“Exemplary” HIV and prostate cancer treatment spanning decades

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

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

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

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

Excellence in research

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

Today, HIV is no longer a death sentence.

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

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

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

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

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

Helping patients navigate their disease

Dr. Kravcik
Dr. Stephen Kravcik

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minimally-invasive robotic procedure

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

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

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

Preparing for surgeryThe da Vinci Surgical System used in robotic surgeries

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

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

World-class care, right here at home

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

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

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

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

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

More Inspiring Stories

Defying the odds: surviving pancreatic cancer
Sindy Hooper has always been healthy. With no family history of cancer, she and her husband were shocked at the results from an emergency ultrasound at The Ottawa Hospital.
Life-changing cancer diagnosis and treatment inspires donor
After trusting The Ottawa Hospital with his health following a prostate cancer diagnosis, George Knight is now trusting the hospital with his support.
Canadian armwrestling legend wins championship after arthroscopic surgery
Devon “No Limits” Larratt is a Canadian armwrestling world champion in both the left and right arms. But even champions face injury and hardships. Devon’s led him to experts at The Ottawa Hospital.

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.

More Inspiring Stories

Defying the odds: surviving pancreatic cancer
Sindy Hooper has always been healthy. With no family history of cancer, she and her husband were shocked at the results from an emergency ultrasound at The Ottawa Hospital.
“Exemplary” HIV and prostate cancer treatment spanning decades
"Full-person" care and expertise at The Ottawa Hospital helped Lorne Blahut overcome both HIV and prostate cancer.
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.

More Inspiring Stories

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

Three innovative researchers honoured at The Ottawa Hospital Gala

It was a sold-out night at The Ottawa Hospital Gala, presented by First Avenue Investment Counsel, which recognized three innovative researchers.

OCTOBER 26, 2019 OTTAWA, ON – It was a sold-out night at The Ottawa Hospital Gala, presented by First Avenue Investment Counsel, which recognized three innovative researchers. The elegant ballroom of the Westin Hotel was transformed with exquisite décor and a delectable four-course meal, enjoyed by more than 700 guests. It also marked the final gala with Dr. Jack Kitts as President and CEO of The Ottawa Hospital, who will retire in 2020. Guests paid tribute to Dr. Kitts with a standing ovation for his dedication to providing compassionate and world-class care to the Ottawa community through his leadership since 2002.

The Ottawa Hospital Gala celebrated the transformational work of three researchers dedicated to improving care. Congratulations to this year’s three award winners:

Faizan Khan, recipient of the Worton Researcher in Training Award, recognized for his outstanding work on vein blood clots, including a recent British Medical Journal study establishing long-term risks and consequences of clot recurrence.

Dr. Marjorie Brand, recipient of the Chrétien Researcher of the Year Award, recognized for her groundbreaking discovery of how a blood stem cell decides whether to become a red blood cell or a platelet-forming cell.

Dr. Paul Albert, recipient of the Grimes Research Career Achievement Award, recognized for his leadership in Neuroscience, as well as his innovative work on what causes depression and how to treat it.

The Ottawa Hospital is recognized for its world-leading research that attracts internationally recognized scientists and clinicians from around the world. Tim Kluke, President and CEO of The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, emphasized that it’s corporate and individual philanthropic gifts, which make that a reality. “We are privileged to have the support of a generous community which is helping this city advance research to find new hope for patients now and in the future.”

First Avenue Investment Counsel returned as the presenting sponsor of The Ottawa Hospital Gala this year. Kash Pashootan, CEO and Chief Investment Officer at First Avenue Investment Counsel, said it’s a partnership that aligns perfectly. “Innovative research is a necessary investment in the future of health care in our community and we’re proud to fulfill our duty to The Ottawa Hospital. At First Avenue Investment Counsel, we advise families on all aspects of their financial picture including managing their assets to ensure their secure future for them and future generations. Together, we’re laying the building blocks for the future.”

About The Ottawa Hospital: 

The Ottawa Hospital is one of Canada’s largest learning and research hospitals, with more than 1,200 beds, 12,000 staff members and an annual budget of about approximately $1.3 billion.

