“We are the only Level 1 Trauma Centre in eastern Ontario, so we see the most critically injured patients from all across the region, including Quebec in certain circumstances. Our team has the capacity to handle almost any injury.”

– Dr. Maher Matar

As darkness falls over the city and most are sleeping, that’s when many of our patients arrive at the Trauma Centre. My name is Maher Matar, I’m a trauma surgeon at The Ottawa Hospital, and it’s not unusual to be jolted out of a sound sleep in the middle of the night after a Code One is called. I have just minutes, 20 minutes to be exact, to pull myself together, arrive at the Emergency Department (ED) of the Civic Campus, and join the rest of the trauma team that has assembled. All of us are ready and functioning at 110%. Lives depend on it.

Dr. Matar, trauma surgeon
Dr. Maher Matar, trauma surgeon at The Ottawa Hospital.

The only Level 1 Trauma Team in the region

We are the only Level 1 Trauma Centre in eastern Ontario, so we see the most critically injured patients from all across the region, including Québec in certain circumstances. Our team has the capacity to handle almost any injury.

Our team includes a trauma team leader like myself, as well as an anesthesiologist, a team of emergency nurses, a group of resident physicians, and respiratory technicians — this allows us to be ready for the wide variety of complex cases that we handle, or when a Code One is called.

A Code One means a patient with significant injuries is coming to the hospital and we need all resources gathered at the ED. It could be a few patients involved in a high-speed motor vehicle collision or a single patient that fell down the stairs. By contrast, a large-scale incident like the Westboro bus crash or any other community disaster results in a Code Orange being called.

Snowmobile crash brings life-threatening injuries

Back on January 18, 2020, I was jolted awake from the comfort of my warm bed, when I got a call in the middle of the night from a nearby Québec hospital. They had a patient with a transected aorta – that means the aorta, the main blood vessel that travels from the heart, had ruptured or torn. When I heard that, I knew the patient’s chances of making it to our hospital were slim.

His name was Cody Howard, and while visiting from Arizona, he had been in a snowmobile crash in Ripon, Québec, about 70 minutes from Ottawa. The fact that he made it to the first hospital was hopeful, but with this type of injury, he could suddenly crash. Cody needed our expertise to help save him.

Trauma team during a training session at The Ottawa Hospital
Doctors, nurses, and specialists work on a trauma patient in an intense training simulation in the trauma bay at The Ottawa Hospital.

I began caring for Cody on that phone call, explaining to the team on the other end of the phone what medications should be started and how Cody should be transferred to our Trauma Centre.

“The patient was lying flat and, incredibly, he was awake and alert. He knew he was in a very precarious situation.”

– Dr. Maher Matar

As I drove to the hospital, I called Cheryl Symington, a charge nurse who was working in the ED that night. She’s a team lead and she’s amazing. I told her “This is a bad one. I need everyone on deck.”

The trauma team is ready

I immediately called the vascular surgery team and told them to be on standby as soon as Cody arrived.

Cody made it to the Trauma Centre with his younger brother, Trevor Howard, who had not been involved in the crash. Cody was lying flat and incredibly, he was awake and alert. He knew he was in a very precarious situation. In fact, even a small movement could have been fatal. We did our assessment from A to Z, the same way we do it every single time, making sure we don’t miss any injuries. As this is happening, I’m on the phone with Dr. Prasad Jetty, a vascular surgeon. He also consulted with a cardiac surgeon, Dr. Fraser Rubens. You know, we’re lucky to have that kind of skill close by at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.

“In my 30 plus years as an ED nurse, that was by far the most difficult yet most rewarding night. Dr. Matar, Dr. Jetty, and Dr. Reubens are each highly skilled specialists in their fields. Together they are a team beyond description. The stars aligned that night.”

– Cheryl Syminton

Dr. Rubens came to the trauma bay – a cardiac surgeon rarely comes to the trauma bay – that’s an indicator of the severity of this injury. At this point, the three of us were discussing the patient and we agreed he had a very high chance of dying on the operating table; there was also the potential for paralysis. Everything happened fast – this all took place in the first 30 minutes of Cody arriving.

Making the difficult call to the family

I then called the patient’s father in Arizona who also happens to be a doctor. I had to tell him the grim news. However, I promised him the people taking care of his son were the best in the entire region. I told him to focus on getting to Ottawa and that we’ll take care of the rest.

It’s never easy making those calls. Breaking bad news to family members or letting someone know their loved one is going in for a very serious surgery – it weighs on you. Thankfully, social workers at our hospital are always there to help. If I’m busy caring for the patient, a social worker receives the family and updates them on what’s going on. They play an immense role in our ED.

More injured patients arrive

As Cody’s surgery plan was being made, his brother, Trevor, came up to me and said, ‘there are two more of us’ I said, ‘excuse me?’ I was shocked! He explained that another brother, Bret, and his brother-in-law were also injured in the snowmobile crash and were still at a nearby hospital in Québec.

“I promised him the people taking care of his son were the best trained in the entire region. I told him to focus on getting to Ottawa and we’ll take care of the rest.”

– Dr. Maher Matar

That’s when the compassionate side of caring plays a key role in the work we do – in the work we all do. We can’t have the family arrive in Ottawa and have to go back and forth between two hospitals, worried about their injured kids. They were already dealing with enough stress and needed to be together.

