa Hospital did just that. The annual Run for a Reason fundraising initiative through Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend went virtual and raised $130,000.

Tim Kluke, President and CEO of The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, acknowledged while fundraising was down for the event, the dedication has never been more apparent. “It’s at times like these that I’m reminded how dedicated our community is to ensuring we provide the best caliber of care when our loved ones need it most and that our researchers have the funds needed to advance their research into new discoveries. I’m truly grateful for this support during a challenging time.”

This year, the virtual Run for a Reason attracted 129 participants supporting key areas of The Ottawa Hospital including, cancer research, priority needs, the neonatal intensive care unit to name a few.

Since 1998, Run for a Reason has raised $11.4 million supporting the world-class care and leading-edge research at The Ottawa Hospital. Thanks to its long-standing relationship with Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend, the Foundation looks forward to announcing a new collaboration to build on that partnership for 2021.

About The Ottawa Hospital: 

The Ottawa Hospital is one of Canada’s top learning and research hospitals, where excellent care is inspired by research and driven by compassion. As the third-largest employer in Ottawa, our support staff, researchers, nurses, physicians, and volunteers never stop seeking solutions to the most complex healthcare challenges.

Our multi-campus hospital, affiliated with the University of Ottawa, attracts some of the most influential scientific minds from around the world. Our focus on learning and research leads to new techniques and discoveries that are adopted globally to improve patient care.

We are the Regional Trauma Centre for eastern Ontario and have been accredited with Exemplary Standing for healthcare delivery — the highest rating from Accreditation Canada. We are also home to world-leading research programs focused on cancer therapeutics, neuroscience, regenerative medicine, chronic disease, and practice-changing research.

Backed by generous support from the community, we are committed to providing the world-class, compassionate care we would want for our loved ones.

For more information about The Ottawa Hospital, visit ohfoundation.ca.

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