The focus on learning and research helps to develop new and innovative ways to treat patients and improve care. As a multi-campus hospital affiliated with the University of Ottawa, specialized care is delivered to the eastern Ontario region and the techniques and research discoveries are adopted around the world. The hospital engages the community at all levels to support our vision for better patient care.

From the compassion of our people to the relentless pursuit of new discoveries, The Ottawa Hospital never stops seeking solutions to the most complex patient-centred care. For more information about The Ottawa Hospital, visit ohfoundation.ca.

-30-


More News

For the First Time in 19 Years, The Ottawa Hospital’s President’s Breakfast Goes Virtual
For the First Time in 19 Years, The Ottawa Hospital’s President’s Breakfast Goes Virtual
Nanji Family Foundation steps forward with a match gift of $100,000 for COVID-19 fund
COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund receives a significant boost thanks to the generosity of a $100,000 match gift from the Nanji Family Foundation.
$2.21 million raised through community events in September for The Ottawa Hospital
September resulted in $2.21 million donated to The Ottawa Hospital as a direct result of community support.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Inspiring Stories

Defying the odds: surviving pancreatic cancer
Sindy Hooper has always been healthy. With no family history of cancer, she and her husband were shocked at the results from an emergency ultrasound at The Ottawa Hospital.
Life-changing cancer diagnosis and treatment inspires donor
After trusting The Ottawa Hospital with his health following a prostate cancer diagnosis, George Knight is now trusting the hospital with his support.
“Exemplary” HIV and prostate cancer treatment spanning decades
"Full-person" care and expertise at The Ottawa Hospital helped Lorne Blahut overcome both HIV and prostate cancer.

A new era in breast health at The Ottawa Hospital

The Breast Health Centre at The Ottawa Hospital is committed to providing an exceptional level of care for our patients, approaching each case with medical excellence, practice, and compassion. Our reputation for world-leading research and patient care attracts to Ottawa some of the brightest and most capable health-care professionals in the world who help us deliver extraordinary care to patients in our community.

Making world-first discoveries and pushing the boundaries of breast cancer care and research right here at The Ottawa Hospital

In front of a buzzing crowd of more than 200 generous contributors and tireless allies, the new Rose Ages Breast Health Centre at The Ottawa Hospital officially opened its doors on September 20, 2018. The event marked a thrilling close to an ambitious $14 million fundraising campaign.

Built and equipped through the unfailing generosity of our community, the Centre now houses an impressive suite of technologies that are among the latest and most comprehensive in Canada. Many of them enable more accurate and much less invasive diagnoses and treatments.

But more than just technology, the new Centre was designed as an inviting space to enhance wellness and connection to friends and family. It also allows patients to be closer to the specialists involved in their care, from before diagnosis to after treatment, and beyond. This means, thanks to donor support, more patients can be treated with therapies that are tailored to their unique circumstance.

A comprehensive breast health program to address growing need

The Ottawa Hospital offers a comprehensive breast centre, providing expertise in breast imaging, diagnosis, risk assessment, surgical planning, and psychosocial support.

The consolidation of four breast health centres spread out across the city down to two (the Rose Ages Breast Health Centre and Hampton Park), allow for more centralized services, less travel time, improved patient care and operational efficiencies.

This year alone, another 1,000 women in our region will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Thanks to the generous donor community in the Ottawa region, The Ottawa Hospital is already tackling this growing challenge and working hard to improve every aspect of breast cancer care with innovative research and the very best treatments and techniques.

“Your generosity has improved the largest breast centre in Canada,” said Dr. Seely. “We are now poised to lead the way for excellence in breast health care.”

The creation of REaCT

The Ottawa Hospital’s commitment to innovation and research is revolutionizing clinical trials, improving patient outcomes every day. Though clinical trials offer improved treatment options, less than three percent of cancer patients in Canada are enrolled in clinical trials. Part of the reason for low enrollment is the daunting prospect of lengthy paperwork each patient must fill out before becoming involved in a trial. As well, regulatory hurdles often make opening a new trial too expensive and time consuming. In response to these challenges, in 2014, Dr. Marc Clemons, medical oncologist and scientist, in collaboration with Dr. Dean Fergusson, Director of the Clinical Epidemiology Program, and their colleagues at The Ottawa Hospital, developed the Rethinking Clinical Trials or REaCT program as a way to make the process of enrollment in clinical trials easier and more efficient for cancer patients.

