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.

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Canadian armwrestling legend wins championship after arthroscopic surgery

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

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

A family affair

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

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

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

 

Military force

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

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

Injury puts dreams on holdelbow xray

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

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

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

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

Specialized technique

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

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

Expertise right here in Ottawa

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

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

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

The potential of stem cells

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

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

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

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

 

Dr. Daniel Coutu
Dr. Daniel Coutu

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

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

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

Becoming a champion again

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

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

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

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

Devon with weights

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

Devon and Dr. Pollock armwrestle

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

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

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Decoding the mystery of Parkinson’s disease
While the exact cause of Parkinson’s disease remains a mystery, dedicated researchers at The Ottawa Hospital are gaining ground—determined to solve the puzzle.

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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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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Nanji Family Foundation steps forward with a match gift of $100,000 for COVID-19 fund

APRIL 29, 2020 OTTAWA, ON – The Ottawa Hospital’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund received a significant boost thanks to the generosity of a $100,000 match gift from the Nanji Family Foundation.

“The Ottawa Hospital Foundation is incredibly grateful to have the support of the Nanji Family Foundation and we look forward to seeing how their gift will inspire others to give,” said Tim Kluke, President and CEO, The Ottawa Hospital Foundation.

The COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund will help patients and staff directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Donations made will be matched by the Nanji Family Foundation and will:

  • support our frontline medical teams
  • purchase specialized protective equipment
  • develop innovative treatments through highly specialized technology
  • contribute to the care and comfort of patients
  • support our scientists and our researchers in their efforts to combat COVID-19

As the pandemic continues to evolve, incredible stories of generosity continue to emerge. Our front-line healthcare team has to adapt quickly and this match gift of up to $100,000 will help to keep them safe, along with our patients. It will also help support the work of our researchers who have joined the global fight against COVID-19. The Nanji Family Foundation has donated a total of $1.6 million to 16 hospitals across Canada in this collaborative effort.

We’re grateful to have the support from our community and thank the Nanji family for their leadership and for inspiring others to give and double their impact.

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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COVID-19: from the frontlines of The Ottawa Hospital

Meet just some of the people from The Ottawa Hospital who are working each day to keep our community safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a time where the public must stay home, essential workers are making their way to The Ottawa Hospital each day. They are here to care for the sickest in our region because after all, other illness and injury won’t take a backseat to COVID-19.

Doctors, nurses, and essential support staff walk through the hospital doors with one goal in mind: to make sure each patient has the best possible care. In the midst of a global pandemic and public fear, these hospital team members also have to find their own way of caring for themselves, their families, and remaining healthy through the difficult times.

They are the calming voice for each patient, whether it’s a surgeon performing lifesaving surgery for your loved one, a nurse administering chemotherapy treatment, or an orderly sharing a smile and kind words to a patient who isn’t able to have visitors at this time.

These are the stories from the frontlines of The Ottawa Hospital.

Preparing for the pandemic

Preparing for COVID-19 is not just about ensuring that The Ottawa Hospital is ready, it’s also about organizing the entire Champlain region of hospitals. That’s where Dr. Andrew Willmore, Medical Director, Department of Emergency Management at The Ottawa Hospital comes in.

Dr. Willmore is also the Incident Commander for the Champlain Health Region. He’s been helping, in partnership with the City of Ottawa, to prepare for an influx of patients who are expected to require hospitalization as a result of COVID-19. That preparation began about four years ago by creating an Incident Management System (IMS) within The Ottawa Hospital.

“This allows us to create mechanisms to flip into an incident mode, which allows us to reorganize how the hospital functions and when we should escalate to a higher level,” explains Dr. Willmore.

When the pandemic started and The Ottawa Hospital was tasked with coordinating the response in the region, an IMS structure was applied to the rest of the region. “This allowed us to implement changes to our care delivery models like opening the COVID-19 Assessment Centre, Care Clinics, as well as a regional staffing and logistics distribution model to ensure departments that are struggling are supported,” explains Dr. Willmore.

Dr. Andrew Willmore leading a huddle at the COVID-19 Assessment Centre

 

“I am so humbled by this role. I have a long day, I look around, and I see everyone who has had just as long of a day. The talent we have in house and regionally is beyond my expectations. It’s really a powerful thing to see come together at the end of the day.”- Dr. Andrew Willmore

The key has been working collaboratively with Ottawa Public Health to flatten the curve. The response of the community has given Dr. Willmore and his team the lead time to implement the plan without the hospitals becoming overburdened. “We’re sprinting to preparedness. We are looking at the whole system as a region. If you don’t have someone zooming out, then it’s very easy to trip over each other.” There’s no tripping in this collaborative effort.

With a long road still ahead, Dr. Willmore stops to reflect on the work he and his colleagues at The Ottawa Hospital are doing during these unprecedented times. “I am so humbled by this role. When I have had a long day, I look around, and I see everyone who has had just as long of a day. The talent we have in house and regionally is very inspiring, and absolutely everyone is engaged. It’s really a powerful thing to see come together at the end of the day.”

Nurses at The Ottawa Hospital COVID-19 Assessment Centre
Staff at the COVID-19 Assessment Centre

 

“Despite physical distancing, I’ve never seen a community come together like this before.” – Kim Hargreaves

Nurses rally together

Kim Hargreaves is a nurse in the medical day care unit specializing in blood cancer. She and her colleagues administer chemotherapy and supportive care for those with blood cancers, such as Leukemia, Lymphoma, Multiple Myeloma, and MDS.

Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, that care must continue for these patients. “In medical day care, we support each other 100 percent. Everybody pitches in,” says Kim.

Kim explains that nurses are being redeployed from other areas of the hospital to provide care to these patients. “Nurses from clinics whose patients are able to meet with their doctors virtually are cross training to come and help our team on the frontlines.”

This dedicated nurse, who is celebrating 31 years at The Ottawa Hospital this year, says all the community support is really helping the front-line team. “When you see those signs, you straighten up your shoulders and you know you’re needed and appreciated no matter how tired you are.” Kim continues, “We are not rushing around like in the Emergency Department or ICU, but we’re providing continuity of care.”

Kim Hargreaves (far right) and her colleagues at The Ottawa Hospital.

