Fran Cosper’s long-distance recovery from Guillain Barré Syndrome

Long-distance cyclist Fran Cosper and his friends often biked 120 kms on a Saturday. But that changed a year ago when he woke in the night and couldn’t feel his legs. Doctors at The Ottawa Hospital diagnosed him with Guillain Barré Syndrome.  

Fran Cosper took a break in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, during the 125-km benefit ride for Toronto’s SickKids Hospital in 2016.

Fran struggled out of bed the next morning and tried to do stretching exercises.

“I thought I had a pinched nerve,” he said. “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 I had facial paralysis, and thought I’d had a stroke.”

Fran knew it wasn’t a stroke because both sides of his body were paralyzed. (Stroke affects only one side.) Doctors at The Ottawa Hospital diagnosed him with Guillain Barré Syndrome (GBS) in February 2017. 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.

One millimetre at a time

About one in 100,000 Canadians contracts GBS every year. Patients do recover but it can take more than a year because the nerves re-grow slowly, one millimetre per month.

GBS can be brought on by an infection or virus. 56-year-old Fran had had two colds back-to-back, including a high fever, 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. Within 24 hours, Fran couldn’t move.

Dr. Vidya Sreenivasan
Dr. Vidya Sreenivasan, doctor of physical medicine and rehabilitation.

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

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

“He arrived for physiotherapy in an electric wheelchair that he controlled by moving his head, because motor skills in his arms and fingers were completely absent,” said assistant physiotherapist Andrew Atkinson. “There was a shorter list of the things he could move. From a chair position, he could extend his left leg and hold it against gravity. His right leg he could kick, but could not hold it. He basically presented like a quadriplegic.”

Fran was completely dependent for 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 must be like being buried alive.” – Physiotherapist Andrew Atkinson

The worst part, Fran explained, was the excruciating pain in every part of his body.

“Fran is still in a lot of severe pain because his nerves have been damaged,” said Dr. Sreenivasan. “He suffers a neuropathic pain that can feel anywhere from numb, burning, electric shock, or deep toothache. Pain management was very important.”

An infectious attitude

Fran Cosper using the Virtual Reality Lab, one of only two in Canada, during his rehab.

Fran 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: at first with a harness, then using the parallel bars. His arms were slower to recover and the fine motor skills in his fingers will take longer. Fran plays jazz on the saxophone, so is motivated to get his fingers working again.

“There’s something about visually seeing yourself walk and move in a weightless environment – it’s a mind-body connectionThat’s when the mind realizes its possible.’ If you can visualize itthink it, speak it, it’ll happen. 

Within two months, Fran could stand and take steps with help. He learned to walk again: at first with a harness, then using the parallel bars. His arms were slower to recover and the fine motor skills in his fingers will take longer. Fran plays jazz on the saxophone, so is motivated to get his fingers working again.

“It’s not a foregone conclusion that I’ll ever play again,” Fran said. “That’s the reality. But you have to have those moments of darkness. Embrace them and move on – that’s what you gotta do.”

Fran’s positive attitude was infectious.

“You have to have those moments of darkness. Embrace them and move on – that’s what you gotta do.” – Fran Cosper

Both Dr. Sreenivasan and Atkinson agree that Cosper’s excellent fitness level, as well as his determination and positive attitude, helped accelerate his recovery.

“What stood out about him was that he would encourage other patients as well,” said Dr. Sreenivasan. “Everybody has dark days. They wake up and think ‘I can’t do it. I just can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.’ Fran was able to provide that light at the end of the tunnel and help others, which is pretty extraordinary considering what he was going through himself.”

The nurses helped Fran with day-to-day care, teaching him how to wash and dress himself and be independent again.

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

Fran was discharged just before Thanksgiving in 2017 and left the Rehab Centre using a walker. When he returned the next month for a follow-up physiotherapy appointment, he walked in unaided.

A year-and-a-half later, Fran returned to the hospital, this time as a volunteer.

