Vittorio Petrin has never seen his grandchildren’s faces. The Italian draftsman started to lose his peripheral vision in the early 1980’s after his second son was born, forcing him to leave work and take an early pension. He was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disorder that causes the cells in the retina to break down. There is no cure. His vision steadily got worse until he couldn’t see any light at all.
Before his vision went dark, Vittorio spent six years building a model of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, using over 3,000 copper pieces. “It was the most beautiful place I’d seen, and I wanted to replicate it. Working on it kept my mind away from what was going to happen,” he says.
“My dad was an artist. He was able to draw phenomenally, he liked taking videos. Sight was important to him,” says Vittorio’s son Dino Petrin. “He never complained about going blind, we never saw it as children. He always had a sense of humour and a strong character. He never asked for any pity, he just took it in stride.”
Millions of people in North America live with retinal diseases like retinitis pigmentosa, glaucoma, retinal ischemia and age-related macular degeneration. These diseases are poorly understood, progressive, and often untreatable.
But thanks to promising gene and cell therapies in development, Dino hopes that one day people like his father won’t have to lose their vision.
“Soon we’ll be able to do what our lab has been trying to do all along – bring XIAP gene therapy into the clinic.”– Dr. Catherine Tsilfidis
A discovery with game-changing potential
Dr. Catherine Tsilfidis can imagine the day when the first patient is treated with the retinal disease gene therapy her lab has worked on for the past 20 years. While it won’t happen tomorrow, that day is not far off.
“XIAP gene therapy is exciting because it keeps cells in the back of the eye from dying,” said Dr. Tsilfidis, a senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and associate professor at the University of Ottawa. “It could slow or stop vision loss caused by many different retinal diseases.”
Dr. Tsilfidis is leading a world-class team of researchers that recently received $2.4 M from the Ontario Research Fund to develop gene and cell therapies for retinal diseases. One of their goals is to do the work needed to bring XIAP gene therapy into clinical trials, which could start in the next few years.
The time is right for gene and cell therapy
The promise of replacing defective genes and cells in the eye with healthy ones is undeniable. While these fields are still in their infancy, they are expected to grow exponentially over the next decade. Gene therapy for the eyes has particularly taken off, with Health Canada approval of the first gene therapy for a rare genetic form of vision loss in 2020.
“This research program could make Ontario a leader in the fields of both gene and stem cell therapy– Dr. Pierre Mattar
When it comes to cell therapies, Ottawa and Toronto are major hubs in the growing area of stem cell research. As partners in the retinal research program led by Dr. Tsilfidis, UHN scientist Dr. Valerie Wallace will work on increasing the survival of transplanted stem cells in the eye, while The Ottawa Hospital’s Dr. Pierre Mattar aims to develop stem cell therapies for retinal ganglion cell diseases such as glaucoma. “This research program could make Ontario a leader in the fields of both gene and stem cell therapy,” said Dr. Mattar. “By learning the best way to mass produce and integrate stem cells for retinal disease, we can advance stem cell research in other fields.”
Collaboration between lab researchers and clinicians key to success
The incredible challenge of bringing a basic science discovery to clinical trials requires an exceptional team. For this research program, Dr. Tsilfidis assembled a “dream team” of long-time collaborators and new partners.
As a basic scientist, Dr. Tsilfidis has always worked closely with clinicians to help ensure her research reflects patient needs.
“Ophthalmologists help us identify the most important questions to ask,” said Dr. Tsilfidis. “Our lab started working on diseases like Leber hereditary optic neuropathy and glaucoma because clinicians told us how much of a problem they were.”
Two of Dr. Tsilfidis’ long-time clinical collaborators, Drs. Stuart Coupland and Brian Leonard, are part of this new retinal research program. They are joined by retina specialists Drs. Bernard Hurley and Michael Dollin, who will assist in developing clinical trial protocols.
“Our researchers have an incredible track record of taking discoveries from the lab to the bedside,”– Dr. Duncan Stewart
Dr. Tsilfidis’ lab and office are just down the hall from the ophthalmologists’ offices and clinics, which makes collaboration easier. This kind of co-location of scientists and clinicians has been key to The Ottawa Hospital’s success in translating discoveries from the lab bench to the patient bedside.
Leveraging our biomanufacturing expertise at The Ottawa Hospital
In addition to clinical experts, the team knew they needed new resources and partners to be successful.
“We’ve been very much a basic science lab in the past,” said Dr. Tsilfidis. “Now that we’re at the stage that we want to get XIAP to the clinic, we need all the help we can get.”
One missing piece was a special clinical-grade virus used to deliver the XIAP gene into the eye, known as an adeno-associated virus (AAV). Finding cost-effective sources of AAVs has been a major bottleneck for getting gene therapy trials and treatments off the ground.
Thankfully, The Ottawa Hospital is home to the Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre (BMC), a world-class facility that has manufactured more than a dozen different virus- and cell-based products for human clinical trials on four continents. Experts at the BMC were already starting to expand into AAV manufacturing when Dr. Tsilfidis approached them about collaborating on the retinal research program.
The BMC has since been working with Dr. Tsilfidis and her team to develop a process to manufacture the AAVs the team will need for Health Canada approval of the XIAP gene therapy for clinical trials.
The BMC is on track to become the first facility in in Canada to make clinical-grade AAV vectors for gene therapy studies. This new expertise will help them support other gene therapy trials with a focus on rare disease.