This ground-breaking program conducts practical patient-focused research to ensure patients receive optimal, safe and cost-effective treatments. Since REaCT isn’t investigating a new drug or a new therapy, but rather looks at the effectiveness of an existing therapy, regulatory hurdles are not an issue and patients can consent verbally to begin treatment immediately. By the end of 2017, this program enrolled more breast cancer patients in clinical trials than all other trials in Canada combined. Currently, there are more than 2,300 participants involved in various REaCT trials.

Drs Mark Clemons and Dean Fergusson developed the Rethinking Clinical Trials or REaCT program
Drs Mark Clemons and Dean Fergusson developed the Rethinking Clinical Trials or REaCT program

The Rose Ages Breast Health Centre 2018-2019 stats and facts

  • 49,288 diagnostic breast examinations and procedures
  • 2,397 breast biopsies
  • 5,129 breast clinic patient visits
  • 1,929 referrals to the Breast Clinic
  • 889 diagnosed breast cancer patients

Specialized patient care

Tanya O’Brien

Tanya O'Brien, cancer free for more than five years.

 

Five years ago, Tanya O’Brien received the news she had been afraid of all her life. Like her six family members before her, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Today, Tanya is cancer-free. When she thinks back to the 16 months of treatment she received at the Rose Ages Breast Health Center at The Ottawa Hospital, Tanya credits her dedicated and skilled care team for guiding her through and out of the darkest time in her life.

“We have come so far as a community in changing the narrative of breast cancer. We have given women like me, like us, so much hope,” said Tanya.

Rita Nattkemper

When a routine mammogram identified a small tumour, Rita Nattkemper was given an innovative option to mark its location for the surgery.

 

When a routine mammogram identified a small tumour, Rita Nattkemper was given an innovative option to mark its location for the surgery. A radioactive seed, the size of a pinhead, was injected directly into the tumour in her breast.

For years, an uncomfortable wire was inserted into a woman’s breast before surgery to pinpoint the cancer tumour. Today, a tiny radioactive seed is implanted instead, making it easier for surgeons to find and fully remove the cancer, and more comfortable for patients like Rita.

“It’s a painless procedure to get this radioactive seed in, and it helps the doctor with accuracy,” said Rita.

Marilyn Erdely

At the age of 29, Marilyn had a lumpectomy after receiving a stage zero breast cancer diagnosis.

 

At the age of 29, Marilyn had a lumpectomy after receiving a stage zero breast cancer diagnosis. She was confident she would be fine. But five years later, her cancer metastasized.

“Scans would reveal the cancer was throughout my body. I had significant cancer in the bones, in my femur, in my back, in my ovaries, and in my liver. I was head-to-toe cancer,” said Marilyn.

Oncologist Dr. Stan Gertler gave her hope for recovery. Within six months of her stage four diagnosis, Marilyn required several surgeries. But then things changed. She started feeling better, stronger.

Today, she is down to just a couple of one-centimeter tumours on her liver. Everything else is resolved. The cancer is dormant.

Breast Health Centre Update 2018-2019

More inspiring stories

Annette Gibbons

Annette Gibbons after speaking at The President's Breakfast.

 

‘I walked through my darkest fears and came out the other side.’

It would be a routine mammogram, which would turn Annette Gibbons’ world upside down. The public servant would soon begin her breast cancer journey, but she put her complete trust in her medical team at The Ottawa Hospital.

Vesna Zic-Côté

Vesna Coté imaged at her home.

 

The gift of time with family

Mom of three, Vesna, is living with terminal metastatic breast cancer. She is hoping clinical trials will continue to extend her life so she has more time with those she loves.

International research to find breast cancer sooner

The Ottawa Hospital is one of six sites in Canada participating in the Tomosynthesis Mammographic Imaging Screening Trial (TMIST), a randomized breast cancer screening trial that will help researchers determine the best ways to find breast cancer in women who have no symptoms, and whether a newer 3D imaging technique decreases the rate of advanced breast cancers.