In all her years of nursing, Kim has never been so inspired by what she’s witnessing during this pandemic. “Despite physical distancing, I’ve never seen a community come together like this before,” says Kim.

Back from retirement

Within three hours of calling The Ottawa Hospital, Robin Morash was rehired and she was back in her scrubs within days helping patients.

After 33 years as a nurse at The Ottawa Hospital, with many years in management at the Cancer Centre, Robin was two years into retirement when she felt compelled to return. “We were hearing day in and day out just how busy the teams were, and I wanted to help my community.”

Robin Morash, back from retirement

Robin is doing just that by working at the COVID-19 Assessment Centre along with many colleagues and community partners. She says this is exactly what she trained for as a nurse and why she needed to return to work. “It’s a part of who we are. The idea of just sitting back and watching others scurry around, just isn’t us (nurses).”

Nurses ‘get it done’

Alongside Robin at the COVID-19 Assessment Centre is Joselyn Banks, a former clinical manager with The Ottawa Hospital who had just retired in December 2019 after a nursing career that spanned 35 years. When the pandemic hit, she cancelled a trip to Florida and contacted the hospital to find out how she could help.

“I looked at my colleagues and friends — I’m very proud of them. I’m very happy to have helped, in at least this little way.” – Barb Bijman

“For me it was just knowing our community needs help. Knowing the colleagues and friends I have at The Ottawa Hospital must be working crazy hours and I just wanted to be able to come back to help whoever, whenever, and in whichever capacity that I could,” says Joselyn.

Joselyn has been putting her skills to work at the COVID-19 Assessment Centre since the day it opened. She says it’s reassuring to know their work at the centre is having a positive impact. “We’re hearing feedback from many of our colleagues back at the campuses that we’re doing great work and helping to keep people who want to get swabbed out of the Emergency Department. So that’s great as well.” The centre has so far diverted more than 9,000 patients away from the Emergency Departments.

It’s not lost on Joselyn the magnitude of the situation, but she says this is what nurses do. “For us, I think we’re passionate, we’re caring—we’re nurses. We’re doers. Let’s get up and get it done. Let’s go.”

Joselyn Banks at the COVID-19 Assessment Centre

 

The sacrifice of coming out of retirement

It’s not an easy decision to come out of retirement at a time like this. There are sacrifices–Jennifer Smylie knows that all too well.

Jennifer says she made the conscious decision to return to work, knowing she wouldn’t be able to have close contact with her elderly mother. But as a lifelong nurse, it’s what she needed to do. “There is some risk to it, but we’ve done things like this throughout our careers. We weighed the risk and decided this is the right thing to do.”

The veteran nurse, who spent more than 30 years at The Ottawa Hospital, and was most recently a manager in the cancer program before retiring, stepped in to work with the screeners.

Screeners are on hand to greet anyone who enters The Ottawa Hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to keep everything organized and safe, Jennifer answered the call. “I didn’t hesitate, and I thought this is the right thing to do,” says Jennifer.

She explains it’s an important role to keep patients and staff safe. “We make sure anyone who enters the hospital answers the screening questions and they are safe to enter. It’s very busy, but we’re trying to be very compassionate with everyone we screen.”

Nurse Jennifer Smylie at The Ottawa Hospital General Campus

Retired nurse proud to be back

After 34 years working in the ICU at The Ottawa Hospital, Barb Bijman retired from nursing in 2017, but kept her license. Little did she know that she’d need it to lend a hand during a global pandemic.

The decision to return to the frontlines meant giving up time with her grandchildren and elderly mother, but she had to do it. “It’s a nurse thing—we go to help. That’s why so many of us decided to come back from retirement,” says Barb.

Nurse Barb Bijman at the COVID-19 Assessment Centre

 

As her voice cracks from emotion, she acknowledges it’s a stressful time for everyone, both healthcare workers and the public — yet she couldn’t imagine being anywhere else than providing support at the COVID-19 Assessment Centre. “I’m so proud of The Ottawa Hospital, everything it has done. It’s a really good place. I was looking at it from the outside in, at times like the bus crash and now. I looked at my colleagues and friends—I’m very proud of them. I’m very happy to have helped in at least this little way.”

Team at 3D Printing Lab steps forward

As members of The Ottawa Hospital’s 3D Printing Laboratory watched how COVID-19 was unfolding in China and Europe, they saw how some parts of the world were facing dramatic equipment shortages. That’s when Dr. Adnan Sheikh, Director of the 3D Printing Laboratory, reached out to Dr. David Neilipovitz, Department Head of Critical Care to offer help.

Since then, the 3D printing team has been able to think creatively to help protect colleagues who will be caring for patients critically ill from COVID-19. That team also includes Dr. Olivier Miguel and Dr. Leonid Chepelev, both research associates.

Dr. Neilipovitz has 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 allow us to think outside the box and find us solutions to help our patients,” says Dr. Neilipovitz.

It’s a time where colleagues are helping colleagues. “We have developed and adapted multiple designs for personal protective equipment (PPE),” says Dr. Chepelev.

Dr. Chepelev adds the hospital’s 3D printing lab is producing as much quantity as it can handle right now. “We have used our 3D printers to produce the necessary parts such as smaller connectors, respirator mask parts for PPE, ventilator prototypes.” It’s a truly collaborative effort explains Dr. Chepelev, “As printing takes time, the team has been able to use the printers to prototype devices which we then pushed out to production at the various Ottawa 3D printing sites with hundreds of volunteers, or where possible to local plastics manufacturers.”

Dr. David Neilipovitz, Department Head of Critical Care at The Ottawa Hospital

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. Assessing the gear and testing it out to make it reality.”

Changing ways for palliative care

Dr. Miriam Mottiar is an anesthesiologist and a palliative care physician at The Ottawa Hospital. While significant changes have been implemented for her work as an anesthesiologist in the operating room, including suiting up with PPE, it’s the changes she’s seen as a palliative care doctor that pull at her heart.

The COVID-19 crisis has made it very different for patients and their families. “Patients no longer have their family members at their bedside because of the visitor restrictions,” explains Dr. Mottiar. In order to provide that compassionate care, Dr. Mottiar and her team are still trying to help patients and their families connect during these difficult times.