“I think volunteering is a very tangible, and meaningful way to give back,” said Fran. “You don’t know how you might affect someone. People have their struggles, and a little conversation, a little ‘you’re important’, a little ‘you’re okay’ could make a difference in their life.”

 

The Ottawa Hospital uses donations to invest in equipment at the Rehabilitation Centre that will help people like Fran Cosper.

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Long-time volunteer finds himself in a new role during the global pandemic

When COVID-19 hit Ottawa, Mike Soloski knew he needed to act. After volunteering in the Cancer Centre post-retirement, Mike was inspired to take on the new and challenging post on the frontlines as a COVID-19 screener.

For many, retirement is a milestone allowing them to finally relax and not worry about the stresses of work again. However, for Mike Soloski, that statement could not be further from the truth. At 61-years-old, Mike, a selfless go-getter, was a volunteer with The Ottawa Hospital when COVID-19 struck — a time when many volunteers were sent home as a safety precaution to limit exposure to this infectious disease. But Mike knew he needed to act. He decided to step out of retirement, and out of his volunteer role, and onto the frontlines of the pandemic as a COVID-19 screener.

Stepping out of retirement and onto the frontlines

Mike Soloski with his grandchild
Mike Soloski with his grandchild.

After retiring as a bank manager, this father and grandfather found himself wanting to volunteer outside of the fields of fundraising and finance. Having lost his wife to cancer in 2014, volunteering at the Cancer Centre at The Ottawa Hospital, where his wife had received such compassionate care during her illness, was a natural choice.

Volunteering gave Mike a sense of purpose and he enjoyed giving back to his community in a new way. In 2019, he welcomed another new adventure into his life when he remarried. Mike and his new wife, Leona, brought together their respective families, including their daughters and grandchildren, into a new blended family.

“I knew I was ready for something challenging and out of my comfort zone, and I couldn’t picture myself sitting at home and doing nothing.” – Mike Soloski.

Then, in early 2020, COVID-19 arrived in Ottawa. Volunteers were sent home from the hospital and Mike realized that he needed to help in some way. “I knew I was ready for something challenging and out of my comfort zone, and I couldn’t picture myself sitting at home and doing nothing,” said Mike. His hard work and dedication as a volunteer had been noticed and he was hired on as a COVID-19 screener. Suddenly being thrust to the frontlines of a global pandemic most certainly fit the bill of being out of his comfort zone.

His most important role

Practically speaking, Mike’s daily COVID-19 responsibilities are ensuring that patients, visitors, and staff are properly screened before entering the hospital. He has been promoted to a supervisor where he provides support to the screening team. Most importantly for Mike, he wants to create a welcoming environment and takes great pride in conveying a positive attitude when interacting with patients, visitors, and staff whom he knows are facing a stressful time.

Mike Soloski, screener at The Ottawa Hospital
Mike Soloski, COVID-19 screener.

“I find it really rewarding to provide people with a sense of comfort, especially if it means melting away a patient’s nervousness, tension, and apprehensiveness.” – Mike Soloski.

As one of the first masked faces they see when entering the hospital, Mike prioritizes building that rapport and comfort for people approaching the screening table. “I find it really rewarding to provide people with a sense of comfort, especially if it means melting away a patient’s nervousness, tension, and apprehensiveness.”

Words of wisdom

While this new role was an unexpected challenge for Mike, he knows he’s where he needs to be. “You sometimes get this weird sense of what retirement is supposed to be – for me it is just a different type of busy. This work is very rewarding,” said Mike. While he would never have guessed this is how he might re-enter the workforce, he is grateful that he has been able to accomplish what he set out to back in 2016 – to help in any way he could. Mike’s words of wisdom for anyone contemplating volunteering with The Ottawa Hospital? “Just jump in and do it.”

Join Mike in giving back to The Ottawa Hospital by making a donation today!

