Surgeon-scientist Dr. Rebecca Auer is leading a world-first clinical trial that she hopes will protect cancer patients from COVID-19 and other respiratory infections by boosting their immune systems during treatment. The trial was funded in part thanks to donor support to the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund.

“A cancer diagnosis is scary at the best of times, but the pandemic has made it even worse,” said Dr. Auer, surgical oncologist and Director of Cancer Research at The Ottawa Hospital and associate professor at the University of Ottawa. “Cancer patients have weakened immune systems, which makes them more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19.”

At best, a severe infection could delay a patient’s cancer treatment. At worst, it could kill them.

Patients receiving cancer treatments are the most at risk because the treatments further weaken their immune system. This at-risk population is quite large – over 90,000 people received radiotherapy or chemotherapy treatments in Ontario alone in 2019.

“While there are many specific vaccines for COVID-19 in the works, they won’t be available for at least a year. Cancer patients need protection now.” – Dr. Rebecca Auer

Boosting the immune system during treatment

Dr. Auer and her team at The Ottawa Hospital came up with the idea of testing whether boosting cancer patients’ immune systems during their treatment could help prevent COVID-19 and other respiratory infections. In collaboration with scientists at the Ontario Institute of Cancer Research, they explored an immune-stimulator called IMM-101. Then she worked with Canadian Cancer Trials Group at Queen’s University to design and run the clinical trial at nine cancer centres across Canada.

The researchers will recruit 1,500 patients currently receiving cancer treatment to this clinical trial. Patients will be randomly assigned to receive either regular care, or regular care plus IMM-101. This preparation of harmless heat-killed bacteria had been developed as an anti-cancer therapy because it stimulates the immune system. It has already been safely given to 300 advanced cancer patients in earlier trials.

Training the innate immune system

Dr. Rebecca Auer speaks with a colleague
Dr. Rebecca Auer speaks with a colleague (Photo taken before COVID-19)

This trial takes advantage of a lesser-known aspect of the immune system — innate immunity. This first-response arm of the immune system plays a key role in detecting viruses.

Innate immune cells recognize features that are common to many viruses, allowing them to attack viruses the body has never seen before. This is different from the adaptive immune system, which only recognizes viruses the body has already encountered through prior infection or through a vaccine.

The research team hopes that because the IMM-101 treatment can train the patient’s innate immune system, it will help to fight off the COVID-19 virus, in addition to other viruses that cause respiratory infections.

“There is good data to suggest that the reason some people have no symptoms from COVID-19 while others get very sick is their innate immune system’s ability to respond early and quickly to the virus. This made us consider whether we could use an innate immune booster to prevent COVID-19 infections.” – Dr. Rebecca Auer

Based on data from other immune stimulators, it’s likely that this immune-boost would be temporary. But researchers hope it will last long enough to get a patient through their cancer treatments. Once the treatments have ended, the patient’s immune system would return to its regular strength and be strong enough to fight off viruses on its own.

Protection from more than COVID-19

The advantage of this immune-boosting approach is that it could help cancer patients fight off all sorts of viruses while they are undergoing cancer treatments and are at their most vulnerable.

“The treatment we’re using trains the immune system to do a better job fighting the next viral infection,” said Dr. Auer. “It’s not specific to COVID-19, but actually applies to any viral respiratory illness.”

If successful, IMM-101 could also offer benefits to people with other chronic illnesses or compromised immune systems who are similarly at a heightened risk of serious outcomes from COVID-19. It could also help protect people with cancer from other respiratory infections like the seasonal flu.

Preparing for future pandemics

“In 20 years, we’ve had three coronavirus epidemics or pandemics –SARS, MERS and COVID-19—so it’s likely that we’ll see another,” said Dr. Auer.

“We think harnessing innate immunity could be one of our best weapons for fighting COVID-19 and could be easily adapted to tackle future pandemics.” – Dr. Rebecca Auer

Donate today to support promising research and clinical trials like this one.

Cancer patients undergoing active treatment who are interested in participating in this trial should speak with their cancer specialist.

The Ottawa Hospital Foundation provided seed funding for this project through the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, funded by generous donors in the community. Read about other projects that have received funding thanks to donor support and are making a difference in the fight against COVID-19.

Additional funding and in-kind support for this trial have been provided by the Canadian Cancer Society, BioCanRx, the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, The Ottawa Hospital Academic Medical Organization, ATGen NK Max Canada, and Immodulon Therapeutics, the manufacturer of IMM-101.


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

Read about our projects

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy for COVID pneumonia
Innovative prototypes to protect our people
Preventing dangerous blood clots in COVID-19 patients
Leading the way to a common approach for testing strategies in the region
Using big data to find promising drugs for COVID-19
Optimizing the capabilities of virtual care
Enhancing patient care through data and analytics

In the latest round of funding from the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, supported entirely through the generosity of donors, new research, innovation, and care projects have been approved for seed funding and will now get underway. These vital projects are the latest initiatives chosen out of more than 160 ideas submitted to the COVID-19 Ideas Hub.

The Hub was created by the hospital to allow any staff, regardless of background or role, to submit innovative ideas to combat COVID-19. Teams of experts evaluated the feasibility, available funding, and whether the idea could positively impact The Ottawa Hospital, patients, and the community.

The following care, innovation, and research projects have been selected for seed funding which is made possible by the many generous donors who supported the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund – thank you to all who have donated.


Hyperbaric oxygen therapy for COVID pneumonia

Dr. Boet 
Dr. Sylvain Boet

When COVID-19 takes over the lungs, it can feel like you can’t get enough air into your body, no matter how much you gasp. When this kind of COVID pneumonia sets in, the only option is to hook the patient up to an artificial breathing machine (a ventilator), with a tube down the throat (intubation). Unfortunately, only half of people with COVID-19 who require intubation will survive after this invasive, last-resort treatment. Dr. Sylvain Boet and his colleagues believe that hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) may be able to help some people with COVID-19 pneumonia avoid mechanical ventilation and increase survival. HBOT involves placing patients in a pressurized room or chamber so they can breathe 100% oxygen. It can increase the delivery of oxygen to tissues by 10 to 20-fold and can also boost the immune system and help the body fight infections. Small studies in other countries suggest that HBOT may help treat patients with COVID-19 pneumonia, but more research is needed. Dr. Boet and his team will initiate a study of HBOT in people with COVID-19 pneumonia at The Ottawa Hospital, and will work with colleagues around the world to explore the possibility of expanding the trial to other hospitals.

“Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is safe and non-invasive, and our aim is to help COVID-19 patients with pneumonia avoid the need for an artificial breathing machine.”
– Dr. Sylvain Boet, scientist and anesthesiologist at The Ottawa Hospital

UPDATE:
Dr. Boet has assembled a team of national and international experts in hyperbaric oxygen therapy and has carried out a systematic review and a media appearance in support of the study. His team has secured approval from Health Canada and Clinical Trials Ontario and recently applied for over $1.2 million in funding for the study. Funding from the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund provided seed funding for this research project.

Learn more about the research team and the core resources involved.


Innovative prototypes to protect our people

Developing innovative solutions to address staff safety is critical during this pandemic. It is vital that our people have the best tools to support them for the duration of the crisis. This initiative will use seed funding to support the development and testing of prototypes for priority Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), devices, and supplies to support patient care and staff safety.

Some of the projects supported by this initiative will look at developing, piloting and evaluating equipment like a helmet-based ventilation system for patients in respiratory distress, 3D printed custom-fit sterilizable masks and glideoscope blades for fast intubation, and producing N100 masks for Operating Room staff. It will also look at evaluating barrier methods such as a negative pressure COVID box to improve the safety of aerosol-generating medical procedures (such as intubation or suction), and at creating virtual reality educational videos for safe practices in clinical settings, including various treatment scenarios and how to safely put on and remove PPE.


Preventing dangerous blood clots in COVID-19 patients

Dr. Castellucci
Dr. Lana Castellucci

Drs. Marc Carrier, Lana Castellucci and colleagues are contributing to an international clinical trial  to find out whether a high dose of blood thinner can prevent dangerous blood clots in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. About 60 percent of these patients develop blood clots, which can be deadly if they travel to the lungs. Not only can blood thinners prevent clots, there is some evidence that they may also alter the course of a COVID-19 infection by interfering with the ability of the virus to latch onto and invade human cells. Patients hospitalized with COVID-19 already receive a low dose of blood thinner as part of their normal care. The researchers will test whether a higher dose can reduce death, transfer to intensive care or the need for mechanical ventilation. The team will also look at how the treatment affects blood clots and major bleeding. This study will immediately impact the clinical care of patients with severe COVID-19 in 13 sites across Canada as well as at sites in the United States and Europe.

“We know patients with COVID-19 are at higher risk of blood clots, which is why we are looking at ways to protect them,” – Dr. Lana Castellucci, associate scientist at The Ottawa Hospital

UPDATE:
The COVID-19 Emergency Fund has helped this team to participate in two blood thinner studies assessing different dosing of blood thinners in COVID-19 patients. To date, 22 patients have been recruited in the ATTACC trial and one in the RAPID COVID COAG trial, which has only recently been open for recruitment.

Learn more about the research team and investigators involved.


Leading the way to a common approach for testing strategies in the region

In order to enhance the efficiency of COVID-19 testing, more research is needed to better understand the various testing approaches available and in which settings (e.g. hospital-based or community-based) these testing approaches are most effective.

Currently, a variety of testing approaches are being investigated throughout the region by multiple healthcare groups.  Through this project, our hospital will assume a leadership role and create a team that will help to centralize and guide testing strategies adopted across the region.

Having this centralized oversight is especially important to ensuring the safety of healthcare workers, patients, and the public as procedures and surgeries resume.

The team will also develop predictive algorithms for determining the probability of COVID-19 prior to a test being administered and will streamline the use of innovative apps for contact tracing.

Data Dashboard_COVID Cases
A view of just some of the information a real-time active monitoring system can produce.

Using big data to find promising drugs for COVID-19

Dr. Derek MacFadden 
Dr. Derek MacFadden

Dr. Derek MacFadden and his colleagues plan to identify promising drugs to treat COVID-19 by analyzing past data from 3,000 Ontario patients treated for other kinds of coronavirus infections between 2014 and 2018. Once the team identifies which drugs are associated with the best patient outcomes, they will use the same process to see how effective those drugs have been at treating patients with COVID-19. The drugs they identify in this screening process would then be tested in a lab to confirm their anti-viral activity against COVID-19. Drugs that pass this stage could potentially be used in future clinical trials for patients infected with or at risk of contracting COVID-19. Unlike most lab-based drug screening approaches, this big data approach has the benefit of seeing how drugs work in humans infected with the virus, and what dose is needed to be effective.

“By looking at which drugs have been successful at treating past coronavirus infections, we can predict which ones are likely to work against COVID-19,” – Dr. Derek MacFadden, scientist at The Ottawa Hospital

UPDATE:
Researchers are finalizing their analysis, combing through large amounts of data. Once the analyses are finalized, the research team will be publishing their methods and results. The hope is that these results will be a guide for further research.

To learn more about the research team, investigators, and core resources, please visit here.


Optimizing the capabilities of virtual care

The Ottawa Hospital - Virtual Care

To help limit the spread of COVID-19 or any future widespread illness, while also avoiding disruption of care services, it will be essential to explore enhancements of the hospital’s virtual care offerings. With this project, a team will be assembled to evaluate the virtual care initiatives at The Ottawa Hospital.

This initiative will explore topics such as post-discharge virtual care following a surgery, virtual care for populations with chronic illness or disability, adapting ambulatory care to virtual visits, and looking at how virtual options could be used to provide support to our health partners in the community.

Thorough evaluation, including understanding the potential challenges and barriers from the perspective of patients and providers, will be key to determining the feasibility and sustainability of virtual care programs.


Enhancing patient care through data and analytics

Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been a significant demand for COVID-19 data to support a variety of work at the hospital including research efforts, quality improvement activities, and clinical care. This project will see the creation of a common data mart that leverages the data within Epic, the hospital’s digital health network. This will link data at the individual patient level to COVID-19 infection status, demographics, medical history, lab and medical imaging testing, and pharmacy orders.

This initiative will enable projects using data to look at a variety of topics from evaluating treatment protocols in ICU patients to predicting COVID-19 in certain populations. Ultimately, it will enhance the hospital’s ability to support high-quality patient care and our COVID-19 research agenda.