We called the other hospital and we arranged for immediate acceptance of the two family members, regardless of the extent of their injuries. While the brother-in-law had only minor injuries, Bret, had a significant head injury along with an injury in the abdomen. I needed to get him to the operating room to repair a ruptured bladder. The vascular surgery team and cardiac surgery team took Cody for surgery at the Heart Institute and I took Bret into emergency surgery at the Civic Campus, simultaneously.

Intense training situation with the trauma team at The Ottawa Hospital
Doctors, nurses, and specialists work on a trauma patient in an intense training simulation in the trauma bay at The Ottawa Hospital.

A successful night as lives are saved

Bret made a quick recovery. After 10 days in our hospital, he was able to fly home. It was a longer road for Cody. Thankfully, he survived surgery but faced paralysis from the waist down. The 37-year-old U.S. military veteran was in a coma for a week and remained in our care until mid-February, when he was stable enough to get a medical flight back home. He had a tough recovery, but he’s learned to walk again. The last time I spoke with him, he told me he’s now hiking.

“When you do hear ‘thank you’ from a patient or a family member, it’s humbling. It doesn’t make you walk prouder, it’s just humbling”

– Dr. Maher Matar

That was a successful day. It all started after midnight. All hands were on deck, including the highly-skilled Drs. Jetty and Rubens. We had never worked together before and those two collaborated on that case and saved the patient’s life. Also, there’s the exceptional anesthesia care provided by Dr. Adam Dryden – he worked with speed and efficiency to help save the patient. It was a team effort on many levels.

Humbling to hear the words “thank you”

And, when you hear ‘thank you’ from a patient or a family member, it’s humbling. It doesn’t make you walk prouder, it’s just humbling. There have been cases where I haven’t been able to save a life and that will always haunt me.

At the end of the day, when I walk out the hospital doors, the first thing I do is take a deep breath because the air is different outside. I just look up and I say ‘thank you’ for being able to deliver that specialized care.

Bret Howard says thank you for the compassionate, lifesaving care

“I truly don’t believe Cody would be alive today if he hadn’t been transferred to The Ottawa Hospital – that saved his life.

“Had we been somewhere other than The Ottawa Hospital, we think the outcome would have been worse, so we’re forever grateful.”

– Bret Howard

The way the team stepped in to get all of us together was a special thing to do and we won’t ever forget that – I actually don’t think that’s typical. I couldn’t have imagined going through all of this at one hospital while my brother fought for his life at The Ottawa Hospital. It meant a great deal to my family that we were all together.

Dr. Matar was incredible. Not only with my surgery but to my family – my wife and my parents. He and his team guided them along and was totally in tune with what was going on with me and my brother.

Thank you to the nurses, to the doctors, to the social workers. I could just tell they were invested in the situation with us and truly wanted to help guide us through it. Had we been somewhere other than The Ottawa Hospital, we think the outcome would have been worse, so we’re forever grateful.”

Bret and his brothers
Cody, Trevor, and Bret Howard.

Research advancing trauma care

Research at The Ottawa Hospital is helping to improve survival and quality of life for people who experience severe traumatic injuries. Projects underway include:

  • developing of a simple tool to help detect major bleeding in trauma patients, so that it can be treated earlier.
  • testing new approaches to manage bleeding and blood clots in people with traumatic head injuries.
  • developing of new rehabilitation technologies and prosthetics, including a brain computer interface that could help people control a robot arm just by thinking.
  • developing a tool to help paramedics determine which trauma patients need to be immobilized on backboards, and which can be safely evaluated without immobilization.

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

It was a routine patrol in Kandahar that altered the course of Bushra Saeed-Khan’s life forever. In one brief instant, the detonation of an improvised explosive device (IED) changed everything. She went from a Federal employee on an assignment in Afghanistan, to an amputee trauma survivor grappling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The complexity of Bushra’s traumatic injuries brought her to The Ottawa Hospital where a dedicated team of experts were ready to help her get back home.

Facing a war zone

Bushra was just eight weeks into a year-long tour in Afghanistan when she received permission to accompany troops “outside of the wire” – beyond the protection and confines of a military base. When their mission was complete, they headed back. It was then the light armoured vehicle (LAV) Bushra was travelling in ran over an IED buried underground.

Bushra in Kandahar
Bushra (left), in Kandahar, prior to departing the base on the day of the attack.

She recalls hearing a loud bang, one unlike anything she’s ever heard, before being momentarily knocked out. When she came to, there was silence. Confusion and shock paralyzed her entire body. But it didn’t matter; she was pinned down inside the vehicle, unable to move. Fear filled her every thought. Was she the only survivor? Could the vehicle go up in flames while she was stuck inside it? Was there anyone around to save her? Each racing thought was as anxiety-inducing as the other, while in a war-torn country, miles away from base, from safety, her family, and her home.

Four soldiers and one civilian, who had become Bushra’s friend, died that day, on December 30, 2009. Bushra, one of just five survivors, is lucky to be alive. But she didn’t walk away unscathed. To this day, she continues to feel the ripple effects of the incident more than a decade later.

