Shelley with her mother, Marcella.

The mother-daughter bond is special. For some, it’s a connection that can rival any close relationship — an unconditional love. That’s certainly the case for Shelley and her mother, Marcella. That relationship was so special that Shelley decided to leave a gift in her will to The Ottawa Hospital — a gift that will ensure the love she has for her mother will live on through future generations of healthcare.  

Both women have experienced care at our hospital for decades, and this gift seemed like a natural way for Shelley to say thank you and help others in the future. “My mom is my inspiration,” she says. 

When Shelley was young, the family was living in Southern Ontario and she was diagnosed with scoliosis — a sideways curve of the spine that is most often diagnosed in adolescents. “I initially was cared for by SickKids in Toronto. I was involved in an experimental treatment, and over time it didn’t work and the condition progressed,” explains Shelley. 

The family moved to Renfrew and as her condition worsened, Shelley was referred to the Civic Hospital in 1983 she was just 13 years old. 

She needed spinal corrective surgery and a spinal fusion. “wasn’t in pain, but because the spine was curving, it pressed on my lungs so I would lose my breath easily. It also caused a visible deformity in my back that could lead to chronic pain in the future, so I didn’t want to go through that,” explains Shelley. 

Early introduction to healthcare

With her parents by her side, she was introduced to Dr. Gordon Armstrong, a renowned orthopaedic surgeon who was well known for his work and innovations in scoliosis treatment, including for children with scoliosis like Shelley. I remember the surgery so well. He had white, white hair and I remember thinking he was old, but he was probably 50,” she laughs.

“He had such an amazing sense of humour and he put me at ease. I remember how kind and how reassuring he was because it was a risky surgery.”

— Shelley

The details of the hospital stay are still vivid for her, despite the fact it was 40 years ago. “I can see the room I was in, along with the nurses and the orderlies. There was one orderly I had a crush on, and I’d ring the bell sometimes, so he’d come back in,” laughs Shelley. 

Once the surgery was complete, this young teen now had rods in her back along with hardware — and she dubbed herself a bionic woman. The surgical technique was new at the time. It was called the Luque Rod method, where specialized wires attach each vertebra around the rods — an extraordinarily delicate procedure, recalls Shelley. 

The success of this surgery allowed her to grow up and have what she describes as a great life thanks to the care she received.  

In her twenties, she travelled through Europe exploring Britain, Scotland, and Wales. But she never forgot the impact Dr. Armstrong had on her life. “I was doing some research recently and I came upon an article about him. I learned he had been awarded the Order of Canada in 2001. It came full circle for me and the impact he had on orthopaedic surgery in Ottawa and patients with spinal issues, like me.” 

A lifetime of care at The Ottawa Hospital

While she did enjoy travelling, she was always drawn back to Ottawa, where she eventually moved — drawn back home to her family and her mom. “I wanted to go into natural medicine, but I developed chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia so I couldn’t continue my career,” says Shelley. “I would, however, need the services of The Ottawa Hospital throughout my life, and my mom did too.” 

Shelley was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2004, and then in 2009, she was admitted to the Civic Campus with sepsis. “I had the most amazing care. It was a type of situation where I could have passed away, but the staff were angels watching over me.” 

And when it came to people watching over her, of course, Marcella was always there for her daughter — lending support through these difficult times. The two women faced health challenges over the years, in fact, they were both diagnosed with celiac disease. However, it was just another way to bond as they would often seek out new gluten-free recipes to make together — they especially liked finding new desserts.

Then in 2020, the family received devastating news — Marcella had cancer. She was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroendocrine cancer. Then, not long afterward, she learned she had esophageal cancer.

“This was all during the pandemic, but the team was ready, and my mom got the care that she needed. They were always there for her,” says Shelley. 

Marcella’s care included chemotherapy and radiation — she pushed through the treatments, but sadly passed away in February 2022 at the age of 77. “She was my best friend. She fought hard — she lived one year and seven months, which was good considering how advanced the cancer was when it was discovered.” 

Marcella all bundled up for a walk the first winter she was on chemo.

A legacy gift in memory of a devoted mother

Living a modest life, Shelley reached out to our Foundation team to ask how best she could create a legacy. She wanted to do something to recognize her mother’s life, her mother’s interests, as well as their special bond. “We talked all the time; it was probably me talking the most — we shared everything. She was my confidante,” says Shelley with a smile. 

After she lost her mother, Shelley started thinking about her own mortality — which was not something she’d done in her 30s and 40s — and what would happen when she was gone. With her lifelong interest in medicine, and considering the years of care our hospital provided not only her mother but also herself, Shelley decided to leave a gift in her will — a gift to honour her mom.  

“My mom is the reason why I want to give to the hospital, because she was always a passionate advocate for patient care and healthcare, even when she was sick,” she says.

“This gift will honour my mom, her life, and her spirit. I always think about my mom when it comes to this gift.”

— Shelley

The future of medicine also inspired Shelley. She reads the regular updates from the hospital and our Foundation about the future of healthcare, and she wants to be a part of that — supporting the next generation of care.  

“The new hospital campus being built is going to be amazing, beautiful, and state-of-the-art. I have a lot of family that live in the surrounding areas of Ottawa, and they come to the hospital for care — some are three hours away,” explains Shelley. “This hospital is serving so many people in such a wide area. I have cousins and second cousins who are having children now, so it’s like I’m helping my family in the future by leaving this gift.”  

Inspired by plans for the new hospital campus and research

Marcella at the General Campus receiving emergency radiation for a tumor on her cervical spine.

When she thinks of the new campus, it also makes her reflect on her stays at the Civic and how different it will be for patients in the future. “The single rooms and places where family can stay overnight, it’s just incredible. I don’t want to be in the hospital in the future, but if I must be, that sounds like the best care and space.” 

The advances in medicine and research happening in her hometown are not lost on Shelley. As someone who’s always had an interest in this field, she keeps up with the latest developments from our hospital, and the impact of the work never ceases to amaze her.  

“Ottawa is a relatively small metropolitan area, but we’ve got this huge hospital and all these world-renowned surgeons, doctors, and researchers right here. So, for me, I think that’s amazing.”

“The Ottawa Hospital is a teaching and research hospital, and that inspires me to give because of the many innovations — so much is on the cusp of discovery and it’s exciting.”

— Shelley

And by leaving this gift, she’s ready to help be a part of the future of healthcare. A decision that is dedicated to her mother — a woman who left a loving imprint on her that will never fade. “Mighty Mouse was my nickname for her — she was tiny, but she was the strongest person I’ve ever known.”