How to plan a world-class clinical trial
In addition to the clinical-grade virus, the retinal research team needed help planning a future clinical trial of XIAP gene therapy. Fortunately, there are no shortage of clinical trial experts at The Ottawa Hospital.
“I’ve never planned a clinical trial before,” said Dr. Tsilfidis “But I knew someone who had – Dr. Dean Fergusson. I’ve always been impressed by the rigorous trails he’s helped develop. When I asked for his advice, he referred me to the Ottawa Methods Centre.”
The Ottawa Methods Centre is The Ottawa Hospital’s one-stop shop for research expertise and support. Their goal is to help all clinicians, staff and researchers at the hospital conduct the highest quality research, using the best methods. They support over 200 research projects a year, led by clinical and basic researchers alike.
“The Ottawa Methods Centre has been amazing to work with,” said Dr. Tsilfidis. “Their research methodology expertise has strengthened this research program and our funding applications.”
At the Ottawa Methods Centre, the team is leveraging the Blueprint Translational Research Group’s Excelerator program, designed to enable efficient translation of basic research discoveries to the clinic through rigorous methods and approaches. Co-led by Dr. Dean Fergusson and Dr. Manoj Lalu, the program will help design the clinical trial protocol, and support the clinical trial application to Health Canada through systematic reviews of available pre-clinical and clinical data.
Research program holds enormous promise
Tackling retinal disease will be a big challenge, but Dr. Tsilfidis has assembled an excellent team of partners both old and new to move this research program forward.
“These therapies could be life-changing. If we could cure or slow down the progression of vision loss, that would be amazing.”– Dino Petrin
“Our researchers have an incredible track record of taking discoveries from the lab to the bedside, but it can only be done through team efforts like this one,” said Dr. Duncan Stewart, Executive Vice-President of Research at The Ottawa Hospital and professor of medicine at the University of Ottawa. “Fully leveraging our basic and clinical expertise, as well as our world-class core research resources is the key to getting new treatments to the patients who need them.”
For Dr. Tsilfidis, the excitement is palpable. “Soon we’ll be able to do what our lab has been trying to do all along – bring XIAP gene therapy into the clinic.”
Dino, a former graduate student in Dr. Tsilfidis’ lab, sees the potential of gene therapies to help people like his father. “These therapies could be life-changing,” he said, “If we could cure or slow down the progression of vision loss, that would be amazing.”
The Ottawa Hospital is a leading academic health, research, and learning hospital proudly affiliated with the University of Ottawa.
Browse Current Issues
- Eleventh Edition – Tree relocation begins at the New Campus Development
- Tenth Edition – The New Campus Development gets the green light from Ontario government, the new hospital construction to boost Ottawa’s GDP by $2 billion, and more!
- Ninth Edition – Parking structure highlights, getting to the new campus, naturalizing the site, and more.
- Eighth Edition – How a new trauma centre will save lives, an update on the Indigenous Peoples Advisory Circle, a feature on artwork by Algonquin artists Simon Brascoupé and Mairi Brascoupé, and a letter on hospital parking by Chiefs of Staff from hospitals across the region.
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At only 20 years old, Junie immigrated to Canada from Malaysia with ambitions to study at the University of Toronto. A new life would begin — one that would entice her family to follow her in the years ahead but would be filled with adversity.
While Junie was initially drawn to Canada for her studies, a particular experience in her early years in Toronto cemented her desire to make Canada her home. She remembers a newspaper stand on a busy street in downtown Toronto. “There was a pile of newspapers and I didn’t see anybody around. I noticed people came by, picked up a paper, and dropped some money in a bowl. It was so orderly. I couldn’t believe that people were so nice.” It was the honour system and that’s what Junie loved. “I remember thinking ‘This is a kind of society I want to live in.’”
In subsequent years, Junie got married and her parents and three siblings followed her path to Canada. Her brother settled in Ottawa and in 1996, Junie, her sister, and their husbands decided to pay a visit to him at his new home. They had a wonderful time reconnecting.
As the two couples headed home after a week, they were involved in a head-on crash just an hour outside of Ottawa. It was a devastating collision, that left the two men dead, and the two sisters badly injured. Junie remembers waking up at the crash site and asking a police officer what happened. “He told me there was an accident and I remember seeing our two husbands slumped over in the front and then I lost consciousness.” The two sisters were rushed to The Ottawa Hospital Trauma Centre.
Eastern Ontario’s only Level 1 Trauma Centre for adults
The Ottawa Hospital is home to the only Level 1 Trauma Centre for adults in eastern Ontario — which is located at the Civic Campus. We care for the most critically injured patients from across the region, including western Quebec.
The team includes a trauma team leader, as well as an anesthesiologist, a team of emergency nurses, a group of resident physicians, and respiratory therapists — this allows them to be ready for the wide variety of complex cases that they handle, or when a Code One is called.
A Code One means a patient with significant injuries is coming to the hospital and all resources gather at the Emergency Department. This code can be called for a scenario when multiple patients are injured, like the motor vehicle collision Junie and her sister were involved in, or for instances where a single patient is injured. By contrast, a large-scale incident or any other community disaster results in a Code Orange being called.
When Junie woke up again, she was in the hospital with significant internal injuries. She learned her sister had suffered multiple fractures and was then told about the unimaginable loss — Junie’s husband and brother-in-law were gone.