Seeking medical attention

After witnessing the explosion, troops in the second LAV acted quickly, requesting back up to assist the survivors. As they came to Bushra’s aid, it was clear her injuries were severe. Her entire body was affected by the blast. The force of the explosion was so fierce it left Bushra’s abdomen exposed, and her legs critically wounded – a portion of one completely gone.

Bushra in Germany
Bushra waking in Germany.

Bushra was airlifted by helicopter to a military base for emergency medical care before she was transported to a hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, where she was placed in a medically induced coma. As doctors worked to stabilize her for the long flight to the Trauma Centre at The Ottawa Hospital’s Civic Campus, Bushra was introduced to the name Dr. Nancy Dudek, Medical Director of the Amputee Program. Bushra needed to start to think about recovery and Dr. Dudek would soon become Bushra’s primary caregiver for over a decade. “I didn’t realize at the time just how much of an impact Dr. Dudek would have on my life.”

Road to healing and recovery

Once Bushra was in our care, experts began working around the clock to repair the extensive damage that had been done by the IED. “I remember the first time I met Bushra,” says Dr. Dudek. “She had just arrived at the hospital and had a lot of injuries. The most critical question I had for her at that time was regarding her leg.” Bushra’s leg was severely damaged, and it was clear they would have to amputate it. Since her femur bone was also fractured, they needed to decide if her orthopedic surgeon would perform a full amputation of the leg or fix her femur and save as much of her leg as possible. “It’s really important, when possible, to include the person who will be receiving the amputation in that decision,” says Dr. Dudek. “We want our patients to have a say in what’s going to happen to their body.” In the end, as a team, they decided to fix Bushra’s fractured femur and perform a through-knee amputation.

This was the first of several surgeries Bushra underwent at our hospital. “Within the first week of being in the trauma unit I had what felt like over 20 surgeries,” says Bushra. “That’s when I stopped trying to keep track.”

The women of the Rehab Centre

Once Bushra was medically well enough to leave the trauma unit, she was moved to the Rehabilitation Centre. This is where she would remain for over a year as an inpatient, followed by six months as an outpatient. Under the care of some of the best physiotherapists and prosthetists in the field, Bushra had to relearn how to perform the most basic tasks, such as lifting her arms, moving her head and sitting upright in bed, before eventually learning how to walk with a prosthetic leg. “I call them ‘the women of the Rehab Centre,’” says Bushra. “They’re just so brilliant in their respective fields, but also so kind and caring. It was really nice to see.”

Bushra at the Rehab Centre, learning to stand.
Bushra learning to stand again.

At the time, Bushra was still in great discomfort, not just from her surgeries but from flashbacks of the incident, her survivor’s guilt, and the thought of living the rest of her life with a disability. Working through those emotions felt like mountains she had to climb and conquer, and some days they were too much to bear. “At one point, I even contemplated suicide. Some days I couldn’t even get out of bed. Not just because of the physical reasons, but mentally I couldn’t deal with everything I had to fight through that day,” says Bushra. It wasn’t long before she was introduced to Dr. Josie Marino, a now-retired psychologist at our hospital. Dr. Marino was instrumental in Bushra’s care, helping her overcome those mental obstacles. “PTSD never really goes away, it comes back when times get rough, but Josie gave me the tools that I needed to cope,” Bushra explains.

“I like giving patients the confidence that they can do more than they think,”
– Marie Andrée.

On those more difficult days, Bushra’s physiotherapist, Marie Andrée Paquin, would adapt and cater the exercises to the pain she was experiencing. If Bushra didn’t feel well enough to leave her room, Marie Andrée would have her perform exercises in bed. On the days she was feeling stronger, she would push her a little bit further. “I like giving patients the confidence that they can do more than they think,” says Marie Andrée.

She even went as far as having Bushra perform exercises that mimicked dance moves so that she could dance at her sister’s wedding. “It was really nice that they were so flexible in my care, tailoring it to exactly what I needed,” says Bushra.

Discovering hope

Bushra, prosthetic leg
Bushra’s prosthesis.

After Bushra’s amputation, she couldn’t help but worry about the future. After all, she had never met someone with a prosthetic leg. “My family and I were very worried about what type of life I would have,” says Bushra. Realizing this, Dr. Dudek asked a former patient of hers to visit with Bushra. “I remember so clearly, this woman walking into my trauma unit room. It was shocking for me to see her walking around and playing with her kids,” says Bushra. “I am thankful that Dr. Dudek introduced me to this woman. That was a pivotal moment for me.” After that meeting, Bushra no longer worried. Rather, she was filled with hope.

This gave Bushra the confidence she needed to try a prosthetic leg. She met with Laura Scholtes, a prosthetist at our hospital, who fitted her with a new artificial limb. It wasn’t long before she got the hang of it and once she did, she was introduced to the Computer-Assisted Rehabilitation Environment (CAREN) System.

The CAREN System

Bushra hasn’t been the only patient who has experienced injury in Afghanistan. In realizing the need, the Canadian Armed Forces and our community raised funds to bring this virtual reality system to Ottawa — one of only two cities in Canada who have it. The CAREN System has been instrumental for patients in the Rehab Centre.

Bushra Saeed on the Computer-Assisted Rehabilitation Environment
Bushra on the CAREN System.