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

Read about our projects

As our researchers move new research projects forward faster than ever in an effort to address COVID-19, donations to the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund continue to provide seed funding to get these vital projects off the ground. Below are some of the new and promising projects approved for support through the second round of funding. Kick-starting these projects would not have been possible without the support of our generous donors — thank you!


Harnessing cancer-fighting viruses to develop a COVID-19 vaccine

Dr. John Bell

Drs. Carolina Ilkow, John Bell and colleagues are harnessing their expertise in making oncolytic (cancer-fighting) viruses to develop a vaccine against COVID-19, in partnership with scientists and clinicians in Canada and around the world. One of the key things they’ve learned is that the best cancer-killing viruses also stimulate the body’s own immune system – in effect, training the immune cells to recognize and help attack the cancer cells.

They have developed a number of viruses that are very good at boosting the immune system and have already been tested safely in people. These viruses will be reengineered by splicing in key genes from the COVID-19 virus to create several candidate vaccines, which would train the body to mount an immune response against COVID-19. They expect this live vaccine will be particularly important for healthcare workers and vulnerable populations, including people with cancer. Once the vaccine is created, large quantities can be made in The Ottawa Hospital’s Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre.

Dr. Carolina Ilkow

“We know that people with cancer who get COVID-19 are much more likely to get severely ill, so we think that working on a vaccine is the best thing we can do right now to help cancer patients.”
– Dr. John Bell


UPDATE:
The research team has developed candidate vaccines and laboratory testing is going well. With funding, the team will be ready to do human clinical trials in the new year.

Creating a new mouse model to study COVID-19 lung disease

Dr. Manoj Lalu

Drs. Manoj Lalu, Duncan Stewart and colleagues are working to develop a mouse model of COVID-19 that mimics the severe lung disease seen in humans.

The lack of good, accessible animal models of this disease is severely limiting research around the world. The COVID-19 virus doesn’t infect regular lab mice very well, and the virus is dangerous to work with because it is so contagious for humans.

Drs. Lalu are Stewart are working with Drs. Carolina Ilkow and John Bell, who are creating a novel hybrid virus that features a key protein from the COVID-19 virus (the spike protein) embedded into a well-studied and safe virus called vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV).

The team will test this hybrid virus in mice that have been genetically engineered to be more susceptible to COVID-19, to mimic the severe lung disease seen in humans.

Dr. Duncan Stewart

To make sure the model is accurate, they will use sophisticated techniques to compare their findings in mice with findings from patients, focusing on effects on the lungs, blood and blood vessels. They will then use this model to test new therapies, including mesenchymal stromal cells.

UPDATE:
A novel hybrid virus (VSV-Cov2-S) has been manufactured by Dr. Ilkow’s lab with high quality and concentration to proceed with testing in our mouse model. Our experts have worked with the uOttawa Animal Care Committee and have successfully obtained ethics approval. Researchers began challenging ACE2 transgenic mice with the virus in December, controlling for time and dose, and assessing lung injury outcomes.


Studying the immune response of COVID-19 patients in the ICU

Dr. Shirley Mei

Why do some people get severely ill and die of COVID-19, while others experience only mild symptoms? Part of the answer may lie in how an individual’s immune system reacts (and sometimes over-reacts) to the COVID-19 virus. Dr. Shirley Mei and her intensive care research colleagues will study this in critically ill COVID-19 patients using the world’s most advanced “single-cell proteomics” technology.

This technology, called CyTOF, will allow the researchers to study up to 60 different biological factors all at the same time from one single cell. The researchers will create a multi-dimensional map of the immune response to COVID-19, showing how it changes over time and how it sometimes goes out of control.

The data will be shared with clinicians and researchers around the world, in order to improve treatment of COVID-19 and save lives.

UPDATE:
Patients participating in this research study will have blood samples taken for a period of 15 days after their enrollment and consent to participate. With approval from the research ethical board, researchers are in the process of recruiting patients into four arms of our study: septic patients in ICU (control cohort), COVID-19 patients in ward (mild disease cohort), ICU patients with severe COVID-19 (severe disease cohort), as well as healthy volunteer (healthy cohort). To date, 34 patients have been recruited with a total of 147 blood samples collected. Pilot experiments to validate the customized immune profiling panel for the mass cytometry (CyTOF) experiment have been completed. This approach will allow researchers to assess the disease progression by using the world’s most advance single-cell proteomics technology.


A balancing act: how to provide regular patient care amid the threat of COVID-19

Dr. Kednapa Thavorn

Dr. Kednapa Thavorn and colleagues will use health administrative data from across Ontario, available through IC/ES, to model the risks of various scenarios for restarting routine clinical procedures in hospitals. Ontario hospitals have postponed many routine clinical procedures in order to preserve resources for COVID-19 patients, but these routine procedures can’t be postponed forever without serious health consequences.

As hospitals contemplate re-staring some routine care, a careful balance will need to be struck between the risks of COVID-19 and the risks of all other preventable diseases and conditions. The model will estimate overall deaths, healthcare costs and other factors for several scenarios, in order to help hospital administrators and policy makers make evidence-based decisions. The model could be adapted for different regions and for different COVID-19 scenarios, including a possible second wave.

UPDATE:
Researchers working on this project have developed a detailed protocol of the study and a model structure for a resource optimization model. They have requested the hospital data required for the model and expect to receive this information in January.


Helping COVID-19 survivors stay healthy

Drs. Sara J. Abdallah and Juthaporn Cowan
Drs. Sara J. Abdallah and Juthaporn Cowan

Drs. Sara J. Abdallah, Juthaporn Cowan and colleagues will study the long-term effects of COVID-19 in survivors, checking in on them three, six and 12 months after they were initially infected. While researchers are beginning to understand what happens in the body during a severe COVID-19 infection, much less is known about the long-term effects in survivors. But based on what is known about other viral infections, the long-term effects could be serious, affecting the lungs, heart and muscles, as well as mental health. Survivors of mild, moderate and severe infections will be included in the study. The researchers will also assess the healthcare resources used by survivors. Results will help improve care for COVID-19 survivors and optimize how healthcare resources are used.

UPDATE:
With support from The Ottawa Hospital COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, researchers set out to understand the medium and long-term impact of COVID-19 on overall health. As of October 31, 2020, 64 enrolled participants completed comprehensive cardiopulmonary testing and important progress has been made in understanding the residual effects of COVID-19 on heart and lung function. As patients continue to be monitored at six and 12-months after COVID-19 infection, our researchers hope that their findings will inform future management strategies for post-COVID breathlessness.