“I told myself if I ever get better, I just have to give back. I was just very grateful for all the excellent care that I had received.”– Junie
Junie was in the Intensive Care Unit for two weeks and was heavily sedated. She remembers the compassionate care she received, having to rely on others to bathe her and wash her hair. She will never forget their kindness and sensitivity. “I told myself if I ever get better, I just have to give back. I was just very grateful for all the excellent care that I had received,” says Junie.
Clinical trial changes the practice of medicine
During Junie’s early days in the hospital, her brother Lawrence observed this compassionate care firsthand as he visited daily, supporting both of his sisters during their devastating loss. He also stayed by Junie’s side while her condition was critical — she was losing a significant amount of blood.
Junie had multiple blood transfusions to keep her alive and was asked to participate in a clinical trial to improve when blood transfusions should be given in critical care. Lawrence was impressed by the skilled team he observed, and he signed consent for his sister to participate in the trial, in hopes that it would help her and future patients.
“This research has saved thousands of lives and improved blood transfusions for millions of people.”– Dr. Dean Fergusson
Not only did Junie get better but her participation in this research also helped to change the practice of transfusions worldwide. Dr. Dean Fergusson, Senior Scientist and Director of the Clinical Epidemiology Program at our hospital, explains what this means for patients. “Today, patients all around the world receive blood transfusions based on a more restrictive protocol developed at The Ottawa Hospital,” he says. “Thanks to patients like Junie, we now have a much better idea of when to transfuse, how long the blood should be stored for, and how to prevent bleeding in the first place, so patients can avoid transfusions. This research has saved thousands of lives and improved blood transfusions for millions of people.”
Filled with gratitude to this day
Today, Junie is living in Toronto with her second husband and is deeply grateful to this day for the exceptional care she and her sister received. Not long after she returned home, Junie became a monthly donor to our hospital – holding true to the promise she made while she was in the hospital that she would give back to those who cared for her.
Giving is something that her late mother instilled in her — Junie’s father died when she was very young. It helped mold the person she is today. “We were a working-class family, we weren’t rich, but we persevered. My mother was just an amazing person. She was selfless. So, my siblings and I learned from that — when you receive something good, you try to pay it back in kind, especially with deeds. I think that has a lot of influence on me,” explains Junie.
Strength is an attribute Junie also has carried on from her mother. At the age of 55, Junie was diagnosed with breast cancer. Right after her breast cancer operation, she faced an ovarian cancer diagnosis. She has seen firsthand the need for philanthropy in healthcare to provide the most advanced care. Despite everything she’s faced in life, Junie describes herself as lucky. “It’s still been a good life. It’s been 13 years since I was diagnosed with those kinds of cancers and I’m still here. I am very lucky. I’m a very lucky woman.”
“That’s why, when I die, I can leave something behind to help those who cared for me. That’s my motive.”– Junie
Now retired after a successful career in banking, Junie thinks to the future and how she can continue to pay it forward. That’s why she’s decided to leave a gift in her will to The Ottawa Hospital so patients will have the latest technology and most advanced treatment options to save their lives, just like she experienced. “That’s why, when I die, I can leave something behind to help those who cared for me. That’s my motive.”
Why Planned Giving is important?
By leaving a gift in your will to The Ottawa Hospital, you will be helping to shape the future of healthcare. It’s an extraordinary opportunity that you will give future generations – just imagine your legacy.
We’re here to provide you with the guidance you need to leave a gift in your will to support our hospital. This is an opportunity for you to create stronger healthcare for tomorrow, with a larger gift than perhaps you thought possible – larger than those made during your lifetime. Just imagine the legacy you will leave.
The Ottawa Hospital is a leading academic health, research, and learning hospital proudly affiliated with the University of Ottawa.
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
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
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
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
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.
“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.
It’s time to take research to unprecedented heights
In the last 20 years, we’ve pushed the boundaries of healthcare and research — changing and saving lives all over the world.
Our experts predict more research and clinical breakthroughs will happen in the next ten years than have happened over the last 50. And with your help, more of them will happen here at our hospital.
This means improved treatments and novel therapies — and greater hope for us all.
“Our research is truly groundbreaking and the world is watching. Together, we can make Ottawa into a global hub for healthcare and research. Our sights are set on nothing less.”
—Dr. Duncan Stewart, Executive Vice-President Research, The Ottawa Hospital
Setting the stage for next-level research
We are proudly among the top research institutes in the country. But our impact doesn’t stop here — discoveries and cures found at our hospital will help millions of Canadians and people worldwide.
Unique collaborations for radical results
More than 25 years ago, we had the radical idea to embed our clinicians in labs, side-by-side with our researchers. This successful approach means unprecedented research breakthroughs can quickly translate to the bedside.
Our uniquely collaborative environment and outstanding research facilities draw world-leading researchers to Ottawa.
When traditional treatments have been exhausted, we have been able to rapidly translate research discoveries to the bedside to provide new hope.
In the north tower of the new campus, clinical care and research will once again be fully integrated, and we will use this collaborative approach to revolutionize care.
Home of world firsts
Our Regenerative Medicine Program is unlike any other in Canada and possibly the world. Simply put, we are a world leader in stem cell research.
“If you are in computers, you go to Silicon Valley. If you are in stem cells, you need to be here in Ottawa. This is where the greatest advances are being made.”
— Dr. Bernard Thébaud, Senior Scientist in Regenerative Medicine, The Ottawa Hospital
1st clinical trial in the world of a stem cell therapy for septic shock.
1st discovery of muscle stem cells.