“We are facilitating a lot of phone calls and video chats between patients and their family members. We’re also having more patients request to go home for end of life care, where they may not have been asking for that before, because at home they can have their loved ones with them.” In order to accommodate, Dr. Mottiar works with community partners to help with those requests from her patients, when possible.

She acknowledges these are challenging times for her palliative patients, as it’s not until the final hours of life that a family member can join their loved one in person. She adds, “It breaks my heart a bit as a human and a physician because we’ve had to change the way we practice due to the very significant concerns we have about the virus spreading in our community.”

Dr. Miriam Mottiar

I.T. up for the unprecedented challenge

It was an unprecedented task for the technology team at The Ottawa Hospital. Within three-and-a-half days, the COVID-19 Assessment Centre, a remote, out-of-hospital clinic where patients could be assessed by a healthcare provider and tested for COVID-19, needed to be ready for patients. They made it happen.

Jim Makris, Manager of Networking and Voice Services, says it meant preparing two separate buildings to be connected back to The Ottawa Hospital. “We had to set up a network connection back to the hospital, build a network at the new facility, install wireless access, and we had to deploy our phones as well.” Bottom line, Jim’s team had to make sure the front-line healthcare workers had the same access to The Ottawa Hospital as their colleagues at each campus. “Normally it would take a month to get a facility like this up and running. We did it in two days.”

Brewer Assessment Centre

Swift action made the centre operational. Next Stephen Roos, Manager of Client Services, stepped in with his team to make sure equipment was brought in, set-up, and running efficiently. “In addition, experts trained in Epic, the hospital’s Health Information System (HIS), arrived to provide the nurses on site with the training they needed to make sure all patients’ information was entered into Epic so that they could be made available to patients via a secure process using MyChart. That was an important piece in this process,” adds Stephen.

Both Jim and Stephen acknowledge this was a true partnership between the City of Ottawa and The Ottawa Hospital. It was the city which brought both power and internet access to the buildings allowing the hospital’s team to take over.

The two men are quick to add their unit is humbled to have the opportunity to support the front-line workers. “Yes, things came together really fast for our I.T. team and we worked a few really long and hard days, but the fact the front-line workers are going into work each day, caring for patients—what we did is nothing compared to what they do,” says Stephen.

Keeping the supplies on track

Roman Medzhitov is a Material Management Supervisor at The Ottawa Hospital. It’s a crucial role for him and his team these days.

Roman is responsible for all material supplies, from tissue to linen to personal protective equipment that go through the Civic Campus. He’s in charge of each unit and delivering supplies. “Since the arrival of COVID-19, supplies are the biggest demand,” acknowledges Roman.

Knowing that patient and staff safety is of utmost importance, Roman’s role has changed from a weekly check-in with units, to a 24-hour cycle of communication. “We reconnect every 24 hours to ensure departments are equipped with what they need to keep staff and patients safe. Together, we take an inventory and review the most important items and supplies.”

Roman Medzhitov

The bridge from research to patient trials

When Irene Watpool started hearing about all the different COVID-19 research starting up at The Ottawa Hospital, she knew there would be a need for a bridge between research and the patients. Currently there are more than 50 projects, 14 that received funding thanks to generous donor support.

Irene has been a nurse for over 30 years, and has worked on clinical trials for 23 years with The Ottawa Hospital’s research team. As the program manager for research in the Intensive Care Unit, she acts as the liaison between research and the patients, and knows the gentle way to approach each person and family to discuss patient trials.

 Irene Watpool, middle, with Rebecca Porteuos, right

 

“The role that I have taken on, along with my colleague Rebecca Porteous, is to be the one point of contact for in-patients in the COVID-19 studies,” explains Irene.

Some studies involve having medications, blood work, while others require nasal swabs. Irene and her colleagues are trying to coordinate every detail so that the patients aren’t impacted too much. There are two types of trials involved, one that could potentially benefit the patient through medication or treatments, while other trials focus on future patients and better understanding the disease.

“For more than four weeks, I’ve been approaching almost every COVID-19 positive patient that comes in to see if they would participate in research. It’s actually quite surprising because these people are sick, and the swabs are uncomfortable but the patients are so gracious and willing to participate in research. It’s amazing,” says Irene.

Irene adds patients seem to understand the importance of their role and the research. “They are being very altruistic. You really have a sense they don’t wish the disease on anyone and they’re willing to help.”

As for her team’s role, Irene says she can’t imagine being anywhere else. “I feel privileged to be involved in this.

While we all face uncertainty with each coming day, there is a calming reassurance knowing our front-line healthcare workers are harnessing their knowledge to care for all patients during these challenging times. It’s that care which we will look back on someday, and it will only be then that we realize how instrumental each role was when our community was in need during these unprecedented times.

Donate today to the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund to help patients and staff directly affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

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Mierins family donates match gift to support COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund

Your donation to the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund will be doubled up to $250,000 thanks to a match gift from the Mierins Family Foundation. Your $100 donation becomes $200!

With the COVID-19 global pandemic forcing the healthcare system to adapt quickly, the Mierins family decided they needed to act.

Over the years, the Mierins Family Foundation has been a generous supporter of The Ottawa Hospital. Lisa Mierins says her family experienced firsthand the exceptional care of the hospital when both of her parents required hospitalization, including her father who was on life support twice in the last five years. “Both the Emergency Department and Intensive Care Unit teams were unbelievable. They took good care of all of us, and took us by the hand at a very difficult time.”

That admiration for the care their family received and a desire to improve experiences for all patients during the current pandemic made Lisa and her family want to step forward to create a match donation in support of The Ottawa Hospital’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund. “We have close ties to the hospital because of the way we were treated, like family. They’ve been amazing to us so we wanted to do something in return for them.”

“We realized we needed to do something — we needed to be proactive for our community.” – Lisa Mierins

Match donation

In return, the Mierins Family Foundation will donate up to $250,000 in a match donation to inspire others in the community to come together and give back. Lisa says their family came to this decision together. “We’ve been very blessed in our lives and this is our way to give back to the community at large. We feel this is the most important need right now.”

Arnie and Victoria Mierins

The Mierins Family Foundation was created two years ago. Lisa and her brother, Arnie Mierins, are co-presidents. The team also includes her sister-in-law, Victoria Mierins, and one of Lisa’s sons, Patrick Bourque. Philanthropy is a core value of the Mierins family with their strong desire to support their community.