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Long-distance cyclist Fran Cosper and his friends often biked 120 kms on a Saturday. But that changed a year ago when he woke in the night and couldn’t feel his legs. Doctors at The Ottawa Hospital diagnosed him with Guillain Barré Syndrome.  
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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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Life-changing cancer diagnosis and treatment inspires donor

When test results came back showing George Knight had prostate cancer, he was determined to act quickly and beat it. Now he’s equally determined to support the hospital that saved him and to become a volunteer to help future patients.

George was faithful when it came to his annual health checkups and was fortunate enough to have always been relatively healthy. For that reason, he didn’t think too much of it when his prostate-specific antigen (PSA) numbers started to creep up. But his family doctor referred him to The Ottawa Hospital where he met urologist Dr. Brian Blew who ordered a biopsy. The results were shocking – prostate cancer. It was the beginning of a health journey George never anticipated, finding himself at the centre of a cancer battle under the care of an exceptional team of doctors, nurses, and radiotherapists. Now, more than a year later, George is a proud monthly donor to the hospital, determined to give back through philanthropy and volunteering his time to help other patients.

George and Maria on vacation
George and Maria on vacation.

Shocking news

In April 2019, George and his wife Maria, had just returned from an annual trip to Mexico when he received the news that the biopsy results showed he had prostate cancer. George’s PSA levels had always been on the higher side and the recent increase could very well have been a result of aging, so he was shocked to learn that he had intermediate risk prostate cancer. Dr. Blew offered George two options: have the prostate removed surgically or undergo radiation. George wanted to act quickly and felt radiation was his best course of action. “I wanted to get on this right away, so I immediately started radiation. I had 20 treatments in total. I felt very fortunate because I know some men need to have more.” said George.

“We have a rare gem of a facility here in Ottawa and by giving, I know it will help future patients receive the same level of care I received.” – George Knight

Compassionate care

George was grateful for the quick treatment and for how well he was taken care of. “I had excellent care from all of my doctors. Dr. Blew, Dr. Alain Haddad, and Dr. J.M. Bourque, and all of the nurses and radiotherapists. They were all absolutely amazing. I couldn’t have asked for any better.” While he was understandably worried, his care team quickly put him at ease.

George Knight
George Knight

Following his radiation, George is feeling better than ever. He is back to doing his many hobbies and he and Maria are back at the yoga studio where he practices twice a week. “I feel 100% — better than I’ve felt in a long time. I have more energy now and my PSA numbers are back in an acceptable range. I got very lucky. I’m feeling wonderful.”

“George’s donation will allow us to continue to develop the best tools for assessment and treatment.” – Dr. Blew

Accordingly, he thinks the excellent care he received helped him get back to good health quickly, and he wants his story to encourage others to get checked. “We caught it really early so that made a really big difference. Now I nag my male friends that are over 50 years old to go and get checked. They hum and haw but it’s important because sometimes you feel fine, even when you aren’t,” said George.

Dr. Blew is quick to echo the importance of regular screening. “Mr. Knight was very knowledgeable about PSA screening and understood a high PSA is not always due to prostate cancer but requires assessment to determine if treatment is needed instead of monitoring. George’s donation will allow us to continue to develop the best tools for assessment and treatment.”

Turning gratitude into action

The care George received has inspired him to sign up to be a volunteer at the hospital, something he has never done before. “I saw a quote online by Jim Rohn that said, ‘Only by giving are you able to receive more than you already have’ and it really struck a chord with me. This is why I need to give back.” In this same spirit, he has also decided to become a monthly donor. “I trusted the hospital with my health and now I trust it with my support. I want the hospital to have regular support that they can count on.We have a rare gem of a facility here in Ottawa and by giving, I know it will help future patients receive the same level of care I received.”

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

Join George in becoming a monthly donor and help patients like him receive the very best care and latest treatment available.