1st clinical trial in Canada using stem cells to treat the damaged lungs of premature babies.
1st to halt the progress of aggressive multiple sclerosis (MS) through stem cell transplants.
Harnessing biology to fight disease
Our state-of-the-art Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre (BMC) is a leader in the rapidly growing area of biotherapeutics — one of the most advanced areas of scientific innovation.
See how we’re using stem cells, cancer-killing viruses, gene therapy, and more, to improve and save lives.
Global impact through clinical trials
Our hospital has one of the largest and strongest clinical trials programs in the country. And our innovative trials have made a global impact with many international guidelines around trial design and reporting originating here at our hospital.
With more active clinical trials than almost anywhere else in Canada, we give patients access to novel therapies, create hope for the newly diagnosed, and establish best practices for patient care around the world.
Together, we can find new cures and make groundbreaking discoveries that save more lives.
It's time to create a better tomorrow.
About the Campaign to Create Tomorrow
The Campaign to Create Tomorrow is the largest fundraising campaign in our region’s history. It will help fulfil the most ambitious vision ever for the future of The Ottawa Hospital, focused on four critical pillars.
The Ottawa Hospital has made great strides in addressing today’s most pressing challenges in neuroscience. We are internationally recognized for our groundbreaking research and treatment of many neurological diseases, such as stroke, neuromuscular illnesses, and Parkinson’s disease (PD).
In fact, we are one of very few centres in Canada where neurologists work hand-in-hand with basic scientists to tackle unsolved problems. Our goal is to foster new ideas and expand our range of clinical trials to quickly bring cutting-edge treatments directly to our patients. Some of the discoveries that lead to new interventions have been made here.
Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s, affecting over 100,000 Canadians. The disease continues to mystify according to Dr. Michael Schlossmacher, a neurologist and the Bhargava Family Research Chair in Neurodegeneration at The Ottawa Hospital. This Chair is an example of one way philanthropists, like the Bhargava family, actively support the hospital.
“It was in 1961 when one of my teachers in Vienna first discovered the Lazarus-type effect of how dopamine therapy can suppress the symptoms of Parkinson’s. That was six decades ago, and we now understand more of the mechanisms underlying the motoric deficits, but we still don’t have a therapy in place to stop the illness in its tracks,” says Dr. Schlossmacher.
Thinking outside the box for Parkinson’s treatment
“If we want to treat Parkinson’s, slow it down or stop it, it will only happen through research that identifies better ways to separate subtypes of the illness and confirm targets to develop drugs for interventions.”
– Dr. Michael Schlossmacher
While progress is slow and often frustrating for patients, active research continues to probe for answers. “If we want to treat Parkinson’s, slow it down or stop it, it will only happen through research that identifies better ways to separate subtypes of the illness and confirm targets to develop drugs for interventions. Then, we’ll need to test them in the clinic and, upon demonstration of safety, apply them to a large body of patients in trials to gauge efficacy,” explains Dr. Schlossmacher. He is quick to point out that our Parkinson’s Research Consortium has made a name for itself in Canada and internationally, both on the clinical side and through basic research. Some of the clinical research activity is directed at improved integration of care delivery that we have already available today.
Philanthropy and grants play a pivotal role in moving research forward. For Dr. Schlossmacher and his team, it often allows them the opportunity to develop ideas that are largely out of the mainstream and represent ‘outside the box’ thinking. “Philanthropy has the potential to transform research activities by amplifying them and supporting talented trainees that can work on creative, new ideas.”
Does Parkinson’s start in the nose?
Over the years, research has shown more than 80% of people with Parkinson’s disease suffer from a reduced sense of smell — it often occurs years before the onset of typical movement-related symptoms. Understanding those early indicators could help in an early diagnosis for patients.
Recently, a US $9-million grant from the Aligning Science Across Parkinson’s (ASAP) initiative was announced to further explore this idea. The hope is to determine whether scent-processing nerves that connect the inside of the nose to the brain may play a role in the development of the disease. Dr. Schlossmacher is the overall leader of the effort.
Dr. Julianna Tomlinson, the scientific program manager for the international team and co-director of research in the Schlossmacher Lab at our hospital, explains the importance of this study. “For us, this is an incredible opportunity to align efforts around the world, because it brings together scientists previously anchored in the PD field with researchers who heretofore have been working outside the field of Parkinson’s.”
There are eight institutes in five countries collaborating on this global study. It’s a unique opportunity to get answers to questions that scientists here in Ottawa have been asking for quite some time, including what role environmental triggers (other than toxins) play in Parkinson’s disease as they interact with genetics. “Right now, the treatments for Parkinson’s help the symptoms but they do not stop the progression of the disease. If we can identify disease processes at an early stage, then hopefully we will be able to stop or at least slow its progression before it reaches those later stages,” says Dr. Tomlinson.
The Ottawa Hospital leads this international effort
There are five main areas that this interdisciplinary and multinational study is pursuing. Our hospital’s focus is on how the immune system relates to Parkinson’s. Specifically, laboratory models will determine how viruses and bacteria could lead to changes in the body that are linked to pathology that is seen in the diseased human brain. Understanding the function of genes that are linked to Parkinson’s and whether those genes could be functioning in the immune system, rather than just in the brain, will also be explored.
The support of our hospital is instrumental in being able to lead this international effort. “There are so many people who are involved in making this work. It’s a full team effort, including financial officers, publication experts, and colleagues with knowledge in technology transfer,” explains Dr. Tomlinson.