The Mierins family hopes their match donation will rally and inspire others. They would love to see their family’s $250,000 transformed into a half a million dollars for the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund.

The fund was created to support urgent priorities to help patients and staff directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic by:

 

    • helping researchers as they ramp up their work to contribute to the global fight against COVID-19

    • developing innovative treatments

    • supporting front-line medical teams

    • purchasing equipment and supplies

    • contributing to the care and comfort of patients

 

Like many, the Mierins family is deeply concerned about what’s going on in the world, and that’s why they stepped forward. “We just felt we needed to help the front-line workers. They are putting themselves out there, making a difference, and saving lives. We decided, as a family, that’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to help and encourage other people to help in any way they can.”

 “We have close ties to the hospital because of the way we were treated, like family. They’ve been amazing to us so we wanted to do something in return for them.” – Lisa Mierins

Double your gift today

Lisa adds it’s an opportunity for community members to double their donation and have a bigger impact—no matter what the size of gift. “It can be a $10 donation, which then becomes a $20 donation.” It’s about being able to have an impact at a time when the public is told to stay home, but healthcare workers are going to the frontlines each day—this is a way to give back and say thank you. “I just think about all the doctors and nurses who have given up so much of their time — their dedication is unbelievable,” says Lisa.

For the Mierins Family Foundation, Lisa says doing nothing wasn’t an option anymore. Everybody has a part to play. “We realized we needed to do something — we needed to be proactive for our community.”

Matching gift update

We are happy to report that the Nanji Family Foundation from Toronto have also been inspired to donate a matching gift to The Ottawa Hospital. Their generous offer to match every donation to the COVID-19 Emergency Response fund up to $100,000 will be coupled with the Mierins Family Foundation’s gift to bring the total available for matching to $350,000!

Thank you to the Nanji family for their leadership and for inspiring others to give and double their impact.

Double your donation today, up to $250,000, and support the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund.

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The inspiring women of The Ottawa Hospital

From physicians and researchers to clinicians and nurses, The Ottawa Hospital celebrates the inspiring women who are changing health care. Women at The Ottawa Hospital are trailblazers leading the way to better the lives of each patient and family that walks through our hospital hallways every day.

The Ottawa Hospital is home to some of Canada’s most innovative women leaders in health care. Our female physicians, researchers, and clinicians are blazing the trail, conducting groundbreaking research and providing world-class care.

Dr.Roth Care Environment
Dr. Virginia Roth

While already recognized as a leader in health care and research, The Ottawa Hospital is constantly looking for ways to improve patient care, outcomes, and its performance as an institution. One key element to this success is encouraging women to take on more leadership positions.

Dr. Virginia Roth, The Ottawa Hospital’s first female chief of staff, has dedicated much of her career to not only working on some of the most feared infectious diseases over the last two decades, but also to empowering women in the workplace.

Women empowering women

What started as a dream of becoming a neurosurgeon has grown into a career that has helped shape the lives of many women in our community. Dr. Roth co-founded the Female Physician Leadership Committee to recognize, encourage, and support potential female leaders at The Ottawa Hospital. “Recognizing, supporting, and encouraging these women are the steps we need to really make sure we have the best leaders at the table,” said Dr. Roth.

Since the committee’s inception more than six years ago there has been substantial progress. More female physicians are being recruited, and a higher proportion of physicians and division heads are now women.

“We’re seeing a culture change because the number of women physicians here has been going up,” exclaimed Dr. Roth. “Especially in areas like surgery and emergency medicine where, in the past, we hadn’t seen so many women in those roles.”

Shaping female leaders, now and in the future

Dr. Roth credits Dr. Jack Kitts, former President and CEO of The Ottawa Hospital for his leadership in this regard. With support, mentorship, and training, women in medicine have more opportunities than ever before.

“The tone is set at the top, and if the leaders don’t see this as essential its not going to happen,” said Dr. Roth.

Dr. Roth hopes to inspire more women and guide them toward the pursuit of leadership roles at The Ottawa Hospital.

Meet just a few of the women revolutionizing health care right here in Ottawa – and around the world.

Dr. Kari Sampsel

Medical Director for The Ottawa Hospital’s Sexual Assault and Partner Abuse Care Program

Dr. Kari Sampsel
Dr. Kari Sampsel

As a medical student, Dr. Kari Sampsel wondered if oncology was the right career choice for her. In her first year, however, she was invited to spend time in the Emergency Department for a shift – and she never looked back.

Throughout her training, Dr. Sampsel had the opportunity to work alongside a forensic expert who solidified her interest in clinical forensic medicine, particularly in the care of survivors of sexual assault or intimate partner violence. Today, as the Medical Director for The Ottawa Hospital’s Sexual Assault and Partner Abuse Care Program, Dr. Sampsel has cared for thousands of survivors with compassion and expertise, on what is likely one of the worst days of their lives. “To be the champion for those who have been victimized or have no voice, to get them back on their feet, is extremely fulfilling,” expressed Dr. Sampsel.

 

Being a female physician in this line of work is incredibly unique. “Despite greater than 50 percent of medical school classes being female, the default assumption in medicine is that men are the doctors,” said Dr. Sampsel. “The assumption when I walk in the room is not that I am the senior physician on the team.”

Navigating her place within this structure has been challenging at times, particularly in the arenas of research, leadership, and clinical care. But it’s a challenge she has been willing to face head on. After all, she was raised by strong-minded women. “My grandmother was a staunch feminist before it was fashionable to do so,” said Dr. Sampsel. “My mother forged her own path – staying home to raise her kids during the peak of early feminism, going back to university and completing her degree at age 40, and having a successful career while being an involved, superwoman mother!”

Dr. Sampsel has been fearless in the pursuit of her dreams. She credits several female mentors and friends for inspiring her to have an impact on the lives of patients and hopes that she will do the same for other women.

Dr. Kednapa Thavorn

Scientist and Scientific Lead of the Health Economics Unit at the Ottawa Methods Centre at The Ottawa Hospital.