World-first clinical trial aims to protect cancer patients from COVID-19

Dr. Rebecca Auer speaks with a colleague
Dr. Rebecca Auer speaks with a colleague (Photo taken before COVID-19)

Surgeon-scientist Dr. Rebecca Auer is leading a world-first clinical trial that she hopes will protect cancer patients from COVID-19 and other respiratory infections by boosting their immune systems during treatment.

In collaboration with scientists at the Ontario Institute of Cancer Research, researchers will explore an immune-stimulator called IMM-101. The trial will be designed and run by the Canadian Cancer Trials Group at Queen’s University at nine cancer centres across Canada and will recruit 1,500 patients currently receiving cancer treatment.

This trial takes advantage of a lesser-known aspect of the immune system — innate immunity. This first-response arm of the immune system plays a key role in detecting viruses. The research team hopes the IMM-101 treatment will train the patient’s innate immune system to fight off the COVID-19 virus, in addition to other viruses that cause respiratory infections.

The advantage of this immune-boosting approach is that it could help cancer patients fight off all sorts of viruses while they are undergoing cancer treatments and are at their most vulnerable.

The trial has been approved by Health Canada and will run this summer and into the fall. Researchers expect to see preliminary results in about nine months.

UPDATE:
The clinical trial was activated in September and is now open in Ottawa for recruitment. The trial will enroll 1,500 patients across Canada, with approximately 200 patients from Ottawa. These Ottawa patients will be part of the translational study funded in part by the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund.

“While there are many specific vaccines for COVID-19 in the works, they won’t be available for at least a year. Cancer patients need protection now.
– Dr. Rebecca Auer


Read more about COVID-19 research projects that were fast tracked thanks to donor support

Support future projects

The COVID-19 research taking place at The Ottawa Hospital has the potential to transform our understanding of this virus and lead to new ways to prevent and treat it and save lives. This vital research is possible thanks to support from the community. Please consider giving today in support of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund.

To find out more about our COVID-19 research and the many collaborators working to make these projects happen, please visit The Ottawa Hospital’s Research Institute.

Keep checking back for more updates on how donations are being put to work right away and are making a difference in The Ottawa Hospital’s fight against COVID-19. To get regular updates sent directly to your inbox, sign up for our newsletter, Vital Links.


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

At a time when people are staying home to slow the spread of COVID-19, they are looking for ways to do some good in the midst of a global pandemic—to feel like they are lending a helping hand. For some, philanthropy makes them feel like they are being proactive, when almost everything else seems uncertain or out of their control.

Individuals, groups, and businesses are all stepping forward to help our front-line heroes. They are donating money, equipment, time, and food—after all, we’re in this together. Not only are they generously supporting The Ottawa Hospital, but they also hope to inspire others to experience that same good feeling of giving.

“Anything we can do to help our hospital, I want to be a part of it.” George Hanna, Gabriel Pizza

“In times of emergency and stress, the number one priority is to help with those people who are on the frontlines in the midst of this crisis, and The Ottawa Hospital is number one.” – Phil Downey

Gavin Murphy: Activist donor sends a message to the community

The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened community awareness of the vital role played by front-line healthcare workers. For local donor Gavin Murphy, it’s never been more apparent. “I shudder to think where we would be without them today. The healthcare system has gone into uncharted territory as a result of COVID-19 and the need for support has never been greater.”

Gavin is a self-described activist donor. He led by example last year and donated $500,000 to The Ottawa Hospital. He will not waver from his commitment to maintain a publicly funded world-class healthcare system in our city. Gavin will not settle for anything less and he doesn’t think anyone else in our community should either. But that goal comes at a cost that cannot be borne entirely by government. His message is emphatic: Every little bit counts. “Even if you can only donate a few dollars and there’s a million people in Ottawa—that will make a tremendous difference. That’s the reality and that’s what we have to address. We cannot rely solely on the government, which has other validly competing interests to consider, in order to sustain our hospital.”

If he needs to be the messenger to encourage citizens to support The Ottawa Hospital then Gavin will gladly take on this role. “Continuing The Ottawa Hospital’s leadership role in publicly-funded healthcare and research is only possible when those who are in the position to donate actually make those donations be they small or great.”

Jason Zhang: big impact from the Ottawa Chinese Community

Jason Zhang remembers watching the COVID-19 story unfold in China, the country where he was born. He and his friends acted to show their support immediately. When COVID-19 made its way to Ottawa, where he now calls home, he knew he had to act. “This is our hospital. This is our home,” says Jason.

Jason, a Founder and Editor-in-Chief of a Chinese community newspaper -Health Times -published in Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, decided to bring together his network to raise $60,000 for the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, which is used in part to purchase necessary equipment like ventilators and PPE. Never did Jason expect the outpouring of support he’s seen. “We’re already over $100,000!”

In fact, Jason and the Chinese community in Ottawa, including 43 associations, were astounded when they reached their initial goal after only four days of fundraising. They’re just thrilled to be able to give back and make sure The Ottawa Hospital has the right equipment required to care for patients during the pandemic.

When the final number was tallied, Jason and his friends doubled their initial goal, raising over $123,000.

Michelle Gleeson: compassionate care for her father inspires her to give

These are difficult times for families, especially those who can’t connect with their elderly parents. That’s exactly what Michelle Gleeson faced. Her father lives in a nearby retirement home but she’s unable to visit because of COVID-19 restrictions. Instead, they talk by phone every day.

On April 2, Michelle received a call that her father, who is 91 years old and lives with Parkinson’s disease, had fallen ill and needed to go to the Emergency Department at the Civic Campus of The Ottawa Hospital. The news rocked her because she knew she couldn’t be by her father’s side. She soon learned he was in good hands.

“I spoke with the nurse, who put me right through to his doctor, Alena Spacek. The integration of everything at the hospital was phenomenal because they could see all of his previous medical visits. I couldn’t be there to explain everything but all his medical information was at the doctors fingertips,” explains Michelle.

Beyond that, while Michelle couldn’t see the compassionate care he was receiving, she could hear the level of care through the reassuring voice of Dr. Spacek. She called twice to speak with Michelle about her father, letting her know he would be okay, and when he could be released to go home.