Ultimately, it’s about finding answers for our patients and their family members who are desperately waiting for a breakthrough. As Dr. Schlossmacher explains, that’s why the world will be watching these scientists. “From an innovation and creativity perspective, we are setting the stage as a team as to how complex research avenues could be brought together, where people work collaboratively and constructively. We don’t undermine each other; we really complement each other and enable each other.”
Making the patient connection
For nearly two decades, Kelly McDonald felt there was something physically wrong with her, but even an eventual diagnosis of fibromyalgia in her 30s didn’t provide her with the answers she needed. McDonald, a professional photographer with a sharp eye, always knew something was off. Her stance wasn’t great, she struggled with her posture, and she’d get tired easily. However, solving her health mystery was an ongoing challenge and source of frustration. “You know, people think you’re a hypochondriac,” says Kelly.
It wouldn’t be until 2021, at the age of 52, when Kelly was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. In recent years, she started to develop tremors, her handwriting deteriorated, and she increasingly had a hard time getting her foot properly placed in her shoe. It was at that point, Kelly’s husband convinced her to see her doctor. Soon her right side became stiff and at times, she also felt numb. Kelly thought she was having a stroke.
“I consider myself a Parkinson’s warrior. I want to be a warrior. I want to bring more awareness to this disease, and I want people to be diagnosed earlier.”
– Kelly McDonald
When Kelly met with a neurologist at The Ottawa Hospital, tests revealed she had Parkinson’s — a diagnosis that she, surprisingly, welcomed. “I was just relieved, because I thought I was going to die from a stroke, like my dad did,” remembers Kelly.
Kelly’s father also had suffered from Parkinson’s. Moreover, soon after her diagnosis, she learned even more about her family history, namely that it also had affected the paternal side of her family. She is being cared for by Dr. David Grimes, the Head of the Division of Neurology at our hospital and an expert in movement disorders. It was Dr. Grimes who asked Kelly whether she would be interested in a study known as the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI).
Kelly admits that there were some dark days after her initial diagnosis. But in coming to terms with her new reality, she woke up one morning with a new view on her life. “I decided I have this, let’s do something good. I consider myself a Parkinson’s warrior. I want to be a warrior. I want to bring more awareness to this disease, and I want people to be diagnosed earlier,” explains Kelly.
“A lot of people start to tremor when they’re older, and some people think it’s a disease that only affects older people. But Michael J. Fox was diagnosed when he was 29.”
– Kelly McDonald
She enrolled in the PPMI study to help all those living with a Parkinson’s gene mutation, like her, that don’t realize they have it. It’s not until the shaking begins that the red flag goes up. “A lot of people start to tremor when they’re older and some people think it’s a disease that only affects older people. But Michael J. Fox was diagnosed when he was 29.”
What is PPMI?
PPMI is a landmark study led by The Michael J. Fox Foundation investigating better treatment options and prevention of the disease.
The Ottawa Hospital is one of nearly 50 sites across 12 countries participating in the expansion of the PPMI study. The team at our hospital is recruiting people recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s, who are not yet taking medication to control symptoms, as well as people age 60 and older who do not have Parkinson’s but are living with certain risk factors. Those interested in enrolling at The Ottawa Hospital can find the detailed eligibility criteria and how to contact the study team here. The Ottawa Hospital was the first Canadian study site to recruit participants when the study started to include sites outside the US; the expansion phase of the study means there could be 4,000 participants across all sites by the end of 2023.
“We are proud to be partnering with The Michael J. Fox Foundation and other PPMI site participants, and we are very grateful to the study’s dedicated volunteers who are helping us to move toward a future of disease prevention and better options for those living with Parkinson’s.”
– Dr. Tiago Mestre
Dr. Tiago Mestre is the principal investigator at our hospital, and he explains initial discoveries from this global study have already had an impact. “Early findings have revolutionized the understanding of Parkinson’s biology and the design of clinical trials testing potential new treatments, but there is much more to uncover. We are proud to be partnering with The Michael J. Fox Foundation and other PPMI site participants, and we are very grateful to the study’s dedicated volunteers who are helping us to move toward a future of disease prevention and better options for those living with Parkinson’s.”
Kelly joined the study mid-2021 and she’ll be monitored for 13 years. She says it’s been an amazing experience so far and she’d encourage others to consider joining. “Not only do you gain information about yourself and current information on your condition, but a study like this can help other people in the future. It also seems like Parkinson’s runs in my family. I could learn important information that could help my sister or my niece.” says Kelly.
For now, she’s looking ahead and doesn’t lose focus, whether it’s on her photography or as a warrior combatting Parkinson’s.
How can I support Parkinson’s research at The Ottawa Hospital?
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.
Originally published: January, 2022
When Owen Snider faced the news that his lymphoma had returned for the third time in ten years, he knew his options were running out. But a transformational new treatment known as CAR-T therapy gave him renewed hope. The Ottawa Hospital was recruiting patients for a clinical trial investigating a made-in-Canada approach to this cutting-edge treatment. He just needed to qualify for the trial.
In 2010, Owen was diagnosed with large B-cell lymphoma. In his early 60s at the time, he went through a chemotherapy treatment known as R-CHOP. For most people, it lasts 18 weeks. “It was a rigorous treatment. I got through it okay and was six years clear, but then it came back — the lymphoma returned in 2016,” says Owen.