Dr. Kednapa Thavorn
Dr. Kednapa Thavorn

As a health economist in the Methods Centre at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Dr. Thavorn has one goal: to improve health-care policies, and ultimately, the quality of patient care. She is a well-published researcher and has always found meaning and motivation when her findings have directly impacted and improved decision making for a heightened level of patient care and hospital administration.

Dr. Thavorn believes that as one of only a few women in her position as a health economist at our hospital, she can share and contribute different views and perspectives that might not otherwise be thought of in meetings and committees that often lack diversity.

“I believe that a diverse workforce can help foster creativity and innovation. Different backgrounds, experiences, and ideas can promote healthy discussions that move our hospital forward.” – Dr. Kednapa Thavorn

When asked what her advice is to young female researchers, she expressed the importance of being confident in one’s abilities. “Find good mentors who are willing to share skills and knowledge and provide ongoing support. Building a professional network can offer endless opportunities. Your network can provide additional knowledge and skills that you need to get your job done, do your job better, or get the job that you want.”

Dr. Jessica Dy

Division Head of General Obstetrics and Gynecology

Dr. Jessica Dy
Dr. Jessica Dy

Dr. Jessica Dy has a passion for practicing both medicine and surgery. It’s one of the reasons she loves her role as Division Head of General Obstetrics and Gynecology. As an Obstetrician, Dr. Dy takes pride in being part of a healthy pregnancy and having the opportunity to support expectant mothers and their families. “It gives me great joy to bring new life to the world,” said Dr. Dy, “but also take comfort in the fact that we are saving mothers’ lives every day.”

As a female physician in this field, Dr. Dy can truly empathize with what each woman, and mother, that walks through her door is going through. “I believe my patients appreciate that I can relate to their period pains. Also, being a mother of three myself has certainly given me more confidence when I talk about pregnancy pains, labour, and all the fun things that come with a newborn,” explained Dr. Dy.

Dr. Dy doesn’t shy away from expressing the challenges women face in being physician leaders.

“Women at work are where they are because they worked extra hard to get there. We need to acknowledge and recognize this more.” – Dr. Dy

What advice does Dr. Dy have for young women considering a career in medicine? “It is a very fulfilling career, but you have to be ready to work hard and fight for your spot.”

Dr. Angela Crawley

Scientist, The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Chronic Disease Program

Dr. Angela Crawley
Dr. Angela Crawley

Have you ever considered how the medicine and care so many rely on today is developed? It’s through leaders in research such as Dr. Angela Crawley, who dedicates much of her life researching chronic infections and liver disease. More specifically, she participates in clinically-relevant studies in diseases that affect some of our most vulnerable people.

From a young age, Dr. Crawley’s grandfather, Dr. John Crawley, DVM, PhD, inspired her to take this path. Then, throughout the duration of her career, she was inspired by many other men and women in science, taking lessons and advice whenever possible. As such, Dr. Crawley has marveled at the collective experience of seeing so many amazing women adding to the diversity of our research institutions. “While there are a smaller number of women leaders, resulting in fewer role models to other women to enter and stay in biomedical research,” said Dr. Crawley, “I personally have met many amazing women in my training and career, too many to even list.”

Dr. Crawley feels strongly that all of these women, including herself, have earned their positions in science through hard work and dedication – each making great contributions to their respective disciplines. “Behind that woman is often a whole slew of life’s complexities (e.g. relationships, health issues, children) that are juggled while she achieves and struggles to maintain that level of greatness, to prepare to overcome future obstacles, and achieve more,” expressed Dr. Crawley.

Dr. Crawley is an avid supporter of diversity and gender equality in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ottawa, regularly assisting in workshops on harassment and intimidation for medical students and residents. She has provided recommendations in the recruitment, retention, and recognition of female scientists.

Research careers can be an arduous pursuit, particularly for women. Dr. Crawley is an active role model for many young female research trainees in the University of Ottawa’s graduate studies programs, whom she strongly encourages to pursue their passion and strengths in science, despite its inherent challenges and uncertainties. She is confident that with the appropriate encouragement from effective mentors, you can stand firm and strong in navigating the path to success and that the rest of life’s complexities such as love, and possibly family life, will all fall into place.

Dr. Debra Bournes

Chief Nursing Executive and Vice-President, Clinical Programs

Dr. Debra Bournes
Dr. Debra Bournes

Dr. Debra Bournes never planned to become a nurse, but when the option to go to nursing school presented itself, she jumped at the opportunity. It was during her first job as a nurse that her love for this line of work truly blossomed. It was then that she realized the opportunity and responsibility nurses have to make a significant difference; seeing patients and their families through some of the most difficult times in their lives.

Now, in Dr. Bournes’ current leadership role as Chief Nursing Executive and Vice President of Clinical Programs, she is making a difference in a new way – by creating and supporting local, regional, and provincial systems and processes that help nurses and other health professionals provide personalized and meaningful health care. She works with health-care teams to engage patients and improve their health-care experiences. She also helps create quality work environments where teams feel supported, energized, and inspired to be the best they can be.

Dr. Bournes feels confident in her abilities as a leader and mentor, having had several amazing women as mentors herself who guide her throughout her career. “In my first professional leadership role Dr. Gail Mitchell was my mentor,” Dr. Bournes explained. “She was the Chief Nursing Officer where I worked and she taught me how to be a leader and how to stay engaged with what I was passionate about, even when it got hard, because to see that you are making a difference, even if it is a little bit at a time – is very worthwhile. She also introduced me to Dr. Rosemarie Rizzo Parse, who continues to be a force in my life. Her work fundamentally changed how I relate with people and shaped how I am as a leader.”

Dr. Mary Ferguson-Paré was another source of inspiration for Dr. Bournes. Together, they created a research culture and team that supports growth and innovation in nursing and personalized care. “All of these incredible women continue to be wise presences in my life so that I can do what I do!” said Dr. Bournes.

Though these aforementioned women shaped Dr. Bournes’ leadership style, she continues to be inspired every day by the knowledge and expertise of all of the women who work at The Ottawa Hospital. “It is a privilege to call them my colleagues and to learn from and be challenged by them,” expressed Dr. Bournes. “They all make a difference every day and that is what helps make The Ottawa Hospital an incredible place to work.”