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Fran Cosper’s long-distance recovery from Guillain Barré Syndrome
Long-distance cyclist Fran Cosper and his friends often biked 120 kms on a Saturday. But that changed a year ago when he woke in the night and couldn’t feel his legs. Doctors at The Ottawa Hospital diagnosed him with Guillain Barré Syndrome.  
Long-time volunteer finds himself in a new role during the global pandemic
Mike Soloski is one of the first masked faces you might see upon entering The Ottawa Hospital during the pandemic. His unexpected journey from volunteer to COVID-19 screener is a testament to his desire to make a difference.

For the First Time in 19 Years, The Ottawa Hospital’s President’s Breakfast Goes Virtual

SEPTEMBER 1, 2020 OTTAWA, ON – If you thought The Ottawa Hospital might postpone its annual President’s Breakfast in light of COVID-19, you’re in for a wake-up call. That’s because today, The Ottawa Hospital Foundation announced its influential fundraiser is once again blazing a new trail. For the first time since its inception in 2001, the annual one-hour event will be held virtually on Tuesday, September 29, from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. in a groundbreaking online adaptation of the traditional in-person gathering.

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • This year’s event will be held virtually on Tuesday, September 29, from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.
  • Since 2001, The Ottawa Hospital’s annual President’s Breakfast has raised nearly $12 million toward leading-edge research, facilities, equipment, and tools to improve patient care.
  • The President’s Breakfast is a one-hour coming-together of guest speakers, front-line healthcare researchers, patients whose lives have been saved, and more than 500 dedicated supporters to raise critical funds for The Ottawa Hospital.

While COVID-19 has put events of this nature on hold, the need to raise crucial funds for research and patient care not only continues, it is amplified by the pandemic.

As has become tradition, the President’s Breakfast will spotlight some of the year’s most incredible, inspiring stories of hope and compassion to an audience of more than 500 dedicated supporters – including lead sponsor Doherty and Associates.

“We may not be able to physically be together in the same room, but we can still gather as a community and connect via live streaming video for this great cause,” said Tim Kluke, President and CEO of The Ottawa Hospital Foundation. “Make no mistake, this will not look or sound anything like your run-of-the-mill video conference call. We’re employing state-of-the-art technology to make it the next best thing to an in-person event. It is an extremely important component of our yearly fundraising calendar, and so we have worked hard to create a dynamic program of guest speakers, special announcements, and a few surprises to make sure we stay true to the innovative spirit for which the President’s Breakfast is well known.”

The President’s Breakfast will also mark the first official address from Cameron Love, the new President and CEO of The Ottawa Hospital, as part of its itinerary of guest speakers and former patients including Stuntman Stu, who recently underwent his second bone marrow transplant at The Ottawa Hospital in his battle with leukemia.

With a rich history, this event has raised close to $12 million over the past 18 years in support of healthcare in Ottawa. In 2018 alone, more than $800,000 was donated in just one inspiring morning. Viewers can donate online in a variety of ways: with a monthly gift, a multi-year commitment, or a one-time tribute donation in support of The Ottawa Hospital.

The President’s Breakfast in support of The Ottawa Hospital will happen Tuesday, September 29, from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. To RSVP or become an Ambassador, please visit ohfoundation.ca/presidents-breakfast-2020.

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.

-30-


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High-risk twin pregnancy during COVID-19 pandemic

An ultrasound revealing twins was the first of many surprises experienced by Meagan and her family throughout her pregnancy — including prolonged hospitalization during the worst public-health crisis the world has seen in 100 years.

At just 28-weeks pregnant and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Meagan Ann Gordon was admitted to the hospital with placenta previa. Alone and unable to see her husband and young daughter, she began an unexpected journey of resilience, optimism, and compassionate care in the midst of an uncertain time.

Meagan's UltrasoundThe beginning of a special journey

Just a few weeks into her pregnancy, Meagan Ann Gordon went for her first ultrasound appointment. Her husband, Kyle Gordon, was out of town and unable to join her. Having already gone through a full-term and healthy pregnancy together with their first child, Maeve, Meagan felt confident going to this appointment on her own. After all, what could be so different this time around?