When the cancer returned, his care team at The Ottawa Hospital vetted him for a stem cell transplant. By the summer of that year, he went through what he called an intensive program using his own stem cells. A high dose of chemotherapy was used to remove harmful immune cells in preparation for the transplant of his own healthy cells. “It’s pretty brutal, and after two or three months of wishing maybe I wasn’t around, things improved. I was clear for another four years.”
“I was given five or six months to live. My wife and I were downhearted with that news.”— Owen Snider
Lymphoma returns for a third time
Following his stem cell transplant, Owen remained healthy for four years, enjoying retirement at his home in a beautiful, wooded area near Calabogie, where he lives with his wife, Judith Snider. But then Owen faced his biggest challenge yet when the lymphoma returned — again. This time, the diagnosis came in May 2020, in the midst of the pandemic. “I remember my oncologist saying they’ve done pretty much everything they could. I was given five or six months to live. My wife and I were downhearted with that news. I was basically going to be kept as comfortable as possible for six months,” remembers Owen.
However, one week later Owen received a lifeline. His oncologist called to say a CAR-T therapy clinical trial had opened at The Ottawa Hospital — a Canadian first. They wanted to see if he would be a good candidate. Throughout June of 2020, he went through a battery of tests and scans to see if he qualified for the trial.
“This type of immunotherapy research is groundbreaking, and it’s never been done in Canada before.”– Dr. Natasha Kekre
By mid-June, Owen got the green light. He was a candidate for the clinical trial, and didn’t hesitate to enroll. “I either participate in the trial or I lie around here for four or five months waiting for the end. Which choice would you have made? The positive way to put it is that I was very excited to be a part of the trial. We’re the kind of people where the glass is always half-full,” explains Owen.
What is CAR-T therapy?
CAR T-cell therapy is a type of immune therapy that is an emerging biotherapeutic treatment that harnesses the power of a patient’s own immune cells, known as T-cells, to treat their cancer. T-cells play a critical role by killing abnormal cells, such as cells infected by germs or cancer cells. In some cancers, like lymphoma or leukemia, cancerous cells become invisible to the T-cells that are meant to kill them. In CAR-T therapy, the T-cells are collected and reprogrammed in the lab to recognize and destroy the cancerous cells.
Dr. Natasha Kekre is a hematologist and associate scientist at The Ottawa Hospital. She is leading the development of Canada’s first CAR-T research platform in collaboration with the BC Cancer Centre. “This type of immunotherapy research is groundbreaking, and it’s never been done in Canada before. This is a therapy that uses a patient’s own immune system. It’s personalized medicine — it’s very individualized to each patient,” explains Dr. Kekre.
The Ottawa Hospital is one of the first hospitals in Canada to participate in nationally-led CAR-T trials, and as one of Canada’s top research and treatment centres, the hospital is ideally positioned to play a lead role in bringing an innovative CAR-T research program to Canada, and to Canadian patients.
Going for the Pac-Man effect
In late June 2020, Owen went through apheresis which is the process of withdrawing the T-cells in his blood. “They put an IV in my right arm, and ran the tubing through the machine, and the machine processes the blood and pumps it back through the tubing into my other arm. I lay there on the bed for three or four hours, without moving I should add.”
“It’s just like Pac-Man, the modified T-cells ran around in my blood stream, chomping away at the lymphoma.”– Owen Snider
Those T-cells were then sent to a lab in BC, re-programmed, and then returned to our hospital two weeks later. Then the T-cells were re-administered just like a blood transfusion. “It allows for that new immune therapy in these cells to go and find the patient’s cancer cells, attack them, and kill them. And it also stimulates the immune system in that patient to further go attack and fight their cancer,” explains Dr. Kekre.
On July 2, Owen received a PICC line and then went through three days of chemotherapy. Four days later he was re-injected with his T-cells and they got to work. “It’s just like Pac-Man, the modified T-cells ran around in my bloodstream, chomping away at the lymphoma.”
His re-programmed T-cells were specifically looking for cancer cells to kill. Owen would need to wait to find out if it was working.
Did the CAR T-cells therapy work?
One month later, Owen and Judith received some exceptional news. “At my check-up 30 days after getting my T-cells back, I was almost clear of cancer. The scan showed that there was almost nothing left. I was gobsmacked,” he says.
By the three-month mark, Owen says he was as “clean as a whistle.” Eighteen months later, there is still no sign of lymphoma.
For Dr. Kekre, giving patients like Owen new hope for the future is what inspires her. “For the first time, I think in a long time, Owen felt that the lymphoma might actually be disappearing. He’s had multiple scans since then that show the same thing. And so now, I think he’s starting to believe it. And I think that’s the reality of why I do this, because patients like him who had no options before, could soon have the option of CAR-T therapy. That’s what happened for Owen and that’s what we hope will happen for many more patients,” says Dr. Kekre.
What’s next for the clinical trial?
Dr. Kekre and her team are monitoring all patients enrolled in the trial and published preliminary results in June 2022. The purpose of the clinical trial is to provide proof to Health Canada this therapy is safe. “The reality is that we have a data safety monitoring board, which watches for the safety of the trial, and they’ve had no concerns. So, from a safety point of view, we’re very happy with the trial. And that’s why we are still open and we’re still able to enroll more patients,” explains Dr. Kekre.
Download Pulse Podcast today to hear Dr. Natasha Kekre share more about her game-changing clinical trial.
Why is The Ottawa Hospital unique in its CAR-T therapy?