She was so grateful and relieved, she needed to say thank you—and that’s when she decided to make a donation to The Ottawa Hospital. “For whoever put a blanket on him when he was cold, for whoever gave him a sip of water, to whoever wheeled him to testing, that’s why I wanted to make a donation,” says Michelle.

While Michelle couldn’t be at the hospital during this challenging time because of visitor restrictions, the care team left her knowing her father was in good hands. “When it all happened, I said a prayer that my dad would be in the hands of kind and caring staff. I cried waiting to hear news. Then, when I spoke to the nurse, I could hear the kindness through the phone. He was in the right spot and he was getting the right care. These are caring, loving people.”

Phil Downey: deep roots and always ready to give

Phil Downey’s family has deep ties to The Ottawa Hospital dating back to his mother, a registered nurse who trained at the Civic Hospital in the early ‘40s. A longtime, generous supporter of The Ottawa Hospital, Phil is always proud to give back—and especially now. “If you have a giving heart, it’s always there. In times of emergency and stress, the number one priority is to help with those people who are on the frontlines in the midst of this crisis, and The Ottawa Hospital is number one,” says Phil

Phil has made a generous commitment to raise $250,000 to The Ottawa Hospital’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund. He acknowledges these are difficult times for many families, but he believes there is a way for everyone to help our front-line workers.

“If you take a few minutes to think about a little thing you can do to help other people, it makes you feel so good inside. At the end of the day, a donation to The Ottawa Hospital not only helps the front-line workers and the team at the hospital, it really helps yourself because it gives you a little relief of the stress you’re under,” acknowledges Phil.

George Hanna: Gabriel Pizza wants to be a part of giving back

George Hanna’s wife, Malake Hanna, had three high-risk pregnancies dating back to 2004, and she received her care at The Ottawa Hospital. After that experience, George remembers going back to the office and telling his staff: “whatever we can do to help our hospital, I want to be a part of it.” That’s how Gabriel Pizza began giving back and saying thank you.

That generous support continues to this day, supporting the front-line workers during COVID-19. “It’s an honour and a pleasure to give back. No matter how many pizzas we send, no matter what we do—it’s not enough to thank them for what they’re enduring right now and what they’re dealing with,” says George.

The President and COO of Gabriel Pizza and his team have delivered pizzas to the COVID-19 Assessment Centre; they’ve made donations to the Emergency Departments at both the Civic and General campuses. It’s the Gabriel Pizza way of saying thank you. “The whole purpose is to send some pizzas to thank them and put some smiles on their faces. We’re all in this together and whatever we can do to help—sending pizza is just a small way of saying thanks,” says George.

After a brief pause, George reiterates, “Anything we can do to help our hospital, I want to be a part of it.”

Hélène Chevalier: my role and my responsibility to give

Like many confined to their homes these days, there’s a feeling of frustration. That’s exactly what has gone through the mind of Hélène Chevalier, even though she realizes staying home is for the best.

However, Hélène concluded that she had her own role to play beyond just staying home. “I feel that it is my role and my responsibility to contribute to The Ottawa Hospital COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, and in so doing, to be part of the solution,” says Hélène.

Hélène truly admires the work she sees and hears about from our hospital. “The employees of The Ottawa Hospital show care, dedication, and professionalism to save other people’s lives, and to find a long-term solution to this pandemic” says Hélène.

She goes on to say, “While doing so, they risk their own lives, they worry about their loved ones, and yet, they keep going. It is for them that I contribute to the Emergency Fund.”

Ryan Carey: tunes for TOH

Music has always been a part of Ryan Carey’s life—he loves strumming on his guitar. He’s been doing more of that these days, as he’s staying home like so many others.

Ryan works at The Ottawa Hospital in I.T. as a part of the Mobile Depot. Recently, he started posting videos on social media of some of the songs he’s been playing at home. The next thing he knew, he was planning a Facebook Live event. “It all came together quickly. I started getting requests for songs on social media. I would record and then post them. Then someone suggested a live show and that’s how this fundraiser took off.”

It was when he and his wife, Teri Wellon, a front-line healthcare worker in our community, were planning it out, that they realized there was an opportunity to raise money at the same time. “The Ottawa Hospital was of course the first place that popped into my head,” says Ryan.

On Saturday, April 25, Ryan went live with people tuning in from B.C. to Newfoundland and Labrador. With a large contingent of family and friends from his home province of Newfoundland tuning in, you could say it was a COVID-19 style kitchen party.

At the peak of the show, 140 people were watching Ryan play and he was watching the donations come in. “It just blew me away. I expected to raise a few dollars, but I never expected it to get as high as it did. I raised $1,105 and I donated $95 separately to make it an even $1,200,” says Ryan.

When he thinks about the amount he raised and supporting his fellow colleagues at The Ottawa Hospital, Ryan says it left him with a good feeling. “It feels very rewarding. It feels great to help the place where I work and where I see all the good happening.”

Jason Cameron: rallies his team at Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission in a unique way

Working from home and being away from colleagues can be challenging for some, especially in light of a pandemic.

Jason Cameron, Vice President & Chief Communications Officer at Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, wanted to do something positive to rally and encourage his staff of 85 while also giving back to the community. In particular, he wanted to support The Ottawa Hospital’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund.

On May 8, he brought his team together via Zoom. It was no ordinary meeting. The majority of his colleagues, including Jason, decided to dress up as a favourite character. The screen was filled with costumes from Captain Hook to Winnie the Pooh, Harry Potter and everything in between. While the costumes were meant to add some levity, the team listened intently to Dr. Kwadwo Kyeremanteng, ICU and palliative care doctor at The Ottawa Hospital share his stories from the frontlines.

“Amidst the anxieties and dangers of the pandemic, my team appreciated a virtual visit from The Ottawa Hospital. Their medical staff were motivated to be at work, innovating new COVID-19 therapies funded by the hospital and local community, and were so thankful for our commitment to stay home,” says Jason.

It was Dr. Kyeremanteng’s compelling story of care during COVID-19 that inspired them to give. “As public servants, we were honoured to raise some funds, and had some fun dressing in costume doing so, to help in the fight against COVID-19,” adds Jason.

The team raised over $1,735 — more than double their initial goal. Thanks to a match donation, their total turned into almost $3,500! It’s gifts like this which helped fund innovation care and research projects at The Ottawa Hospital.