“The CAREN System was amazing,” says Bushra, when asked about her experience with this unique virtual reality rehabilitation equipment. It combines incredibly large 3D graphics and a platform that moves with the person as they explore a virtual 3D world on a remote-controlled treadmill. “It’s very safe and a great way to challenge a patient’s balance,” explains Marie Andrée.

“The CAREN System was really a catalyst in my recovery as I was able to learn how to walk with a prosthesis and push myself in an environment that I knew was safe,” says Bushra. “And it trains you to walk on all kinds of surfaces. There was even a setting for paddle boarding. It was really a lot of fun.” Training in the CAREN System boosted her confidence. Today she’s riding her bicycle, and excelling in her career as a diplomat, something she didn’t expect she would be able to do.

New life after trauma

Bushra with her baby
Bushra holding her daughter.

One of the very first questions on Bushra’s mind after her surgery to reconstruct her abdomen was whether or not she would be able to have a baby. The injuries were so extensive that surgeons had to insert a mesh lining to help rebuild the abdominal wall. At the time, her physicians were unsure if her body would be able to adapt to carry a child to full term. Eight years later, Bushra announced she was pregnant, and much like she adapted to a new normal with a disability, her body was able to adapt to a growing baby.

“They are my guardian angels. My heroes. They saved my life.” – Bushra Saeed-Khan

As Bushra’s belly grew, so did her challenges with her prosthesis. Laura was able to monitor Bushra throughout the duration of her pregnancy to ensure that her prosthesis fit her limb comfortably. But in the last two months of her pregnancy, Bushra was no longer able to walk with ease and temporarily switched to a wheelchair. As she was prepped to undergo a c-section, Dr. Dudek worked alongside Bushra’s obstetrician, Dr. Laura M. Gaudet, to ensure that Bushra had the most accessible birthing room possible, one with a doorframe wide enough to fit her wheelchair, and a bed that could be lowered so that she could more easily get in and out.

The day after Bushra gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Dr. Dudek was there to meet her. “After my initial surgery, my doctors weren’t sure if I would be able to have children. And then eight years later there was Dr. Dudek holding my baby,” says Bushra. “So, it was a special moment. It really felt like everything was coming full circle.”

Today, Bushra is able to play with her two-year-old daughter, just like the patient she met in hospital with the prosthetic leg early on in her recovery. Those feelings of hope have become reality.

More than a decade later

More than a decade after the incident, it would be easy to look at Bushra and be impressed by how far she’s come. But she accepts each compliment about her recovery with humility, because she knows she didn’t do it alone – she was backed by some of the best healthcare workers in the country. “I’m a product of my circumstances and I was fortunate to have the support structure offered by the Rehab Centre at The Ottawa Hospital,” says Bushra. “It felt like a team effort and it’s thanks to my caregivers that I was able to gain independence. They are my guardian angels. My heroes. They saved my life.”

Download Pulse Podcast today and listen to Bushra’s story.

The sun has set on THE RIDE, one of Ottawa’s premier cycling events, but that hasn’t stopped Mike Bull, former RIDE captain for Team Enterprise, from participating and giving back as he starts his own virtual ride as a fundraiser for The Ottawa Hospital. Charitable giving, in support of our hospital in particular, is incredibly important to Mike Bull and his family, after his wife, Rie, was rushed to our emergency department after collapsing – the result of a ruptured brain aneurysm.

It is Rie’s journey to recovery and the care that saved her life that inspires Mike to give back each year. “With every year we see that more people are willing to help out, support my ride, and donate. We are fortunate to have such an incredible neuroscience team right here in Ottawa. They saved my wife’s life.”

Subarachnoid Hemorrhage

Late one night in March 2017, Rie collapsed at home after an aneurysm had bled inside of her brain. She was rushed to The Ottawa Hospital where she was diagnosed with a subarachnoid hemorrhage which was exacerbated by a pre-existing condition requiring blood-thinning medication. Unable to speak for the first three weeks and temporarily forgetting her husband’s name and that of her two sons, her family was fearful and unsure whether or not she would recover.

Dr. Sinclair in the neurosurgery operating room
Dr. John Sinclair, Director of Cerebrovascular Surgery.

Rie underwent an 8-hour operation performed by Dr. John Sinclair, Director of Cerebrovascular Surgery. Post-surgery, he comforted Mike and his sons with a bedside manner that was both caring and compassionate. He fielded questions, explained complex medical concepts in simple terms, and reassured them that Rie was in excellent hands as she recovered.

Ready for the most complex cases

Rie’s bleeding disorder and subsequent aneurysm made her case incredibly complex. Three to four percent of the population at large have aneurysms and don’t even know it. A ruptured aneurysm often causes a sudden severe headache, which people often describe as the worst headache of their life. But when an aneurysm like Rie’s ruptures, 50% of patients do not survive the hemorrhage or die shortly after. Of the 50% of patients who survive, half survive with a life-altering impairment.

Despite the complexity of Rie’s case, her care team was ready and equipped with the knowledge and tools they needed to save her life. According to Mike, their prayers have been answered and Rie has made excellent progress.

Rie Bull
Rie Bull at home.