CAR-T therapy needs to be individually manufactured for each patient using the patient’s own cells combined with large amounts of highly pure virus to deliver the chimeric antigen receptors (CAR) gene. The Ottawa Hospital’s Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre is ideally positioned to manufacture the clinical grade virus needed to create CAR T-cells for clinical trials. In fact, we have the only facility in Canada that has produced this kind of virus for clinical trials.
The hope is that one-day CAR T-cell therapy may also be a treatment for a variety of cancers. “The world is watching us,” explains Dr. Kekre. “We’ve had a lot of attention from Denmark, and a few other European countries are reaching out. They believe in a system similar to ours, where patients all have the right to access healthcare. If CAR T-cells are here to stay, they have to be done in a sustainable approach for our patients. And that’s a big part of what we are building — this is only the beginning. And that’s what people are looking at us to see how we do it.”
“Without philanthropy, we wouldn’t have a Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre or a Methods Centre at The Ottawa Hospital, and we wouldn’t be able to do innovative clinical trials like this.”– Dr. Natasha Kekre
This made-in-Canada CAR T-cell research platform will give Canadian patients more access to innovative clinical trials. “Canadian cancer patients shouldn’t have to wait for the research to be done elsewhere but be able to participate in innovative clinical trials here at home,” says Dr. Kekre.
Grateful for each day and philanthropic support for research
Today, Owen appreciates each day and a good quality of life thanks to the clinical trial. He feels strong and can’t wait for the day when he and Judith can travel again — grateful for the lifesaving research. “It was an honour and a privilege to be chosen for the trial.”
He also credits the extraordinary care team and those special moments when he visited the hospital. “I can tell you that I always felt more than comfortable. I felt encouraged by anyone I met. The team on 5 West as we know it, is wonderful. I had an occasion to go back there last spring, and it was like walking back into Cheers — everybody knows your name.”
As a longtime supporter of The Ottawa Hospital, and to see philanthropy play an important role in making this clinical trial a reality, he’s an even bigger advocate for encouraging support for our hospital. “All I can say is that the core funding of hospitals doesn’t provide for some of the innovative and cutting-edge things that go on, or maybe some really specialized piece of equipment. And that’s where the community donor can help and contribute to that effort.”
For Dr. Kekre, philanthropy provides the spark for clinical trials like this, and can help to keep them moving forward. “Without philanthropy, we wouldn’t have a Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre or a Methods Centre at The Ottawa Hospital, and we wouldn’t be able to do innovative clinical trials like this. We need this kind of research to get to a place where all Canadians can benefit from these therapies. Without philanthropy, we would never get there.”
And to Dr. Kekre, her team, and their collective efforts to give more patients hope, Owen has a simple message: “Thank you. The whole program is outstanding.”
About the Canadian-Led Immunotherapies in Cancer (CLIC) research program
The CLIC research program, established in 2016, brings researchers, clinicians and patients from across Canada together to build Canadian expertise and capacity for innovation in the promising field of cellular immunotherapy for cancer, including CAR-T therapy. The first CLIC clinical trial launched in 2019 at The Ottawa Hospital and at BC Cancer, with support from BioCanRx, BC Cancer, The Ottawa Hospital Foundation and the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research. Core facilities and resources supporting CLIC include The Ottawa Hospital’s Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre, BC Cancer’s Conconi Family Immunotherapy Lab, the Ottawa Methods Centre and the Blueprint Translational Research Group. CLIC team investigators include Drs. Natasha Kekre, Harold Atkins, John Bell, Kevin Hay, Rob Holt, Brad Nelson, John Webb, Manoj Lalu, Kednapa Thavorn, Dean Fergusson, Justin Presseau and Jen Quizi.
For decades, Paula Helmer’s lovely voice carried through the alto sections of several Ottawa choirs. But even after her death following a battle with breast cancer, Paula is still managing to be heard — maybe not through song, but through science.
“That’s what Paula was hoping for from all these clinical trials,” says Jeff Christie, Paula’s husband, “that it would move medical science forward.”
“That’s what Paula was hoping for from all these clinical trials, that it would move medical science forward.”—Jeff Christie
Jeff and Paula met in university, both studying economics at the University of Waterloo, and both moving to Ottawa, Paula’s hometown, to work for the federal government in fulfilling careers that would span decades. All the while, Paula continued her passion for choral singing, with St. Timothy’s Presbyterian Church and the Ottawa Choral Society. But Jeff says it was family life that centred everything — children, grandchildren, travel, and the family cottage.
“Five years into retired life, it was discovered that Paula had cancer,” Jeff recalls.
It was a deadly form of breast cancer that had metastasized in her spine and was causing her considerable discomfort. Surgery removed the tumour but couldn’t eradicate the cancer, nor control the pain. That’s when Paula was introduced to Dr. Mark Clemons, a medical oncologist with The Ottawa Hospital.
“We came up with a multipronged plan to not only improve (Paula’s) pain,” Dr. Clemons explains, “but to get her disease back under control.”
“It was patently clear from the first meeting,” says Jeff, “that Dr. Clemons was very capable, competent, and wise. He gained our confidence the first time we met and the treatments he was suggesting for her, they were always so successful. How could you not love the guy?”