Times of crisis can bring out the best in people, motivating them to step forward and help turn things around for their community. As the COVID-19 crisis hit communities across the country, donors at all levels began to mobilize. The Nanji family decided they needed to act, donating a matching gift of $100,000 in support of the front-line efforts at The Ottawa Hospital to combat COVID-19.

Gulshan and Pyarli Nanji
Gulshan and Pyarli Nanji

The commitment of healthcare workers is what inspired them to give. “Everyone going to work in a hospital today is somebody’s loved one. There has been no other health crisis where we as Canadians have depended so much on the generosity and personal sacrifices of our healthcare workers,” says Mr. Nanji.

Their generous matching gift is directed to the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund and will support The Ottawa Hospital’s front-line and research efforts to fight back against the virus. By positioning the gift as a matching opportunity, they hope to inspire others to give whatever amount they can, even though these are challenging times for everyone. “No amount is too small…This crisis is teaching us how to be a community again,” says Mr. Nanji.

What’s unique about the Nanji family’s gift is that these long-time residents of Toronto made the decision early on to extend their impact beyond their immediate community. When they gave to The Ottawa Hospital they also gave to 16 other Canadian hospitals — a display of Canadian unity at its best.

 “As a family that has benefited so much from Canada over our lifetimes it was important to us to step up when Canada needed us,” says Mr. Nanji. “We have a history of giving to causes close to us, but COVID-19 affects all Canadians and as such, we wanted to do what we could to help all of Canada. My family and I are so proud to help where we can.”

For former hospital President and CEO, Dr. Jack Kitts, this gift is a reminder of the power of collective generosity. “The response from donors to the COVID-19 pandemic was immediate. We’ve heard from supporters, like the Nanjis, from across the country who want to be part of the solution and rally others to join with them. It’s been very inspiring,” says Dr. Kitts.

While The Ottawa Hospital is extremely grateful for this gift, the Nanji family expressed equal gratitude in return. “To the healthcare workers, we are indebted to you beyond words,” says Mrs. Nanji. “We are aware that you have your families to look after, yet you come and look after us and ours.”

To join the Nanji family in supporting The Ottawa Hospital’s efforts to combat COVID-19, and to take advantage of this matching opportunity, please consider a donation today.

Read about our projects

Using lab-grown human tissues to identify possible treatments
Stopping COVID-19 with behavioral science and artificial intelligence
Understanding the challenge of COVID-19 for Ottawa’s most vulnerable people
Mobile reporting of adverse events from a pandemic COVID-19 vaccine
Testing plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients as a possible treatment
Predicting COVID-19 in populations
Repurposing existing drugs and finding new ones

Solutions to some of our greatest healthcare challenges in the midst of the ever-changing COVID-19 pandemic, won’t come from one idea or one person. Innovation will come from a community of researchers, and academics, and also from front-line healthcare workers, support staff, volunteers and patients. To capture ideas for COVID-19 research and patient care innovations, The Ottawa Hospital responded quickly after the pandemic hit and launched the Ideas Hub, and it’s open to anyone at the hospital who has an idea to contribute— big or small. It is in large part thanks to donor support that we can accelerate the implementation of some of these creative ideas across our hospital.

Once ideas are submitted, within days they are triaged to expert teams assigned to evaluate the feasibility and potential impact of each. Coupled with the overwhelming support of our community, many will receive funding, and in turn, spark innovation at our hospital to help keep staff and patients safe as we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

We are thrilled to announce that many of the ideas submitted are already underway at our hospital. Below are just a few of the exciting initiatives right here in Ottawa that will be receiving funding thanks to donor support of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund.


Using lab-grown human tissues to identify possible treatments

Dr. William Stanford
Dr. William Stanford

Dr. William Stanford and his colleagues are using human tissue models to understand why COVID-19 makes some patients severely ill. They also hope to identify and test new drugs that can reduce the severe lung damage that typically kills people with COVID-19. They will rapidly test two cellular pathways involved in causing this lung damage. They will then rapidly screen for drugs that have already been approved by Health Canada and the FDA that are able to block these pathways, and potentially reduce disease severity and death. Their research may also reveal biomarkers that can identify which patients with COVID-19 are most likely to require intensive care.

UPDATE:
Funding provided by the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund was used to put another technician on this project. The research team is looking at acute kidney injury and renal failure in COVID-19 patients. It is highly debated among nephrologists whether the renal involvement is due to primary or secondary effects. Researchers on this project used stem cells to grow kidney-like tissues called organoids in the lab. Using this model, they found that certain parts of the kidney are readily infected by a hybrid virus that mimics COVID-19. These data suggest that the kidney disease experienced by COVID-19 patients is likely due to infection of the kidneys. The team is working with collaborators in Toronto to infect these human kidney organoids with live virus and analyze the impact of the infection.


Stopping COVID-19 with behavioral science and artificial intelligence

Justin Presseau
Dr. Justin Presseau

Dr. Justin Presseau and colleagues plan to use state-of-the-art behavioural science and artificial intelligence to develop an app that can help people reduce how much they touch their eyes, nose and mouth. This T-shaped area of the face known as the T-zone is the main way that the COVID-19 virus gets into the body. Reducing T-zone touching could reduce the transmission of COVID-19, as well as transmission of other infections that pass through the nose and mouth. Most people touch their T-zone 15-20 times per hour, often without realizing it.

The app would help people become aware of this behavior and walk them through possible techniques and training to reduce T-zone touching. This project will involve international experts in machine learning and computer vision, health psychology and behaviour change, and human-centred design and infection control.

UPDATE:
The research team led by The Ottawa Hospital and consisting of international experts in health psychology and implementation science are working on ways to support Canadians to reduce facial T-zone touching. They have identified several considerations that might influence this critical behaviour and the spread of disease. To coincide with flu season, they will be launching a national survey and conducting interviews with Canadians from coast to coast to improve their understanding of T-zone touching to inform the development of an additional protective strategy alongside physical distancing, handwashing, and wearing masks.


Understanding the challenge of COVID-19 for Ottawa’s most vulnerable people

Dr. Smita Pakhale
Dr. Smita Pakhale

Dr. Smita Pakhale and her colleagues will harness the trust and engagement they have built with Ottawa’s most marginalized communities over the last 10 years through community-based participatory action research to examine how COVID-19 has impacted these individuals. Marginalized people who are low-income, homeless, and at-risk of homelessness face numerous social and health inequities that are exacerbated by crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. These individuals face unique barriers when accessing health services and may be last in line for support. Data co-collected and co-analyzed with people of lived experience could lead to the development of better policies and programs to help vulnerable populations during COVID-19 and future crises.