“She spent over a month in the ICU, a month in the Neurological Acute Care Unit, and five weeks in the Acquired Brain Injury Rehabilitation Centre. All staff members took fantastic care of my wife.” – Mike Bull

As part of her recovery, Rie had to learn English all over again, as she had reverted to her first language of Japanese. When Mike and Rie saw Dr. Sinclair in January of 2018, he was very pleased by Rie’s recovery.

Thanks to the support of donors like Mike and Rie, The Ottawa Hospital can conduct groundbreaking research to better understand how the brain functions and to continue to be among the best in Canada, recognized internationally for leading research in Parkinson’s, stroke, neuromuscular disease, and multiple sclerosis.

Grateful for exceptional care

Mike now affectionately calls it “old home week” every time he and Rie visit The Ottawa Hospital for appointments or check-ups. They are constantly running into doctors, nurses, orderlies, and custodians who are genuinely happy to see how far Rie has come and understand that her recovery is remarkable. To Mike and Rie, each one of them has played an important role in Rie’s journey.

Mike Bull with his family in support of The Ottawa Hospital
Mike and Rie Bull with their sons.

Mike is more determined than ever to give back and make a difference. He will continue to get outdoors, hop on his bike, and raise funds and awareness for our hospital. He hopes his virtual ride will serve as a reminder to everyone how important donor support is to help patients receive the care they need. “It’s doing something good for your body, for research, and the community overall. It will always be a way to say, ‘thank you, thank you, thank you’ to the team at The Ottawa Hospital!”

TSN 1200 sportscaster A.J. Jakubec had never heard of acute pancreatitis before December 2019. Today, he’s all too familiar with the illness, which can cause life-threatening complications, and is determined to show his gratitude to his hospital heroes who helped save him.

The morning of December 2, 2019, A.J. woke up in the worst pain he’s ever experienced. The pain was so intense he was vomiting. Scared and desperate for help, he called 911 and was rushed to The Ottawa Hospital’s Emergency Department. “I was admitted to hospital and knew it wasn’t good, but I didn’t know how it would play out,” says A.J.

The situation wasn’t good. A.J. needed to be intubated and spent eight days in the ICU. His family rushed to his bedside from Edmonton. For A.J., those first days were a blur, but for his parents and sister, they were frightening.

A.J. broadcasting at the 2016 Grey Cup
A.J. broadcasting from the Grey Cup in 2016.

The start of a long journey

An MRI would reveal the shocking diagnosis of acute pancreatitis. This is a sudden inflammation of the pancreas. It can range from mild discomfort to a severe, life-threatening illness. “The acute pancreatitis was caused by gallstones. The gallstones were removed, but they had been blocking my bile duct, pancreas area, and my pancreas suffered quite a bit of damage.”

Lynne, with A.J. in ICU at the General Campus
A.J. in ICU at the General Campus with his mother, Lynne, by his side.

While the situation looked dire, physicians at The Ottawa Hospital had a plan to help A.J. and to get him back to doing what he loves most – covering sports.

“I get emotional thinking about the support I received from so many different people who work at the hospital. To describe it as 10/10 would not do it justice in terms of how the healthcare team went beyond the call of duty.”

— A.J. Jakubec

By December 9, A.J. was improving and out of the ICU, although his journey was not even close to being over. He would spend 66 days in hospital – over two periods – 37 days the first time and 29 the second time when he was re-admitted to hospital after getting an infection.

Due to the severity of his acute pancreatitis, A.J. became very weak. At one point, he needed to use a walker to help him begin building up his strength again. But despite the complexity of his case and the extent of care he required, A.J. attributes his ultimate recovery to the high-caliber and compassionate care he received.

“There were different low points at that time with the destabilization of my kidneys. I had five endoscopy procedures. I was in a lot of pain, but after months of incredible care, I was finally released on Feb 27, 2020.”

Super A.J. is born

“I get emotional thinking about the support I received from so many different people who work at the hospital. To describe it as 10/10 would not do it justice in terms of how the healthcare team went beyond the call of duty,” says A.J.

Nickname Super AJ, written on message board for AJ
Super A.J. is the nickname staff gave him as he started to get stronger.

He adds it was the consistent, compassionate care from so many different people that was instrumental in his recovery. That support team led to A.J.’s new nickname – ‘Super A.J.’ It all started in January 2020, when he started gaining confidence and he started feeling stronger. “I was starting to get better and Kenzie, a nurse who cared for me, saw the progress I was making. She was really supportive, and she dubbed me ‘Super A.J.’ She even wrote it on my whiteboard. From that point on, everyone was calling me ‘Super A.J.’”

The nickname reminds A.J. of all he’s overcome. “I changed my twitter handle to ‘Super A.J.’ and I think I’ll probably keep that forever just because it motivates and reminds me that if I can get through that, I can get through anything.”

Giving back to his Hospital Heroes

A.J.’s parents, Zane and Lynne Jakubec, were filled with gratitude after witnessing the incredible care and compassion their son received while in hospital. They wanted to give back and honour those who helped get their son back on his feet.

“They asked me who I wanted to recognize and I immediately was thinking of about eight to ten people. It was really difficult, but I ended up narrowing it down to three, Angela Richardson, Nicole Dannel, and Alex Rowe.” You could say they were his three-star selection.