The trial compares standard digital mammography (2D) with a newer technology called tomosynthesis mammography (3D). Conventional 2D mammography creates a flat image from pictures taken from two sides of the breast. With 3D mammography a 3D image is created from images taken at different angles around the breast.

Worldwide the study is expected to enroll around 165,000 patients over five years. With the new, increased mammography capacity at the Rose Ages Breast Health Centre we expect to enroll at least 1500 patients from our region.

Your impact

The Rose Ages Breast Health Centre at The Ottawa Hospital is committed to providing an exceptional level of care for patients, approaching each case with medical excellence, practice, and compassion. The Centre’s reputation for world-leading research and patient care attracts to Ottawa some of the brightest and most capable health-care professionals in the world who help deliver extraordinary care to patients in our community.

You continue to be a critical part of our success as we strive to redraw the boundaries of breast health care. On behalf of the thousands of patients and families who need The Ottawa Hospital, we thank you for your tremendous support and for your continued involvement.

Support from donors like you will ensure that our community has access to the medical advancements that are defining patient care today.

More Inspiring Stories

Defying the odds: surviving pancreatic cancer
Sindy Hooper has always been healthy. With no family history of cancer, she and her husband were shocked at the results from an emergency ultrasound at The Ottawa Hospital.
Fran Cosper’s long-distance recovery from Guillain Barré Syndrome
Long-distance cyclist Fran Cosper and his friends often biked 120 kms on a Saturday. But that changed a year ago when he woke in the night and couldn’t feel his legs. Doctors at The Ottawa Hospital diagnosed him with Guillain Barré Syndrome.  
Long-time volunteer finds himself in a new role during the global pandemic
Mike Soloski is one of the first masked faces you might see upon entering The Ottawa Hospital during the pandemic. His unexpected journey from volunteer to COVID-19 screener is a testament to his desire to make a difference.

Brain tumour diagnosis leads mom down unimaginable path

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

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

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

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

Diagnosis shatters mom’s world

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

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

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

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

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

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

The challenge of non-cancerous brain tumours

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

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

Condition deteriorating

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

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

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

Surgeons ready for complex procedure

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

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

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

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

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

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

Journey continues after remarkable recovery

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

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

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

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

Natasha and her family
Natasha and her family

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

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

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

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

More Inspiring Stories

Defying the odds: surviving pancreatic cancer
Sindy Hooper has always been healthy. With no family history of cancer, she and her husband were shocked at the results from an emergency ultrasound at The Ottawa Hospital.
Fran Cosper’s long-distance recovery from Guillain Barré Syndrome
Long-distance cyclist Fran Cosper and his friends often biked 120 kms on a Saturday. But that changed a year ago when he woke in the night and couldn’t feel his legs. Doctors at The Ottawa Hospital diagnosed him with Guillain Barré Syndrome.  
Long-time volunteer finds himself in a new role during the global pandemic
Mike Soloski is one of the first masked faces you might see upon entering The Ottawa Hospital during the pandemic. His unexpected journey from volunteer to COVID-19 screener is a testament to his desire to make a difference.

Planting platinum seeds to transform treatment

Made-in-Ottawa platinum seeds are improving an already incredibly powerful and precise radiosurgery treatment system for tumours in the head, neck, and organs, such as lungs and liver.

The Ottawa Hospital, The Ottawa Hospital Foundation

 

For tumours in the head and neck, or in organs that move constantly, like the lungs, kidneys, and liver, platinum seeds, about one third the size of a grain of rice, are implanted around a tumour. The seeds improve the CyberKnife robot’s accuracy in delivering precise doses of radiation by helping its software detect and track the motion of the tumour. These made-in-Ottawa platinum seeds are improving an already incredibly powerful and precise radiosurgery treatment system for tumours in the head, neck, and organs, such as lungs and liver.

Click here to read more about platinum seeds.

The Ottawa Hospital, The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, Platinum Seeds, Cancer
Platinum seeds, a third the size of a grain of rice, are improving the accuracy of CyberKnife treatments.

The Ottawa Hospital, The Ottawa Hospital Foundation

The Ottawa Hospital is providing advanced treatment of benign and malignant tumours in inoperable places with state-of-the-art technology for the best possible patient outcomes.

