Published: September 2023

Before January 2008, Georges Gratton and Jeannine Constantin’s family hadn’t needed The Ottawa Hospital. Living in Boucherville, Quebec and then in the Outaouais region of western Quebec, they had always received care at their local hospitals and clinics. But when their grown daughter, Geneviève Gratton, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, she needed specialized care and was transferred to The Ottawa Hospital within one day of her diagnosis. 

Geneviève with her parents, Georges and Jeannine, July 2023

Specialized care for patients from western Quebec and beyond 

This scenario is not unique to Geneviève’s case. In fact, The Ottawa Hospital regularly provides care that extends well beyond the city’s borders, and one quarter of our patients live in a rural area.  

Many patients from the Outaouais region choose to or need tocome to The Ottawa Hospital, particularly the Emergency Department for care, or like in Geneviève’s case, for specialized cancer care that they are unable to access closer to home. In addition to those who travel from western Quebec, patients also come from across eastern Ontario and as far away as Nunavut. At times, people from coast to coast come to our hospital for care they can’t get anywhere else. 

“Our hospital is uniquely positioned to provide care for patients coming to us from far and wide and with a wide range of needs.”

— Suzanne Madore

According to Suzanne Madore, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Nursing Executive, The Ottawa Hospital plays an important role in healthcare delivery in Ottawa and beyond. “Our hospital is uniquely positioned to provide care for patients coming to us from far and wide and with a wide range of needs,” she says. “We have also worked hard to develop multiple collaborative partnerships within the region that provide our patients with access to specialized services.” 

Diagnosis leads to stem cell transplant 

While this was the first time Geneviève needed our hospital, she was grateful to be receiving the specialized cancer care she needed. At the time, she was working as a notary in Quebec and was a busy mom of three young children — aged 9, 6, and 1 — when her spleen suddenly ruptured.  

A month later, she and her husband, Jean-François, noticed she wasn’t healing properly from the surgery to her spleen. She was incredibly weak and pale and was also experiencing a host of other symptoms including red spots all over her body (petechiae), constant nightmares, and fevers.  

Geneviève and her husband, Jean-François, and their children.

“My husband brought me to the Hull hospital on two occasions, and when they were taking my blood during one of those visits, my blood started gushing out like a fountain,” recalls Geneviève. “A hematologist took a biopsy and found out it was leukemia.” 

Within 24 hours, Geneviève was transferred to The Ottawa Hospital where her specialized care began right away.

Family rallies following leukemia diagnosis  

Geneviève with her sister, Julie, in February 2018.

Geneviève’s entire network of family and friends immediately came together to support not only her, but also her husband and her children throughout this ordeal.  

“It was like a net unfolding to protect and support me.”

— Geneviève Gratton

After her initial treatment, her medical team said that she needed an allogeneic stem cell transplant, meaning the stem cells needed to come from a donor, rather using Geneviève’s own stem cells. Fortunately, one of Geneviève’s two siblings, her sister Julie Gratton, was a perfect match, and she didn’t hesitate to donate her own stem cells to help save her little sister. 

“Although I feared the whole thing, I would do the same if Geneviève would need it again. I was reassured by The Ottawa Hospital on the process of what I would have to do to give my stem cells. It wasn’t painful, and I was well treated” says Julie. 

“I would do the same if Geneviève would need it again.”

— Julie Gratton

For Geneviève’s parents, it was a frightening time with a rollercoaster of emotions. They were worried for her and the seriousness of her diagnosis and also deeply grateful that Julie was a match and willing to donate her stem cells. As the transplant date approached, the entire family anxiously waited and hoped for the best.  

Geneviève’s eldest brother overcame his fear of hospitals to spend time with her. He even shaved her head in preparation for treatment.

Stem cell excellence at The Ottawa Hospital 

Thankfully, Geneviève was in the most capable hands. In fact, The Ottawa Hospital is a major centre for the growing area of stem cell transplantation and research and is home to the Transplantation and Cellular Therapy Program, the Sprott Centre for Stem Cell Research and the Sinclair Centre for Regenerative Medicine..  

This expertise paid off. Geneviève’s initial care team included Dr. Mitchell Sabloff, Director of the Ottawa Hospital Leukemia Program, and Hematologist Dr. Jill Fulcher. Following her stem cell transplant on March 29th, 2018, she was cared for by Dr. Natasha Kekre, who was recently named the Research Chair in Advanced Stem Cell Therapy. Dr. Kekre and extended care teams at the General Campus supported Geneviève each step of the way.  

The stem cell transplant was a success, and Geneviève has been in remission ever since.   

In the weeks following the transplant, Geneviève was weak and fragile, so she stayed in with her parents, who had moved into an apartment in the Ottawa area to care for her. Being at home with her husband and children would have been dangerous for Geneviève, since her immune system was still recovering after the stem cell transplant.

Being apart was difficult, but she was fortunate to be in loving care of parents. With their help, she regained the strength she needed for this next step to healing. 

“We wanted to show how thankful we were for what they had done, their kindness and sensitivity in all the care they provided me … My heart was filled with gratitude.” 

— Geneviève Gratton

“On the 100th day after my stem cell transplant, since I had passed the darkest period of my life, my mother and I brought two huge cakes to The Ottawa Hospital — one for the team on Module L and one for the fifth-floor team,” says Geneviève. “We wanted to show how thankful we were for what they had done, their kindness and sensitivity in all the care they provided me since January 2018. My heart was filled with gratitude.”  

Following her stem cell transplant, Geneviève had to go to the hospital daily for blood tests and transfusions, if necessary. The care team became like a little family to her, always making sure she was as comfortable as possible.

“We are infinitely grateful” 

Geneviève post-treatment celebrating her 15th wedding anniversary.

“We want to support the research and care efforts of the hospital and believe that even a small regular donation expresses our support of the hospital.” 

— Georges Gratton

It was the lifesaving care Geneviève received at The Ottawa Hospital that inspired Georges and Jeannine to donate, and they’ve been giving ever since – each month. They want to ensure the hospital has the funds they need to continue providing expert care to patients like their daughter.  

“We want to support the research and care efforts of the hospital and believe that even a small regular donation expresses our support of the hospital,” says Georges. 

Their monthly donations are also a meaningful way to express their deep gratitude for seeing Geneviève beat her cancer and get back to watching her three children grow up. 

“We give to say thank you for the wonderful care Geneviève received,” says Jeannine. “The Ottawa Hospital saved her life, and we are infinitely grateful.” 

Geneviève is now back to work and spending time with her kids, doing the things she loves most, like reading, boating, and walks in Gatineau Park. She’s not only grateful for her health, but also making the best of each day she’s been given. 

In 2019, Geneviève and her husband, Jean-Francois, took their three children on their first family vacation post-leukemia.