“While we couldn’t afford a large donation, we needed to recognize the doctors, nurses and staff for their hard work, their excellence, compassion, and the healing that we witnessed.”

— Zane and Lynne Jakubec
A.J. leaving The Ottawa Hospital
A.J. leaving hospital after 66 days of care.

The couple made a donation to the celebrate these three hospital heroes through a program designed to recognize and thank hospital staff who have gone above and beyond. For A.J. and his parents, it was a way to say thank you for the care, the extra visits, and mental support they each provided to help him get better. “While we couldn’t afford a large donation, we needed to recognize the doctors, nurses, and staff for their hard work, their excellence, compassion, and the healing that we witnessed,” says Zane.

They will be forever grateful for the staff they describe as dedicated and hard working and how they took the time to genuinely care for A.J. “Little gestures like bringing in a warm blanket, trying to find something special in the unit fridge, sharing a brief sports talk – those all add up,” says Lynne.

“It’s something that will stay with me forever – that people cared that much. The physical, the emotional, and the mental support – thank you doesn’t really do justice but I’m so grateful for the care I received.”

— A.J. Jakubec

For A.J., it’s hard to put into words the gratitude he feels to be back in the broadcast booth today. He thinks back to the day when he left the hospital that second and final time. “I had staff lined up cheering me on the way out. That was really emotional. That’s why it’s something that will stay with me forever because the people cared that much. The physical, the emotional, and the mental support – thank you doesn’t really do justice but I’m so grateful for the care I received.”

Forever grateful

For A.J., it’s hard to put into words the gratitude he feels to be back in the broadcast booth today.

He remembers those first three weeks in hospital being incredibly difficult and he had become very weak. He wasn’t walking much – in fact, he had to use a walker. But it was a significant turning point when, on Christmas Eve, he was given a pass to go home to have Christmas dinner with his family. “It was a big positive for my psyche,” says A.J.

He also thinks back to the day when he left the hospital that second and final time. “I had staff lined up cheering me on the way out. That was really emotional. That’s why it’s something that will stay with me forever because the people cared that much. The physical, the emotional, and the mental support – thank you doesn’t really do justice but I’m so grateful for the care I received.”

Hear A.J. Jakubec on Pulse: The Ottawa Hospital Foundation Podcast, as he shares his story and says thank you for the exceptional care he received at our hospital.

Long-distance cyclist Fran Cosper described himself as being in the best shape of his life as he headed into the winter of 2017. However, in mid-February he woke up in the middle of the night unable to feel his legs. The next morning, when Fran tried getting out of bed, he slammed onto the floor – his strong legs suddenly useless. Soon after, he was diagnosed with Guillain Barré Syndrome (GBS) – facing the possibility of permanent paralysis. Little did he know the road ahead would involve a team of experts, the help of 3D virtual reality at The Ottawa Hospital, and a determination not only to walk again, but also to help other patients.

When Fran first experienced those sudden symptoms, he initially thought it couldn’t be anything serious as he was very health conscious. He attempted to make his way to the basement that morning to work out. “I went to get on my hands and knees, and fell face-first on the carpet. I thought, ‘Well, I can’t move. This is much more serious.’ My wife, Elise, came down and saw that I had facial paralysis, and thought I’d had a stroke.”

But Fran knew that strokes typically affect only one side of the body and that something else — something serious — was happening.

What is Guillain Barré Syndrome?

Fran is secured to an adjustable bed prior to using the CAREN machine at the Ottawa Hospital Rehab Centre.
Fran in hospital.

After a thorough assessment, Fran was diagnosed with GBS. This rare autoimmune disorder causes the immune system to attack the nerves, damaging the myelin sheath, which is the nerves’ protective covering. As a result, the brain can’t transmit signals to the nerves in the muscles, causing weakness, numbness or, as in Fran’s case, paralysis.

An infection or virus can bring on GBS. The 56-year-old had had two colds back-to-back, which may have thrown his immune system into overdrive. Within days, his balance was off, and he had difficulty lifting pots to cook dinner. Hours later, the disease was full blown, attacking his nervous system and Fran couldn’t move.

“It was like having an out-of-body experience. I mean my brain was working fine but my body wasn’t doing what I asked it to do.”
– Fran Cosper

“We see patients with Guillain Barré Syndrome at The Ottawa Hospital Rehabilitation Centre probably five or six times a year,” says Dr. Vidya Sreenivasan, a doctor of physical medicine and rehabilitation. Some have mild cases, but others, like Fran’s, are more serious.

A more challenging road to recovery

About one in 100,000 Canadians contracts GBS every year. Recovery can take more than a year because the nerves re-grow slowly, one millimetre per month. For Fran, the journey would be much longer.

The disease continued its nerve damage following his admission to the hospital. After two weeks, he transferred to the Rehab Centre, where his care team included doctors, psychologists, social workers, recreation therapists, physiotherapists, respirologists, occupational therapists, and nurses.

“I decided at that point, I was going to fight it. I was going to fight back and do the best I could to get better even though I didn’t know what the outcome was going to be.”
– Fran Cosper

Fran was completely dependent on this team for all of his care. He needed to be washed, dressed, and turned in bed. He couldn’t even close his eyes. The nurses had to tape his eyelids shut so he could sleep.