More Inspiring Stories

Defying the odds: surviving pancreatic cancer
Sindy Hooper has always been healthy. With no family history of cancer, she and her husband were shocked at the results from an emergency ultrasound at The Ottawa Hospital.
Fran Cosper’s long-distance recovery from Guillain Barré Syndrome
Long-distance cyclist Fran Cosper and his friends often biked 120 kms on a Saturday. But that changed a year ago when he woke in the night and couldn’t feel his legs. Doctors at The Ottawa Hospital diagnosed him with Guillain Barré Syndrome.  
Long-time volunteer finds himself in a new role during the global pandemic
Mike Soloski is one of the first masked faces you might see upon entering The Ottawa Hospital during the pandemic. His unexpected journey from volunteer to COVID-19 screener is a testament to his desire to make a difference.

From tragedy to triumph

Liam and Rhys White started life in an extraordinary way.

They were born at The Ottawa Hospital on December 22, 2006, three and a half months premature. Rhys was 1 lb 8 oz, his identical twin Cullen was 1 lb 4 oz, brother Liam was 1 lb 10 oz, and his identical twin Daniel was 1 lb 3 oz.

“We knew it was quadruplets when I had the first ultrasound at eight weeks. There were four heart beats,” said Nora Shipton, the boys’ mother. “We had two sets of identical twins born by caesarean section. There was an amazing team of 25 people in the delivery room.”

The boys were born exceptionally early at 26 weeks and two days. Babies born before 35 weeks are considered high risk—their lungs and hearts aren’t fully developed yet.

Specialized Care at The Ottawa Hospital

When the White quadruplets were admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at The Ottawa Hospital’s General Campus, making sure they kept breathing was critical. Liam didn’t need a tube to open his airway but received oxygen through a nose tube instead. The other three boys, however needed to be intubated (a breathing tube needed to be inserted). On top of breathing problems, Rhys and Liam also had heart surgery to correct faulty heart valves and were operated on the same day.

Sadly, despite every effort brother Cullen passed away on January 16, 2007 and brother Daniel two days later.

“The care that we received at the NICU was beyond excellent. The nurses and the doctors were so caring and attentive and helped us through the roller coaster that all NICU parents ride. We will forever be grateful to them for the love and the care that they gave to all of our babies.”      – Nora Shipton

Liam and Rhys at 2.5 months old
Liam and Rhys at 2.5 months old

A Bittersweet Return Home

Liam spent 88 days and Rhys 98 days in the NICU. It was bittersweet for Nora and Rob when Liam and Rhys finally came home.

Three months after losing two of their sons, Nora and Rob White decided that they wanted to give back; to help support the NICU team who had helped Liam and Rhys survive their early entry into the world. Initially, they were inspired to contribute towards a twin water bed that was needed. The boys were in individual water beds but co-sleeping was proven to help healing. They realized, however that the water bed was a one-time gift and preferred something that would continue to give over time, as a need would arise. Nora’s late father, Ralph Shipton, researched Legacy Endowment Funds, it was just the thing they were looking for. The family then created the Cullen James and Daniel Morgan White Legacy Endowment Fund, which would contribute over the long term to meet the endless needs of the NICU.

 

Rhys and Liam Shipton
Rhys and Liams’ first Christmas

 

Rhys and Liam White with large toy doys on their first birthday
The boys celebrate their first birthday

The NICU graduates today

At 13, the boys are active and busy. They enjoy downhill skiing, swimming and camping. Their grandparents own a farm, so they like to go out on their ATVsdrive the tractors and fish. Rhys is a voracious reader and loves swimming. Liam also enjoys swimming and does horseback riding. Like many children, they struggle in math a little bit. They are happy, healthy boys. 

Liam and Rhys on the first day of Grade 7.

Running for a Reason

In May 2020, Liam and Rhys are doing something extraordinary for The Ottawa Hospital NICU. They are running 5kms as a family-team in the Ottawa Race Weekend. On top of doing something fun and healthy, they are running to raise money for the NICU and running for their two brothers Cullen and Daniel, in the hope of keeping future families like theirs together. 