What her appointment revealed was an unexpected and happy surprise — twin boys! This was the beginning of many unanticipated turns Meagan would experience throughout the duration of her pregnancy — including the emergence of a novel coronavirus that would alter life in previously unimaginable ways.

Pregnant with twins

Megan Gordon's sidewalk message
On Mother’s Day, Kyle and daughter Maeve, visited Meagan outside of her hospital window, leaving her a sweet message to remind her how much they love her.

Pregnancy comes with so much anticipation and excitement. When Meagan discovered she was having twins, she was elated. Aside from standard nausea and mild discomfort, her pregnancy was going smoothly — up until midway through her second trimester. Her doctor observed that her placenta, shared by both babies, was covering her cervix — Meagan had placenta previa. This can cause significant bleeding throughout pregnancy — a reality that Meagan was all too familiar with. She experienced several bleeds that required her to stay at the hospital overnight so that her doctors could monitor her health and that of her babies. But at just 28 weeks pregnant on April 22, 2020, she experienced a bleed so large they called an ambulance. She was once again admitted to the hospital, where her care team felt she needed to stay until delivery.

For five long weeks Meagan remained at the hospital, confined to her room, away from her husband and her three-year-old daughter, Maeve. Due to the emergence of COVID-19, like many hospitals across the globe, The Ottawa Hospital has been under visitor restrictions, preventing Meagan from receiving any visitors or being able to leave the unit to visit loved ones. Pleasures that she might normally experience had she been at home, like having a baby shower with her family and friends or decorating the nursery, she missed out on.

“Being away from my husband and my daughter was really hard,” said Meagan. “But I wasn’t alone. I was with my boys and I was doing what was best for them and their health. I was also being so well taken care of by the nursing staff. They knew how hard it was to be away from my family, especially on Mother’s Day and they went above and beyond to be kind and supportive.”

Throughout the duration of her stay, nurses treated Meagan more like a friend than just a patient, helping to bring a level of comfort in a time when she was so isolated from her own friends and family. “They stopped by my room even if they weren’t assigned to me on their shift just to say hello and to chat. They shared stories of their life outside of the hospital walls and met my family over FaceTime. They even treated us to donuts and coffees. But it’s less about what the nurses “did” and more about how they made me feel,” Meagan explained.

Emergence of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped how patients are cared for across the country and the world. More than 1,700 individuals have tested positive for COVID-19 in Ottawa, many of whom have received treatment at The Ottawa Hospital. As a result, even the most well-thought-out birthing plans are being adjusted.

Given Meagan’s unresolved placenta previa, she required a scheduled cesarean delivery at 34 weeks pregnant which would prevent her from going into labour naturally. Her boys were to arrive on June 3, 2020, but they had other plans. At 2 a.m. on May 25, 2020 Meagan’s water broke. Her husband rushed to the hospital just in time to see Meagan for a few moments before Teddy and Rowan were delivered by emergency cesarean. “It was a huge relief to see him before I went into surgery,” said Meagan.

Up until that moment, Kyle had only seen Meagan’s growing belly over FaceTime. When he walked in the room, and saw Meagan for the first time, he gave her a big hug before putting his hands on her belly. Feelings of pride and excitement washed over him. Kyle was in awe at how much her belly had grown since he last saw her in April. Meagan remembers their last hug before she went into the operating room. One of the twins kicked him in the chest. “It was a big moment for us because we often talked about how he might not get to feel the twins moving again, knowing I was there in the hospital until I delivered,” explained Meagan.

Meagan with Teddy and Rowan

Due to COVID-19 protocols set in place to protect patients and hospital staff, Kyle wasn’t allowed in the operation room throughout her delivery. But he was by her side over FaceTime, supporting her every step of the way. “It was definitely a very unique experience. I was happy to be able to see Meagan and talk with her and experience the births from her perspective while it was actually going on. I just kept telling her how strong she was… And being able to hear the boys cry for the first time over FaceTime,” said Kyle, “it was as good as we could possibly hope for given the current circumstances.”