UPDATE:
Since the funding announcement, researchers have completed the ethics approval process, and are now implementing the project at the Bridge Engagement Center (the Bridge), located in Vanier, Ottawa. The team is using a community-based participatory action research approach and have completed selection and training of community peer researchers with lived experience. These peer researchers have helped co-design surveys and interview guides. They are now actively recruiting project participants and collecting data at the Bridge via telephone, ensuring their safety. Preliminary findings are noteworthy, demonstrating more challenges faced by these most-marginalized communities as compared to pre-COVID-19. Researchers aim to complete the recruitment and data collection over the next few months which will also include semi-structured interviews about in-depth experiences during COVID-19, as well as a card-sorting exercise focused on COVID-19 media messaging. This approach ensures that those with limited literacy are still able to share their thoughts and experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic.


Mobile reporting of adverse events from a pandemic COVID-19 vaccine

Dr. Kumanan Wilson
Dr. Kumanan Wilson

Dr. Kumanan Wilson and his colleagues will harness their electronic vaccine-tracking platform CANImmunize to let Canadians report potential adverse events from a COVID-19 vaccine through their mobile device. This will be crucial in ensuring both the safety of a COVID-19 vaccine and enhancing public trust in the vaccine.

The team has already built and tested a proof-of-concept pilot app in partnership with the Canadian Vaccine Safety Network for monitoring adverse events from the seasonal influenza vaccine. This reporting function will be activated for testing during the fall flu season for use by participating employees at The Ottawa Hospital, in preparation for a probable COVID-19 vaccine in 2021.

UPDATE:
The app has been developed and the trial is underway.  This project was featured on CTV National News in November.


Testing plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients as a possible treatment

Dr. Dean Fergusson
Dr. Dean Fergusson

Drs. Alan Tinmouth and Dean Fergusson are contributing to the global effort to determine if plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 (called convalescent plasma) could be an effective treatment for actively infected patients. When someone becomes infected with COVID-19, their immune system develops antibodies against the virus. After they have recovered, these antibodies remain present in their plasma to shield them from possible future infection.

In theory, these antibodies could be transfused into people with an active COVID-19 infection, to help them fight off the virus. The trial will be conducted by the Canadian Transfusion Research Network in collaboration with Canadian Blood Services and Hema-Québec who will collect and test convalescent plasma in adults (CONCOR-1 study) and children (CONCOR-Kids study).

UPDATE:
Proposed treatment: COVID-19 convalescent plasma (CCP) is the plasma collected from individuals who have previously contracted SARS-CoV-2 virus and COVID-19 disease and have developed neutralizing antibodies. The research team has partnered with Canadian Blood Services and Hema Quebec to solicit, collect, prepare and distribute CCP. This is a randomized clinical trial with 59 sites in Canada, three in New York City, one in Israel, and three in Brazil. The first patient was enrolled in May and there are now 425 patients enrolled with over 30 at our hospital. There have been no serious adverse events related to CCP reported to date and 2400 units have been collected and distributed across Canada. The trial will end in June 2021 and dissemination of results will happen in July 2021.


Predicting COVID-19 in populations

Dr. Doug Manuel
 Dr. Doug Manuel

Dr. Doug Manuel and his colleagues in partnership with Ottawa Public Health have created an interactive website (613covid.ca) that predicts various scenarios around the number of hospitalizations and deaths in Ottawa due to COVID-19. The methods they are developing will help advance COVID-19 projections worldwide in addition to helping with local planning. They plan to refine their methods and develop better approaches to predict the effects of different levels of physical distancing. These projections will be invaluable in discussions around easing physical distancing restrictions.

UPDATE:
Funds for this project were used to run the 613covid.ca website. This research team is unique in Canada — and one of the few worldwide — to provide daily, automatically generated covid-19 projections. There have been over 100K views of the projections since it launched in the spring. The program has expanded to include:

  • long-term and short-term projections for cases and hospitalizations.
  • first-in-Canada wastewater surveillance and modelling.
  • SCRiPS – an online calculator that public health experts can use to help develop COVID-19 screening and testing protocols.

Repurposing existing drugs and finding new ones

Dr. Jean-Simon Diallo
 Dr. Jean-Simon Diallo

Dr. Jean-Simon Diallo and his colleagues have developed a novel “bio-sensor” that can identify drugs that block the COVID-19 virus from attaching to cells, thereby preventing infection. First, they plan to test this novel approach on a library of more than 1,000 small molecules that have been approved to treat other diseases. Then they will attempt to identify novel antivirals drugs from a library of more than 200,000 small molecules.

UPDATE:
This project aims to identify antiviral drugs that can help in the fight against coronavirus. The research team has developed a novel biosensor allowing them to test the effects of hundreds of thousands of drugs in this capacity. The first step aimed to identify potential antivirals from a collection of over 1000 currently approved drugs that may be repurposed as antivirals. They have identified one leading candidate drug from this collection which is a common antifungal and that appears to block the interaction between SARS-CoV-2 and the protein to which it normally binds to enter and infect cells. The next steps are to directly test this drug on coronavirus through collaboration with other researchers in Canada and expand testing to a much larger collection of new potential drugs.


Read more about COVID-19 research projects that were fast tracked thanks to donor support

More inspiring projects

The projects currently underway are just the beginning. In the coming weeks, additional COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund grants will be awarded for research, as well as for the development of innovative treatments and creative new ways to combat the virus. But our work is not yet complete. We need donor support to ensure the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund can continue to support front-line medical teams, provide essential equipment, and contribute to the care and comfort of patients.

To find out more about our research and the many collaborators working to make these projects happen, please visit The Ottawa Hospital’s Research Institute.

Keep checking back for more updates on how donations are being put to work right away and are making a difference in The Ottawa Hospital’s fight against COVID-19. To get regular updates sent directly to your inbox, sign up for our newsletter, Vital Links.