Dr. Jacinthe Lampron

Medical Director, Trauma Program

Doctor in scrubs standing in a hospital emergency room
Dr. Jacinthe Lampron

Dr. Jacinthe Lampron has always had an interest in becoming a surgeon. But it was her deployment to Afghanistan, working in the medical unit with the Canadian Armed Forces, which solidified her interest in trauma. “There, major trauma was a daily event. I realized that with resuscitation and surgical skills, I could make a difference to acutely injured patients.” said Dr. Lampron.

Though her tours in Kandahar fueled her passion for saving the lives of the most severely injured, she credits her supervisor and mentor Dr. Najma Ahmed for sparking her curiosity in this field as a surgery resident. “She definitely inspired me and probably defined my career choice,” exclaimed Dr. Lampron. “Having a mentor is very useful and helps navigate the system we work in.”

Dr. Lampron hopes that she too can act as a mentor and help pave the way for female residents and colleagues to feel comfortable in the pursuit of what interests them the most, regardless of what that may be. “I believe in equal access to opportunity,” said Dr. Lampron. “If someone is interested in a position, the gender should not matter. What matters most is fairness and competency.”

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

Inspired by these women? Support the innovative research and cutting-edge treatments taking place at The Ottawa Hospital.

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A race against the clock – Rare familial ALS gene triggers uncertain future

Karen Lawrence underwent genetic testing that revealed she carries a gene that causes ALS – a disease which took 14 members of her family. She fears, not only for the day she may develop the disease, but that she has passed on this gene to her three sons.

A race against the clock

Karen Lawrence is no stranger to helping those in need. After all, she’s a Clinical Manager of Oncology at The Ottawa Hospital. Her position, largely characterized as providing specialized treatment and care to some of the hospital’s most ailing, has taught her the value of advocating for those in need and raising money for critical research.

Now, sitting with the knowledge that her own body will soon start to deteriorate, she reflects on her life – and the future of her three boys.

An uncertain future

On January 27, 2014, Karen received the results of a genetic test, confirming one of her biggest fears. She is a carrier of a gene that causes amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – a rare disease that gradually paralyses people because their motor neurons, which send signals from the brain to the muscles, break down and die.

As she sits staring at an oversized clock mounted on her living room wall, it seems to take on more significance – each second that passes moves Karen toward her inevitable fate. Like so many family members before her, Karen will too develop the disease. It’s just a matter of time.

“My family has been stricken with the familial form of ALS,” she explains with a pained expression. “I have lost 14 members of my family to this devastating disease, including my father.”

Watching ALS render her father helpless, while keeping his mind intact, was a cruel reminder that today there is no fighting this disease. “There is little hope yet. Today, there is only pain and suffering. Facing an uncertain future, a cure can’t come soon enough,” says Karen.

 

Karen Lawrence sitting at the kitchen table in her home.
Results of a genetic test showed Karen Lawrence carries a gene that causes ALS.

Family ties

No one in Karen’s family realized it at the time. Several members of her extended family were diagnosed with ALS and passed before they connected the dots. It was only once her grandfather, uncle and father were diagnosed that the family started to talk about the fact that it was likely genetic. The women in her family, her aunt and cousins, were diagnosed in their 40’s. The men were diagnosed when they were a little older, but under the age of 60. Once diagnosed, most only survived 12-18 months.

With a 50/50 chance of having the gene, it was never far from Karen’s mind. “It’s like walking around with a target on your back. You’re just kind of waiting,” she said. And she was tired of it – the waiting. That’s when she got tested.

“It’s like walking around with a target on your back.” – Karen Lawrence

“When they told me I had the gene, I was very composed and held it together until I thought of my kids and then I started to cry. That’s when it really hit me. I potentially gave a terminal illness to my children. So that’s very difficult to live with.”

The race is on

When Karen found out that she had the gene, something as simple as dropping a pen, or a small stumble, would have her mind racing to the future.

Karen is aware that it’s just a matter of time before her brain will no longer be able to talk to her muscles. Eventually, she’ll have trouble with her balance, then she won’t be able to walk, then talk and then eat. But her mind will be intact, trapped within her body, while she waits for ALS to take her ability to breathe. Karen has a pretty clear idea of what this will look and feel like, having watched her father go through it just a few years ago.

So, how does she grapple with the thought of such a grim future? She runs – literally. And she raises a substantial amount of money in support of neuromuscular research and care while she’s at it.

Her first ever marathon was in Copenhagen and her second in New York City. More recently, she has participated in The Ottawa Hospital’s Run for a Reason, where alongside her team, she raised funds towards a brand-new Neuromuscular Centre right here in Ottawa.

“The race is on to fund research to find a cure, or to prevent onset before my three beautiful boys are faced with the same agonizing decision of whether to get tested.” – Karen Lawrence

Drs. Jodi Warman Chardon and Robin Parks were instrumental in establishing the NeuroMuscular Centre, which opened in 2018.
Drs. Jodi Warman Chardon and Robin Parks were instrumental in establishing the NeuroMuscular Centre, which opened in 2018.

 

Karen Lawrence, Clinical Manager of Oncology, standing in a hallway at The Ottawa Hospital
Karen Lawrence is the Clinical Manager of Oncology at The Ottawa Hospital.

 

A new Neuromuscular Centre

Thousands of people in eastern Ontario are affected by neuromuscular diseases. Until recently, patients had to travel to Montreal or Toronto to participate in clinical trials to help further research in these diseases. However, Dr. Jodi Warman Chardon noted that The Ottawa Hospital had more than 50 researchers and clinicians working on behalf of people like Karen. Each is working on various aspects of neuromuscular disease – from clinical care to lab research. There was no reason why the most promising clinical trials couldn’t be offered here in Ottawa.

Dr. Warman teamed up with Senior Scientist Dr. Robin Parks, who is conducting lab-based research on neuromuscular diseases. Their dream to have a centre that would bring these experts together in one place caught traction, and in May 2018, The Ottawa Hospital Neuromuscular Centre opened its doors to patients. “What’s exciting is it’s more than just a clinic. It’s a clinical research centre,” said Dr. Robin Parks. “So the idea is to do research and get results that will then feed back to the patient to provide insight into new therapies for them.”

Today, Ottawa is at the global epicenter of neuromuscular research. Equipped with the strongest neuroscience research team in the world, we are well positioned to discover new treatment options and cures, which will change patient outcomes worldwide.