“It was like having an out-of-body experience. I mean my brain was working fine but my body wasn’t doing what I asked it to do,” says Fran. He also faced excruciating pain because of the damage done to his nerves. As Fran lay there unable to move in his hospital bed, he made a decision.

“Oddly, I wasn’t afraid. I decided at that point, I was going to fight it. I was going to fight back and do the best I could to get better even though I didn’t know what the outcome was going to be.”

Rehab team ready with state-of-the art technology

Fran’s excellent fitness level, as well as his determination and positive attitude, helped him through when it came to the rigorous therapy plan. He had physiotherapy five hours a day, including three times a week in the Rehab Centre pool. Within two months, he could stand and take steps with help. He learned to walk again thanks in part to our Virtual Reality lab – one of only two in Canada.

Fran in pool.
Fran would visit the Rehab Centre pool three times a week.

“The pool and this 3D room were invaluable. It would have taken me a lot longer to get my legs back if I didn’t have access to those tools.” – Fran Cosper

The CAREN (Computer-Assisted Rehabilitation Environment) system combines room-sized 3D graphics, a platform that moves with the patient in a harness, as they explore the 3D world, a dual-tread remote-controlled treadmill, and world-class motion analysis technology. Preprogrammed visual presentations allow the patient to respond to an environmental stimulus by shifting weight, increasing or decreasing speed and even making specific motions. Difficulty levels can be increased gradually as the patient progresses further in their rehabilitation treatment plans.

Fran in VR lab.
Fran learning to walk again thanks in part to our Virtual Reality lab – one of only two in Canada.

“This room is right out of sci-fi. It really challenges your body. After an hour of doing exercises, I was just sweating. The pool and this 3D room were invaluable. It would have taken me a lot longer to get my legs back if I didn’t have access to those tools.”

“I’d basically been swiped off the planet for a year. But the only negative thing about being in the hospital was the disease itself.” – Fran Cosper

For Dr. Nancy Dudek, Medical Director, Amputee Program at The Ottawa Hospital Rehabilitation Centre, this unique system offers many benefits to patients. “There’s no end to things you can do with that sort of creativity. To be able to be hooked up to a harness without the support of the parallel bars still gives you the safety aspect. It’s a very innovative and beneficial system.”

Installed in 2010 in partnership with the Canadian Forces and with support from the community, the CAREN system was initially used in part to help injured soldiers returning from Afghanistan. Since then, many patients have benefitted, including those who have had a traumatic brain injury, stroke, neuromuscular disease, amputation, or chronic pain.

Continuing the road to recovery

Released from the Rehab Centre in October 2017, tears were shed by Fran and nurses who cared for him. It was those nurses who helped Fran with day-to-day care, teaching him how to wash and dress himself and be independent again.

Fran on exercise ball
Fran receiving care from the rehab team.

“I can honestly say that the kindness and level of care I got really humbled me. The nurses and staff have just been marvellous,” says Fran. “I’d basically been swiped off the planet for a year. But the only negative thing about being in the hospital was the disease itself.”

He walked out of the Rehab Centre using a walker. When he returned a month later for a follow-up appointment, he walked in on his own.

Today, Fran is back riding his bike – not quite to the 100-kilometer distances, yet, but his therapy continues. He still deals with pain, and his arms were slower to recover. His fine motor skills in his fingers are taking longer to get back to normal. As a saxophone player, he’s motivated to get his fingers working again.

“I’m kind of at the point now where I’m thinking I may be able to play again someday. I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to play my sax because my fine dexterity is improving – it’s a work in progress.”

Giving back as a volunteer

Fran will never forget two volunteers in particular who were there for him when he was being cared for at the Rehab Centre. Chris and Claude would come and take Fran for coffee and to talk. Initially, he had no idea who these blue-vested people were, but Fran quickly learned the important role they play at the hospital.

“I remember asking Chris why he was a volunteer. Chris explained to me that he had an inoperable brain tumour, and he was going to die. He told me, ‘I figured the hospital took such good care of me that I would spend the rest of my time volunteering.’ I broke into tears and decided right there I had to become a volunteer,” says Fran.

Fran in blue vest.
Today, Fran gives back as a volunteer at our hospital.

Pre-COVID, Fran would spend two days a week meeting patients, sometimes visiting his old room at the Rehab Centre, inspiring them about what is possible. “I remember seeing a woman in a hallway; she was on a gurney and going in for surgery – she was by herself. I stopped, leaned over, and told her it was going to be ok. Afterwards, I saw her again and she said, ‘Thank you.’”

That’s why Fran proudly wears the blue vest. He’s experienced the dark days and today, he’s happy to be able to help others when they need a reassuring voice to help them through – just like Chris and Claude helped him. He’s also grateful to be able to volunteer his time at the hospital that cared for him during his long journey to recovery.

Listen to Fran Cosper in his own words during a guest appearance on Pulse: The Ottawa Hospital Foundation Podcast.

The Virtual Run for a Reason raises $130,000

SEPTEMBER 9, 2020 OTTAWA, ON – It was a year of overcoming adversity in light of COVID-19 and supporters of The Ottawa Hospital did just that. The annual Run for a Reason fundraising initiative through Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend went virtual and raised $130,000.