Meagan’s team of nurses and doctors even went so far as to take photos and video footage of Teddy and Rowan’s first breath. The boys were then admitted to the NICU. While Meagan recovered, Kyle was able to meet the boys and get a report on their health. Shortly after, he was back by Meagan’s side where they reminisced about the delivery and marveled in the fact that life had changed so quickly. A few hours later, Meagan was out of the recovery room and well enough to visit her boys in the NICU for the very first time. “It was the beginning of the next stage of our adventure – the NICU journey!” exclaimed Meagan.

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)

Though the twins were healthy and growing, measuring the size of a head of lettuce right before her cesarean at 33 weeks, Meagan knew her mandated cesarean would take place before the twins reached full term. This meant that her boys would stay in the NICU once born until they had grown enough to safely go home.

For the first three days, Teddy and Rowan remained in the NICU at the General Campus. While recovering from the cesarean in hospital, Meagan was finally able to have Kyle stay with her. This allowed both of them to visit their sons in the NICU frequently. With each visit they learned how to care for their premature babies, who were born at just 5lbs 2oz, including learning how to bathe them and change their diapers. “The staff was great about welcoming us into the NICU, giving us full updates and really involving us as part of the care team for the boys, which was different than caring for our full-term daughter,” says Meagan. “I found it was a very supportive environment.”

Megan Gordon with her twin boys

 

Kyle Gordon holding his twin boys

 

Home at last

After spending just over two weeks in the NICU, Teddy and Rowan were healthy and strong enough to go home where they could finally meet their older sister for the first time. “We’re settling really well into our new norm as a family of five,” said Meagan.

Ever grateful for the care she received at The Ottawa Hospital, Meagan is quick to express how thankful she is for her doctor, Dr. Karen Fung-Kee-Fung, Maternal Fetal Medicine Specialist at The Ottawa Hospital, Dr. Samaan Werlang, who delivered her boys, and each nurse that took part in her care and that of her boys.

“We’re just so grateful for the incredible care we received as a family. Everyone we encountered was so compassionate and kind. It made a hard situation one that I will look back on fondly.”  – Meagan Ann Gordon

Listen to Pulse Podcast, where Meagan Gordon reveals what it’s like to be pregnant with twins during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Donate today so that we can continue to provide patients like Meagan exceptional care during times of great need.

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Long-distance cyclist Fran Cosper and his friends often biked 120 kms on a Saturday. But that changed a year ago when he woke in the night and couldn’t feel his legs. Doctors at The Ottawa Hospital diagnosed him with Guillain Barré Syndrome.  
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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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Recovered COVID-19 patient will always be grateful for his extraordinary care

Diagnosed with COVID-19, Fr. Alex Michalopulos remembers the fear he felt battling the virus while in hospital. He’ll be forever grateful for the compassionate care he received at The Ottawa Hospital. 

As someone who has dedicated his life to being at the bedside of others during an illness, Fr. Alex Michalopulos now has a better understanding of that fear others faced after his recent COVID-19 diagnosis in April. Today, as a recovered patient of COVID-19, Fr. Michalopulos says the experience was a real eye-opener for him and he’s grateful for the compassionate care he received.

Condition deteriorates

The Greek Orthodox priest wasn’t feeling well at the end of March—a busy time for this church community. By April 5, he was diagnosed with COVID-19 and he self-isolated at home. Over time, his condition worsened with extreme headaches, and a progressing cough, resulting in respiratory issues and fever. He was admitted to The Ottawa Hospital, General Campus on April 9.

The gravity of this illness and the resulting discussions became serious very quickly. “There was a discussion about the ventilator that could be needed at some point for my care. DNR consent (Do Not Resuscitate) was discussed and how I should talk with my family about it,” remembers Fr. Michalopulos.

The 61-year-old was transferred from the Emergency Department to a floor where a specialized team could care for him. “It was very scary to go through this experience. I had no idea how this was going to evolve. Doctors and nurses coming in dressed like you see in the movies with their PPE. Not being able to breathe—coughing continuously, headaches—at times I just wanted to die they were so bad.”