A passion to participate in clinical trials
Dr. Clemons is also the lead behind The Ottawa Hospital’s REaCT Program or Rethinking Clinical Trials, launched in 2014 with Dr. Dean Fergusson, senior scientist and Director of Clinical Epidemiology Program, and others. The aim of REaCT is to make enrollment in clinical trials easier, by involving cancer patients and their families every step of the way. Typically, only 3% of patients are involved in trials but with REaCT, that number is closer to 90% since the studies don’t involve extra visits or additional tests. Paula began participating in a series of clinical trials aimed at helping her, but also aimed at improving treatment options for future generations. Jeff says that was her driving ambition.
“Paula played an important role in advancing the treatment of patients across the world.”— Dr. Mark Clemons
“It was really important to her, to both of us,” he says. “There are more treatments out there we haven’t found yet and we are going to find them through clinical trials. If you don’t participate, nobody gets the new treatments.”
Empowered and making an impact
More importantly, Jeff says, Paula’s participation in these clinical trials gave her a voice and made her an active participant in her treatment.
“Paula was always left with the impression that she was in the driver’s seat right beside Dr. Clemons. They listened to her, believed her.”
Dr. Clemons explains that one of the many clinical trials Paula participated in involved looking at how often bone agents should be given for patients with metastatic breast cancer. Traditionally, the treatment is delivered as an injection every four weeks, requiring patients to come to the hospital and spend prolonged periods away from home.
“Paula had a driving ambition to not only improve her own prognosis but also help with the knowledge being gained for future patients.”— Dr. Mark Clemons
“Because of Paula and many other patients involved,” says Dr. Clemons, “we were able to do a trial that showed that an injection every 12 weeks was just as effective and was associated with fewer side effects.” It also added to Paula’s quality of life, allowing the couple to continue to visit the cottage and travel in between those 12-week injections.
“That was a great thing,” says Jeff. “The care we got was supportive of our lifestyle. It allowed us to travel as we had hoped to.”
Paula’s legacy lives on
Sadly, Paula lost her fight against cancer on February 18, 2021. But Jeff is continuing her work, spreading the word about REaCT among friends and colleagues, raising funds to support this critical work that is helping to shape better treatment options for cancer patients around the world.
“I’ve spoken about REaCT in my social circles,” Jeff explains. “I mentioned Paula has participated in at least dozens of clinical trials and benefited from them.”
“It’s fantastic that Jeff is continuing Paula’s legacy,” says Dr. Clemons. “Paula played an important role in advancing the treatment of patients across the world.”
It’s a role that she embraced with the same fervor she approached everything she did in life, whether as an economist, a wife, a mother, and yes, even a singer.
“There are more treatments out there we haven’t found yet and they are going to find them through clinical trials.”— Jeff Christie
Darlene Kulig is an award-winning artist whose paintings are described as bold, joyous, and eye-catching. Born in Ottawa, Darlene now calls Toronto home and brings uniquely Canadian landmarks and landscapes to life through her semi abstracted, spirited art.
When Darlene’s nephew, Craig, passed away in 2016 at the age of 23 from a rare form of cancer, it was a devastating loss for her family. Craig’s father, Bruce Kulig, wanted to do something to keep his son’s memory alive, so he created a fundraising campaign — the Craig Kulig Memorial Fund with The Ottawa Hospital. When Darlene learned about the campaign, she wanted to use her art to have an impact.
Darlene began selling card sets featuring her art, with proceeds donated to our hospital. When the pandemic hit, her campaign took a different twist. She created beautiful masks, and once again a portion of the sales would support the memorial fund.
Today, Craig’s memory lives on through the countless people who have supported his memorial fund and the impact their philanthropy is having on cancer research. The research will help other patients and their families – just as Craig’s family had hoped.
“I believe our fundraising efforts are going to make a difference. It is our hope that other individuals and families can and will have better outcomes.”
— Darlene Kulig
Q: What inspired you to fundraise for The Ottawa Hospital?
A: In 2016, we lost our dear nephew Craig Kulig, at the age of 23, to an aggressive form of rare cancer. Craig received wonderful and compassionate care from the team of doctors and nurses at The Ottawa Hospital. Since Craig’s passing, it has been my brother Bruce’s goal to raise $100,000 in Craig’s memory.
As an artist and an aunt processing through my grief journey, I felt compelled to create a painting in memory of Craig. I painted Dragonfly Ascending into Twilight which depicts Granite Lake where Craig spent his youth. We donated the large giclee print of this meaningful painting and it now hangs in the oncology department at the hospital.
Q: What is your fundraising all about?
A: Early in the pandemic, I was approached by BYOM, a mask manufacturer, to have my Canadian Landscape paintings printed as fine art face masks. Each artist that was approached was asked to align with a charity, so we created a beautiful line of adult and children’s face masks with all proceeds going to The Craig Kulig Memorial Fund. To date, we have raised over $16,000 through the sale of these masks. We also introduced a beautiful 2022 wall calendar and holiday boxed card sets featuring my art.
“As an artist and an aunt processing through my grief journey, I felt compelled to create a painting in memory of Craig.”— Darlene Kulig
Q: How easy was it to set up a community fundraising event through our Foundation?
A: My brother Bruce set up The Craig Kulig Memorial Fund through The Ottawa Hospital Foundation. It has been a great experience working with their team to promote our masks, continue to raise money for Craig’s fund, and raise awareness for the leading research that is taking place at The Ottawa Hospital.
Q: What might you tell someone who is thinking about donating to The Ottawa Hospital?
A: I believe our fundraising efforts are going to make a difference. It is our hope that other individuals and families can and will have better outcomes. This takes time and much-needed donations. The Ottawa Hospital is a leading research centre that we are proud to be partnered with.