Published: February 2023
During her 29 years as an elementary school teacher, Pat crossed paths with hundreds of students and their parents. However, there was one family in particular that changed her life.
Having grown up in the Montreal area, Pat attended McGill University where she received her teaching degree. The early days of her career were spent in the classroom before she became a fieldworker who travelled to different schools in her district, conducting workshops on how to use multi-media systems. Back in those days, it was slides and overhead projectors. Pat eventually returned to teaching, and that’s how she met her future husband and the two boys she would eventually adopt as her own.
“I was teaching Robbie in Grade 5, and that’s when I met his dad, John, at a parent-teacher interview. He was a widower — he had lost his wife, and the boys had lost their mother, to cancer. Robbie’s older brother, also named John, was in high school,” explains Pat.
There was a spark, and the couple eventually married. In the early 80s, the family left Quebec and moved to the rural community of St. Eugène, east of Ottawa, where they bought a hobby farm. Pat eventually retired from teaching and opened an antique and craft shop. John, who retired as Vice-President of International Paints Canada, spent his time with horses on the farm. It was a life the couple enjoyed — one filled with fun and laughter. As the couple watched the boys grow into young men — they would soon turn to The Ottawa Hospital for help.
Compassionate care always remembered
The family’s first interaction with our hospital came in 1984 when Robbie was diagnosed with AIDS at age 19. But it would be many years before he would reveal his diagnosis with his family — about two years prior to Robbie’s death, he shared the news with his parents.
“The hospital care team treated him with humour and grace at a time when some people didn’t want to touch or be near AIDS patients. They were wonderful.”— Pat
It was a difficult time for the family, but Pat will never forget how the team cared for their son. “This was the hardest part for me because he had to bear this burden on his own, but The Ottawa Hospital did a fabulous job with Robbie medically. He was on a protocol known as AZT, and he survived longer than most other AIDS patients his age at that time.”
“But Robbie was also a character and was oodles of fun,” explains Pat. “The hospital care team treated him with humour and grace at a time when some people didn’t want to touch or be near AIDS patients. They were wonderful.”
Sadly, Robbie passed away in 1996 at the age of 31. When he died, he was surrounded by love, and to this day, Pat still acknowledges the compassionate palliative care he received at home from Dr. Louise Coulomb.
The Ottawa Hospital impacts each family member
That was just the beginning of the family’s connection to our hospital. After Robbie died, Pat and John Sr. had their own firsthand experiences being cared for at the hospital — mostly from the orthopaedic team. “John Sr. had three knees replaced. I had two knees, and a hip replaced and I’m currently waiting for another hip surgery. I’ve had 13 hand surgeries and multiple foot surgeries. All together, it’s a long list,” says Pat.
Then on July 1, 2015, the family was shocked to learn John Jr. had pancreatic cancer — a devastating diagnosis. In Canada, the five-year survival rate is 10%. Once again, the family turned to the expertise of The Ottawa Hospital, and John Jr. underwent extensive treatment that included Whipple surgery. She credits Drs. Richard Mimeault and Guillaume Martel for saving his life. In fact, Dr. Martel was appointed the first Arnie Vered Family Chair in Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary Research in 2019. This research chair was made possible through generous donations from the Vered Family and other supporters. The goal of the chair is to focus on improving treatment for patients with cancers such as liver, pancreatic, gallbladder, and bile duct.
“My John is alive and well for six years now. He’s a miracle boy. So do you think I owe the hospital something?”— Pat
Later, tumours were discovered on his liver — another devastating blow. His care team performed what’s known as TACE — transarterial chemoembolization — which is a procedure that involves injecting a combination of cancer-fighting drugs and an agent to cut off the tumour’s blood supply. It causes little to no effect on the function of the liver. “My John is alive and well for six years now. He’s a miracle boy. So do you think I owe the hospital something?” says Pat.
Sadly, John Sr. passed away just a few months after John Jr.’s diagnosis and therefore never knew his son had survived.
Family lessons in giving back
Each time a family member needed our hospital, Pat has been deeply grateful for the expertise and compassion she’s witnessed ─ and that’s how she became a donor. Following each experience, she always made an effort to give back. Over the years, she supported the hospital through the Gratitude Award Program and through annual donations.
“Look at what they’ve done for my family. It meant everything to have that care.”— Pat
After her husband’s death in November 2015, Pat began to consider the legacy she could leave for generations to come by leaving a gift in her will to The Ottawa Hospital. “Look at what they’ve done for my family. It meant everything to have that care.”
When Pat reflects on why it’s important to support our hospital, she gives credit to her parents and the lessons they taught her about philanthropy. Those lessons live on in her today. “I may have had the best parents a kid ever had, but my mother was exceptional. My dad was too. They were both teachers and mum said, ‘I can’t afford to give a lot of money, but I can afford to canvass.’ She did a lot of door-to-door canvassing, and always said, ‘It’s our duty to leave the world a better place than we received it.’, so a little bit of that has rubbed off on me.”