The Michalopulos Family
Fr. Michalopulos with his wife and three daughters

 

Dr. Halman
Dr. Samantha Halman (left) keeping patients connected to families through technology

 

Extraordinary care

While Fr. Michalopulos recalls the fear he felt as he fought for his life, he’s grateful his condition never deteriorated to the point where he needed to be on a ventilator. That gratitude also extends to each person who helped care for him while he was at The Ottawa Hospital. “The doctors, nurses, and cleaning staff were amazing. I take my hat off to them.”

It wasn’t easy to be going through this illness without his wife and daughters by his side. With visitor restrictions in place to protect patients and staff, he could only connect with his family by phone. He adds his care team put him at ease during the times he was in extreme pain.

“All those medical professionals were so caring—it was reassuring that I was in good hands. They put me at ease.”
– Fr. Alex Michalopulos

Dr. Samantha Halman, General Internal Medicine Specialist, has been caring for COVID-19 patients since the arrival of the virus in March. She says for patients like Fr. Michalopulos and others, her medical team served a dual role.

“It wasn’t always about the medical care when treating our COVID patients. Sometimes it was about spending that extra five minutes with a patient. It was important for people to know we were there for them not only as patients but as people.” – Dr. Samantha Halman

Being on the frontlines during these unprecedented times has been challenging at times. While Dr. Halman never imagined working through something like this, she’s proud of the efforts of her colleagues at The Ottawa Hospital. “This pandemic exemplifies why we went into healthcare – we want to help people.”

It was compassionate care coupled with his faith, that carried him through. He admits it was an eye-opening experience. While Fr. Michalopulos had minor surgery in the past, it wasn’t until his COVID-19 diagnosis and extraordinary care he received at The Ottawa Hospital that he realized how fortunate he is to have this caliber of healthcare in our community. “I was so grateful to all of them for the care; I had pizza delivered to staff when I was leaving.”

Thankful to be on the mend

Fr. Michalopulos was released from hospital on April 19 — Greek Orthodox Easter. As he reflects on his time in hospital, he couldn’t be more thankful to be on the road to recovery 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.”

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.

“They held my hand. They showed compassion. They showed a lot of respect and love. I will be forever grateful for them.” – Fr. Alex Michalopulos

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.”

Fr. Michalopulos at Greek Orthodox Church
Fr. Michalopulos at the Greek Orthodox Church

 

Listen to the latest episode of Pulse Podcast, where we go behind the scenes with Dr. Halman and hear what it’s like on one of the units at the Ottawa Hospital caring for COVID-19 patients.

Your donation today will help create better healthcare tomorrow for patients, like Fr. Michalopulos, when they need The Ottawa Hospital.

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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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Decoding the mystery of Parkinson’s disease

For more than 200 years, no one has been able to solve the Parkinson puzzle. While the exact cause of the disease remains a mystery, dedicated researchers at The Ottawa Hospital are gaining ground—determined to solve the puzzle.

Dr. Michael Schlossmacher
Dr. Michael Schlossmacher in his lab at The Ottawa Hospital.

For more than 200 years, no one has been able to solve the Parkinson puzzle. Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s. It affects approximately 100,000 Canadians—8,000 here in Ottawa. The national number is expected to double by 2050. Each day, many of those patients face uncontrolled trembling in their hands and limbs, the inability to speak loudly, loss of sense of smell, and pains from stiffness.

While the exact cause of the disease remains a mystery, dedicated researchers at The Ottawa Hospital are gaining ground—determined to solve the puzzle. Ottawa is a recognized centre for neuroscience research. Dr. Michael Schlossmacher is the director of the Neuroscience program at The Ottawa Hospital and while he admits Parkinson’s is complicated and complex, there is hope.