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

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, experts at The Ottawa Hospital and healthcare partners throughout the region have geared up to stop the spread of this infectious disease. From our crisis preparedness plan, to COVID-19 research already underway, we have the knowledge and experience to tackle this pandemic head-on. Our researchers are harnessing their unique expertise and exploring more than 50 COVID-19 research projects to help in the global fight against this virus.

All of the COVID-19 simulation exercises and research projects being explored at The Ottawa Hospital will make use of shared research equipment, resources, and facilities that have been developed over many years, thanks to generous support from our community.

“Thanks to generous support from the community over the years, we’ve been able to develop unique research facilities and technologies that we are now rapidly applying to the fight against COVID-19,” said Dr. Duncan Stewart, Executive VP Research, The Ottawa Hospital. “Similarly, today’s community support for research means we will be ready for tomorrow’s health challenges, whatever they may be.”

Calming the immune system in critically ill patients

Dr. Stewart is leading a team of researchers working to launch a clinical trial of mesenchymal stromal cells (MSC) therapy for COVID-19 patients with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS).

The immune system plays a crucial role in defending the body against COVID-19, but sometimes it can become overactivated, resulting in severe damage to the lungs, called ARDS. In COVID-19 patients, ARDS is the major cause of severe illness and death.

Studies have shown that mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) can dampen an overactive immune response and help patients with ARDS related to other kinds of infections. Our researchers will build on their extensive experience in manufacturing MSCs and leading the world’s first clinical trial of MSCs for septic shock. This project will likely involve partners in Ontario and Europe, working in a concerted effort to find novel therapies to improve outcomes in COVID-19 patients.

Repurposing existing drugs and finding new ones

Researcher doing work in a laboratory.
Dr. John Bell in his lab at The Ottawa Hospital. His team could use their virus manufacturing expertise in the production of a vaccine for COVID-19.

Other researchers of The Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa are looking to identify already-existing drugs and their potential effectiveness in treating patients with COVID-19. Drs. Taha Azad, Ragunath Singaravelu, Jean-Simon Diallo and John Bell have developed a novel system known as a bio-sensor that can identify small molecule drugs that block the COVID-19 virus from attaching to cells, thereby preventing infection. First, they plan to test this approach on a library of more than 1,000 small molecules that have been approved to treat other diseases. They will then attempt to identify antiviral drugs that could be effective in treating this virus.

Learning from our COVID-19 patients and testing therapies

Researchers from around the world are sharing their experiences and findings and are working together to determine the best approach to treating patients with COVID-19.

To help with this global effort, infectious disease researchers at The Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa are working locally to create a registry of COVID-19 patients in our community. Under the leadership of Dr. Michaeline McGuinty and Dr. William Cameron, the researchers plan to look for patterns among cases and determine how well treatments are working. They will also use blood samples to study the virus and the body’s response to each treatment.

“Thanks to generous support from the community over the years, we’ve been able to develop unique research facilities and technologies that we are now rapidly applying to the fight against COVID-19.” – Dr. Duncan Stewart, Executive VP Research, The Ottawa Hospital

Working towards a vaccine

While some researchers work to find better treatment options for COVID-19, Dr. Carolina Ilkow, Dr. John Bell and their team of experts in making cancer-fighting viruses at The Ottawa Hospital are working hard to develop a possible vaccine, in partnership with scientists and clinicians in Canada and around the world. The vaccine would contain small parts of genetic material from the COVID-19 virus, embedded into a different virus that does not cause human disease. This replicating viral vaccine would also produce its own adjuvant – a substance that stimulates a stronger immune response, resulting in a more effective vaccine. Once a promising vaccine is created, the team will be able to make large quantities in The Ottawa Hospital’s Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre. This facility is the only hospital-based lab in Canada capable of producing virus-based vaccines and therapies for clinical trials.

Nurses at the COVID-19 Assessment Centre prepare a swab to be transported to the lab and tested for COVID-19.

Putting preparedness to the test

While our researchers have been nimble in responding to COVID-19 The Ottawa Hospital was already planning for the possibility of a future pandemic long before this virus appeared. When it comes to preparing for the worst, we are leading the way in developing strategies to effectively manage a crisis.

The intensive care units (ICU) at both the General and Civic campuses, where the most acutely ill COVID-19 patients will be treated, will triple their current size should we need the room. If these become over capacitated, the hospital would make use of other existing hospital facilities to increase its ability to care for severely ill patients.

Eastern Ontario hospitals are also working together to create a regional patient flow strategy to care for patients. Hospitals will transfer COVID-19 positive patients who need acute or critical care to select hospitals for treatment. Patients who do not require this level of care will be transferred out of acute or critical care hospitals to the most appropriate hospital setting. This will ensure that our healthcare system does not become overwhelmed by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Simulation exercises save lives

Transferring patients from the Emergency Department to the ICU is no easy feat in a 100-year-old hospital. It’s for this reason, the University of Ottawa Skills and Simulation Centre have readied staff by running simulation drills and tests.

The drills, which made use of a high-tech mannequin capable of sneezing, are designed to refine the safe treatment and transport of a severely-ill patient experiencing respiratory failure.

Simulations are vital as they allow staff to practice their skills in a real-time environment make adjustments if necessary, and ultimately provide better care to patients. Similar to the Code Orange simulations, which took place two months before the Westboro bus crash on January 11, 2019, this type of hands-on training further prepares staff on the frontlines.

On November 16, 2018, The Ottawa Hospital underwent a Code Orange emergency response exercise as part of ongoing preparedness to respond effectively to a disaster in the community. Participating in such a training exercise meant staff would be even more prepared should a real Code Orange be called.

Just two months later, a double-decker bus crashed into the Westboro bus station. Thirteen severely-injured patients were subsequently transported to the Emergency Department. The simulation exercise helped to ensure that The Ottawa Hospital staff were even more prepared to save their lives.

Community support essential

A strong hospital requires the support of its community and that couldn’t be more true than during these unprecedented times. You can support world-class care and ground-breaking research that is saving lives every day.

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

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.

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

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.”

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 Banks at the COVID-19 Assessment Centre

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.”

The sacrifice of coming out of retirement

Nurse Jennifer Smylie at The Ottawa Hospital General Campus

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.”

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

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.”

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.

Dr. Miriam Mottiar

“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.”

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

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.”

The bridge from research to patient trials

 Irene Watpool, middle, with Rebecca Porteuos, right

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.

“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.

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

Arnie and Victoria Mierins

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.”

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.