Money that is raised through the Cullen James and Daniel Morgan White Legacy Endowment Fund (aka Preemies 4 Preemies), gets put towards things that the babies need.  It may go towards helping purchase a large item like an incubator or a waterbed, which helps maintain a baby’s body temperature when they come out of the incubator, or smaller items like waterless milk bottle warmers, positioning aids, cell phone sterilizers or kangaroo care chairs. The endowment fund was set up in memory of Cullen and Daniel and it will continue to help other families who will need the latest, most innovative care for their preemies. Thanks to the forward thinking of their grandfather, their brothers’ Legacy Endowment Fund can keep on giving into the future. 

More Inspiring Stories

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

We were in the best hands

Shane and Ellen Ottens have seen their four boys go through their fair share of bumps, bruises and broken bones over the years. However, nothing prepared them for the diagnosis their son, Spencer, would receive in the fall of 2017. 

A parent’s worst nightmare

14-year-old Spencer’s eye became reddish and tearing for more than a week; and this strange blockage was protruding from his nose. Despite repeated efforts, it would not come out.

That’s when Spencer’s mom, Ellen, knew he needed help and they would ultimately end up in CHEO’s emergency department. Doctors ordered a CT scan. It was around midnight; Ellen recalls when the results came in.

“A gravely concerned looking doctor asked me, ‘Did you know that Spencer has a tumour in his head?’”

It was not the news any parent wants to hear. 

The growth, which was protruding from Spencer’s nose, was biopsied. While benign, that tumour was resulting in the quick deterioration of Spencer’s health. When Ellen asked to see the CT scan, she recalls searching the picture for a grape or golf ball sized image attached to a nose growth.  

“I didn’t see any and asked where it was.  ‘It’s the grey area’, the doctor said.” 

The grey area was over half of his face. 

“I didn’t even want to think about what his face would end up looking like after all the cutting they’d have to do to remove so much material, but I had to ask.” 

The doctor revealed the tumour was larger than any he had ever worked with. It was for that reason and the fact it was reaching up to the floor of the brain, he told Spencer’s parents they couldn’t perform the surgery. 

This type of tumour would need a specialized team of an ear, nose and throat doctor along with a neurosurgeon working together.  Ellen recalls thinking she would take her son anywhere in the country to get the help he needed.

Specialized care at The Ottawa Hospital

However, the specialized care was nearby at The Ottawa Hospital. A highly skilled team would perform minimally invasive surgery and remove the tumour through Spencer’s nose.

Just over a week later, with his condition worsening, Spencer was to be admitted to The Ottawa Hospital. He had another CT, an MRI, and the specialized team was monitoring his optic nerve behind his bulging eye to ensure it wasn’t being severed by the growing tumour.

Two days later Spencer underwent a 4-hour surgery, which helped stop 80% of the blood flow feeding the tumour. The remaining 20% would maintain blood flow to his brain.

The next day the highly skilled team, which included Drs. Fahad AlKherayf and Shaun Kilty performed an eight-hour surgery. With expert precision, and state-of-the-art technology, they would remove the large tumour from Spencer’s face and base layer of the brain. They also rebuilt that layer to prevent the fluids that protect the brain from leaking out.   

This minimally invasive surgery, removing the tumour and rebuilding the layer, was performed through Spencer’s nose by Dr. AlKherayf who has the greatest number of surgical hours of training for this procedure in Canada. 

Dr. Fahad Alkherayf, The Ottawa Hospital
Dr. Fahad AlKherayf

 

Dr. Shaun Kilty, The Ottawa Hospital
Dr. Shaun Kilty

A Canadian Medical First  

In order to rebuild the brain layer, 3D printing technology also aided doctors during the surgery. Ellen says its remarkable. “It’s really pretty cool the advancements which have been made to help patients in our community.”  In 2016, The Ottawa Hospital became the first hospital in Canada to have an integrated medical 3D printer.  

Ellen says her initial concerns of recovery completely faded thanks to this minimally invasive technique. “It was incredible. Spencer was home again only three days after surgery!” 

When she thinks back to the fear of the initial diagnosis to where Spencer is today, back at school and active, several thoughts comes to mind. 

I was immensely grateful to God and The Ottawa Hospital, and I truly feel that we were in the best hands.”

 

 

We need your help today to fund innovative research and vital medical equipment to help patients like Spencer get expert help when they need it most.

More Inspiring Stories of #TOHMOMS

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