“When a cure is found for this disease [ALS], the chances are it will be found in Ottawa,” said Duncan Stewart, Executive Vice President, Research, The Ottawa Hospital.

Zest for life

Karen does not yet have ALS, so she is not undergoing any treatment. But she remains hopeful that when she develops the disease, she will participate in the Neuromuscular Centre’s clinical trials and benefit from treatment developed at The Ottawa Hospital.

Until then, she tries to not dwell on what lies ahead and instead focuses on her hope for a healthy future for her boys.

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

The Ottawa Hospital Foundation is raising money for research that is revolutionizing the care we provide patients.

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Hope despite aggressive skin cancer diagnosis

Hope because of scientists who never gave up; who were determined to turn the tables on cancer and to create a better chance of survival, for patients like Dan Collins.

Hope despite aggressive skin cancer diagnosis

Diagnosed with a stage 4 melanoma at the age of 62, Dan Collins feared for his life when he learned about the aggressive form of cancer. However, immunotherapy treatment gave him a reason to hold out hope. Dan had hope because of scientists who never gave up; who were determined to turn the tables on cancer and to create a better chance of survival, for patients like him. Hope that a cure is coming.

Discovery of a mass

Four years ago, Dan had been travelling for work, when he started noticing some pain when he’d lean his head back to rest on the plane. He recalls turning to his family doctor to get answers. An ultrasound revealed there was something inside the back of his head that looked like a cyst.

After an initial biopsy, Dan was referred to a surgeon at The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre. Another biopsy revealed the cyst was actually a mass. It was melanoma. “I was scared. Cancer had stripped my family of so much. I lost both of my two older brothers and my father to cancer. I feared for my life,” recalls Dan.

Unfortunately, the mass starting growing – and it was growing fast. By the end of July, just two months later, the mass went from being not visible on the back of his head, to the size of a golf ball.

His surgical oncologist, Dr. Stephanie Obaseki-Johnson, initially wanted to shrink the tumour before surgery to remove it. However, the mass was growing too quickly.

Oncologist Dr. Michael Ong of The Ottawa Hospital in a patient room.
Dan Collins with Oncologist Dr. Michael Ong.

Time to act

On August 11, 2015, Dan had surgery that lasted most of the day. When it was over, he had 25 staples and 38 stitches in the back of his head. As he recovered, Dan was reminded of a saying that helped him through recovery, “Never be ashamed of your scars. It just means you were stronger than whatever tried to hurt you.”

He would need that strength with the news that awaited him. Only two weeks later, the mass was back. His doctors also discovered a mass in his right lung and shadows in the lining of his belly. He had stage 4 cancer – it had metastasized. This was an aggressive cancer that left Dan thinking about the family he had already lost and what would happen to him.

The next generation of treatment

Soon, he was introduced to The Ottawa Hospital’s Dr. Michael Ong and was told about immunotherapy – the next generation of treatment, with the hope of one day eliminating traditional and sometimes harsh treatment like chemotherapy. Dr. Ong prescribed four high doses of immunotherapy. At the same time, radiation treatment began for Dan – 22 in all. His immunotherapy treatments were three weeks apart at the Cancer Centre and between each, he would have an x-ray to monitor the tumours.

“Each x-ray showed the tumours were getting smaller. That’s when the fear started shifting to hope.” – Dan Collins, patient

By December 2015, Dan finished immunotherapy treatment and the next step was to wait. “This transformational treatment was designed to train my own immune system to attack the cancer. We would have to be patient to see if my system would do just that,” says Dan.

While the shadows in Dan’s stomach lining had shrunk, the mass in his lung had not. That’s when Dr. Ong prescribed another immunotherapy drug that would require 24 treatments.

Dan learned from his oncologist that melanoma has gone from being an extremely lethal cancer, with few treatment options, to having many different effective therapies available.

“When I started as an oncologist a decade ago, melanoma was essentially untreatable. Only 25 percent would survive a year. Yet now, we can expect over three quarters of patients to be alive at one year. Many patients are cured of their metastatic cancer and come off treatment. We are now able to prevent 50 percent of high-risk melanoma from returning because of advances in immunotherapy,” says Dr. Ong.

Dan completed his last immunotherapy treatments in September 2017.

Oncologist Dr. Michael Ong posing with armed crossed at The Ottawa Hospital.
Oncologist Dr. Michael Ong of The Ottawa Hospital.

Today, there is no sign of cancer

When Dan thinks back to the day of his diagnosis, he remembers wondering if he was going to die. “I believe I’m here today because of research and because of those who have donated to research before me.”

He thinks back to when his older brother Rick died of cancer in 2007. “At the time he was treated, his doctor asked if he would participate in a research study. The doctor told him directly, this would not help him, but it would help somebody in the future.” Dan pauses to reflect and then continues, “I like to think, that maybe, he had a hand in helping me out today. Maybe he helped me survive. One thing I do know is that research was a game changer for me.”

The Ottawa Hospital has been a leader in bringing immunotherapy to patients. Research and life-changing treatments available at The Ottawa Hospital altered Dan’s outcome and he hopes that advancements will continue to have an impact on many more patients, not only here at home but right around the world.

To support life-saving research at The Ottawa Hospital that helps patients like Dan, please donate today.

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Stem cells may heal lungs of premature babies

Premature babies need extra oxygen and mechanical intervention to breathe but this can damage their lungs, causing a chronic lung disease. A stem cell treatment soon to be tested in clinical trials at The Ottawa Hospital may help heal the lungs of premature babies.

Little Olivia Eberts had oxygen tubes in her nose until after her first birthday. Because she was born prematurely, her tiny lungs were underdeveloped, and she couldn’t breathe without oxygen. Ironically for Olivia, and many premature babies like her, the oxygen that saved her life also damaged her lungs, causing bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), which is like starting out life with emphysema. But a clinical trial at The Ottawa Hospital led by Dr. Bernard Thébaud, which uses stem cells to heal the lungs of premature babies, may be a game changer.

An unexpected early birth

Jamie Eberts was 22 weeks pregnant with twins when she started feeling some discomfort. She arrived at the General Campus of The Ottawa Hospital and was admitted — she was going into early labour.