“I strongly believe we can solve that riddle. We have the expertise to make a major contribution to a cure for this disease.” Dr. Michael Schlossmacher

Predicting the risk of Parkinson’s

For Schlossmacher, a step forward in unravelling the mystery of this disease came when he was struck by the idea of a mathematical equation, which could potentially foreshadow the disease before it develops. “I’m convinced that by entering known risk factors for Parkinson’s into this model, it is indeed possible to predict who will get the disease.”

Risk factors for Parkinson’s disease include:

  • age
  • chronic constipation
  • reduced sense of smell
  • family history
  • chronic inflammation such as hepatitis or types of inflammatory bowel disease,
  • environmental exposures
  • head injuries
  • gender, as Parkinson’s affect more men than women

Dr. Schlossmacher and his team of researchers are currently combing through data to test the accuracy of their theory to predict Parkinson’s.

To date, Dr. Schlossmacher and his team have analyzed more than 1,000 people, and the results are promising. “The surprising thing so far is the prediction formula is right in 88 to 91 percent of the cases to tell us who has Parkinson’s and who doesn’t—and this is without even examining the movements of a patient.”

The goal is now to expand to field testing in the next two years. According to Dr. Schlossmacher, should the results show the mathematical equation works, this could allow doctors to identify patients who have high scores. “We could modify some of the risk factors, and potentially delay or avoid developing Parkinson’s altogether.”

Partners Investing in Parkinson’s Research

Team PIPR RFR
Team PIPR co-captain Karin Fuller, left, with Elaine Goetz and fellow co-captain, Kristy Shortall-Cain.

Research is costly and community support is vital to help unleash new discoveries. In 2009, a group of investment advisors came together to create Partners Investing in Parkinson’s Research, more commonly known as PIPR. Each year, the group participates in Run for a Reason and raises money as a part of Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend. In 11 years, the group has raised $1.4 million for The Ottawa Hospital’s researchers and clinicians.

PIPR has not only helped to fund research toward better treatment and hopefully a cure for Parkinson’s, but the group has also brought much-needed attention to the disease. For Dr. Schlossmacher, funding for research from groups like PIPR, means more hope for the future. He is quick to add that PIPR has galvanized the momentum in our community because they see how committed The Ottawa Hospital is to making a difference.

“This investment by PIPR into research at The Ottawa Hospital has been a total game-changer for us. It has allowed us to pursue projects that otherwise would not yet be funded.”

Donor dollars translate into results

Dr. Sachs practicing the use of 3D technology
Dr. Adam Sachs practicing the use of 3D technology for neurosurgery.

PIPR’s support helped bring deep brain stimulation surgery (DBS) to The Ottawa Hospital. For someone like Karin Fuller, co-captain of team PIPR, she knows the positive impact this type of technology can have. “When my dad had that surgery he had to go to Toronto, which meant going back and forth for the appointments. It was a lot for him and for our family. Helping to bring DBS to our community is a tangible example of what we’ve been able to do as a group to support The Ottawa Hospital,” says Karin.

Also developed at The Ottawa Hospital is the world’s first 3D virtual reality system for neurosurgery. It is being used to increase the accuracy of DBS surgery for patients with Parkinson’s. Our neurosurgeons are the first in the world to use this technology in this way and the goal is to improve the outcome for patients.

Promise for the future

It’s also expected that one day 3D technology could be in every department throughout the hospital. The possibilities for this technology are endless and, in the future, it could help countless patients, beyond Parkinson’s disease.

When Dr. Schlossmacher looks at the puzzle of Parkinson’s, which he’s been investigating for 20 years, he sees promise.

“At The Ottawa Hospital, we think outside the box and that’s how we’re able to unravel mysteries through our research. Research which we hope will one day be transformational.”   Dr. Michael Schlossmacher

He also has sheer determination in his eyes. “To the chagrin of my wife, I will not retire until I put a dent into it. The good news is, I may have 20 years left in the tank but, ultimately, I’d like to put myself out of business.”

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

We need your help to fund research into diseases like Parkinson’s at The Ottawa Hospital and to provide more hope for patients in the future.

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