Thankfully, the doctors and nurses at The Ottawa Hospital were ready for any scenario Jamie, her husband Tim, and the babies faced. Each day, there were gentle conversations about how the babies were doing, the process of delivering them, and the chances of survival. Every hour counted. Then, one of the babies developed an infection and all three lives were at risk — the babies had to be delivered.

Baby in NICU
Baby Olivia in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

“Our babies, Liam and Olivia, were born at 5 a.m. on January 29, 2017, at 23-and-half-week’s gestation. Liam was born first. He was small, red, and didn’t make a sound,” remembers Jamie. Olivia weighed one pound, two ounces and Liam weighed only a few ounces more than she did. Both babies required oxygen and mechanical ventilation to keep them alive. As a result, both developed BPD — the most common cause of death in premature babies.

Sadly, baby Liam passed away a few weeks after he was born while Olivia remained in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at The Ottawa Hospital for nine long months.

Jamie Eberts carrying baby Olivia and her oxygen tank
Jamie Eberts carrying baby Olivia.

 

BPD in Canada

In Canada, 1,000 babies are diagnosed with BPD every year. Often, babies with BPD develop other chronic lung diseases, such as asthma, and many require prolonged oxygen and ventilation. Additionally, they have a high incidence of hospital readmissions in the first two years of life. Babies with BPD often have problems in other organs as well, such as the brain or the eyes.

When Olivia was finally discharged, she went home with an oxygen tank. During the first year of her life, Olivia spent more time in hospital than out.

“Even now, a simple flu that put me in bed for a couple of days put her in hospital and turns into pneumonia. It’s scary,” says Jamie. The doctor told her that with Olivia’s respiratory issues, she may require hospital intervention for the rest of her life.

Lack of treatment options

“Currently there is no treatment for this disease,” says Dr. Bernard Thébaud, a neonatologist and senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital. With that being said, he’s determined to improve the outcome for babies, like Olivia, who have BPD.

 “In the laboratory, we discovered that a particular type of stem cell can prevent BPD or regenerate newborn lungs.” — Dr. Bernard Thébaud

Dr. Bernard Thebaud, neonatal intensive care unit, The Ottawa Hospital
Dr. Bernard Thebaud in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at The Ottawa Hospital.

“Our research uses stem cells, isolated from the umbilical cords of healthy newborns, to prevent the lung injury or even to some degree regenerate a damaged lung in the laboratory. We foresee that these stem cells, given during a certain time during the hospital stay of these babies, could prevent the progression of the lung disease.”

Unlike traditional stem cells that can directly replace damaged cells and tissues, the stem cells that Dr. Thébaud is studying work by producing healing factors that promote regeneration and repair.

Clinical trial offers hope

Dr. Thébaud and his research team are launching a phase I clinical trial to test the feasibility and safety of the stem cell treatment in premature babies. The team is doing everything in their power to make this clinical trial a success, including consulting with healthcare providers and parents of premature babies.

One thing they’ve learned from these consultations is that many parents don’t feel like they know enough about stem cells and clinical trials to decide if they want to enroll their child in the trial. So, Dr. Thébaud and his team created an animated video to explain these concepts and help parents make an informed decision. Parents can share the video with family members if they’d like a second opinion.

Jamie was involved in these consultations and her firsthand experience provided valuable insight to the research team as they planned this project. This is just one example of how researchers at The Ottawa Hospital are partnering with patients and caregivers to improve the quality and success of their research.

Dr. Bernard Thébaud looks at a premature baby in an isolette.
Dr. Bernard Thébaud looks at a premature baby in an isolette.

Dr. Thébaud and his team are now doing a “dress rehearsal” for the clinical trial. “The dress rehearsal lets us test and tweak our tools for approaching parents, including the video, so we know what works best once we’re ready to begin offering the experimental treatment.”

They expect the first treatment will happen early in 2021. If this initial trial is successful, Dr. Thébaud and his team will launch a larger Canadian clinical trial. “This is a critical step towards providing a potential breakthrough therapy that could help premature babies in Canada and around the world,” says Dr. Thébaud.

The made-in-Ottawa clinical trial is supported by The Ottawa Hospital’s Ottawa Methods Centre and Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre, and the Blueprint Translational Research Group.

First trial of its kind in Canada

“Stem cell research is incredibly innovative. Here, we have a very promising, emerging therapy that could prevent lung injury but also improve brain development and eyesight,” says Janet Brintnell, Clinical Manager of the NICU who has seen dozens of premature babies with BPD.

“It’s amazing when you think of what it may be able to do for the quality of life for the child, for their family, and for our healthcare system. It could reduce length of stay, hospital admissions, and improve long-term outcomes. It could help these little ones lead healthier lives.” — Janet Brintnell

“We are the only ones doing this kind of stem cell research in Canada, and there are only a few other teams in the world that are doing this.” — Dr. Bernard Thébaud

Yet, three years ago when Olivia was in the NICU, this treatment wasn’t yet available. Now, Jamie and Tim are self-described “cheerleaders” of Dr. Thébaud’s research and are hopeful for what it might mean for future preemies and their families.

“I believe this is our future,” says Jamie. “When I think about what this could have done for our family, I wonder if Liam could have possibly survived. Olivia may not be facing the delays she’s experiencing today. Even to this day, if we are asked to put Olivia in the trial as an older candidate, we will.”

Jamie also adds the there was an impact from a mental health and financial perspective. “Our oldest child, Jacob, has had a very unusual first four years of his life because of how adaptable he has had to be during these difficult times. As a family, this entire experience has been very challenging financially due to a variety of therapies for Olivia and having to get used to becoming a single income family for several years in order to manage Olivia’s complicated schedule. All of this could have potentially been avoided if Dr. Thébaud’s research were available to our twins.”

A new beginning

Olivia is now a happy, active toddler who loves copying what her older brother Jacob does. Although, she still has BPD, it is increasingly manageable, and she no longer requires supplemental oxygen. While Olivia may suffer respiratory illness her entire life, one day a stem cell treatment developed here in Ottawa could mean that the next generation of babies with BPD won’t.

Jamie Eberts with her daughter, Olivia
Jamie Eberts with her daughter, Olivia.

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

We need your help today to ensure we can provide our smallest patients, like Olivia, with the latest treatment so they can thrive.

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