Tim Kluke, President and CEO of The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, acknowledged while fundraising was down for the event, the dedication has never been more apparent. “It’s at times like these that I’m reminded how dedicated our community is to ensuring we provide the best caliber of care when our loved ones need it most and that our researchers have the funds needed to advance their research into new discoveries. I’m truly grateful for this support during a challenging time.”

This year, the virtual Run for a Reason attracted 129 participants supporting key areas of The Ottawa Hospital including, cancer research, priority needs, the neonatal intensive care unit to name a few.

Since 1998, Run for a Reason has raised $11.4 million supporting the world-class care and leading-edge research at The Ottawa Hospital. Thanks to its long-standing relationship with Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend, the Foundation looks forward to announcing a new collaboration to build on that partnership for 2021.

About The Ottawa Hospital: 

The Ottawa Hospital is one of Canada’s top learning and research hospitals, where excellent care is inspired by research and driven by compassion. As the third-largest employer in Ottawa, our support staff, researchers, nurses, physicians, and volunteers never stop seeking solutions to the most complex healthcare challenges.

Our multi-campus hospital, affiliated with the University of Ottawa, attracts some of the most influential scientific minds from around the world. Our focus on learning and research leads to new techniques and discoveries that are adopted globally to improve patient care.

We are the Regional Trauma Centre for eastern Ontario and have been accredited with Exemplary Standing for healthcare delivery — the highest rating from Accreditation Canada. We are also home to world-leading research programs focused on cancer therapeutics, neuroscience, regenerative medicine, chronic disease, and practice-changing research.

Backed by generous support from the community, we are committed to providing the world-class, compassionate care we would want for our loved ones.

For more information about The Ottawa Hospital, visit ohfoundation.ca.

SEPTEMBER 1, 2020 OTTAWA, ON – If you thought The Ottawa Hospital might postpone its annual President’s Breakfast in light of COVID-19, you’re in for a wake-up call. That’s because today, The Ottawa Hospital Foundation announced its influential fundraiser is once again blazing a new trail. For the first time since its inception in 2001, the annual one-hour event will be held virtually on Tuesday, September 29, from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. in a groundbreaking online adaptation of the traditional in-person gathering.

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • This year’s event will be held virtually on Tuesday, September 29, from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.
  • Since 2001, The Ottawa Hospital’s annual President’s Breakfast has raised nearly $12 million toward leading-edge research, facilities, equipment, and tools to improve patient care.
  • The President’s Breakfast is a one-hour coming-together of guest speakers, front-line healthcare researchers, patients whose lives have been saved, and more than 500 dedicated supporters to raise critical funds for The Ottawa Hospital.

While COVID-19 has put events of this nature on hold, the need to raise crucial funds for research and patient care not only continues, it is amplified by the pandemic.

As has become tradition, the President’s Breakfast will spotlight some of the year’s most incredible, inspiring stories of hope and compassion to an audience of more than 500 dedicated supporters – including lead sponsor Doherty and Associates.

“We may not be able to physically be together in the same room, but we can still gather as a community and connect via live streaming video for this great cause,” said Tim Kluke, President and CEO of The Ottawa Hospital Foundation. “Make no mistake, this will not look or sound anything like your run-of-the-mill video conference call. We’re employing state-of-the-art technology to make it the next best thing to an in-person event. It is an extremely important component of our yearly fundraising calendar, and so we have worked hard to create a dynamic program of guest speakers, special announcements, and a few surprises to make sure we stay true to the innovative spirit for which the President’s Breakfast is well known.”

The President’s Breakfast will also mark the first official address from Cameron Love, the new President and CEO of The Ottawa Hospital, as part of its itinerary of guest speakers and former patients including Stuntman Stu, who recently underwent his second bone marrow transplant at The Ottawa Hospital in his battle with leukemia.

With a rich history, this event has raised close to $12 million over the past 18 years in support of healthcare in Ottawa. In 2018 alone, more than $800,000 was donated in just one inspiring morning. Viewers can donate online in a variety of ways: with a monthly gift, a multi-year commitment, or a one-time tribute donation in support of The Ottawa Hospital.

The President’s Breakfast in support of The Ottawa Hospital will happen Tuesday, September 29, from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. To RSVP or become an Ambassador, please visit ohfoundation.ca/presidents-breakfast-2020.

About The Ottawa Hospital:

The Ottawa Hospital is one of Canada’s top learning and research hospitals, where excellent care is inspired by research and driven by compassion. As the third-largest employer in Ottawa, our support staff, researchers, nurses, physicians, and volunteers never stop seeking solutions to the most complex healthcare challenges.

Our multi-campus hospital, affiliated with the University of Ottawa, attracts some of the most influential scientific minds from around the world. Our focus on learning and research leads to new techniques and discoveries that are adopted globally to improve patient care.

We are the Regional Trauma Centre for eastern Ontario and have been accredited with Exemplary Standing for healthcare delivery — the highest rating from Accreditation Canada. We are also home to world-leading research programs focused on cancer therapeutics, neuroscience, regenerative medicine, chronic disease, and practice-changing research.

Backed by generous support from the community, we are committed to providing the world-class, compassionate care we would want for our loved ones.

For more information about The Ottawa Hospital, visit ohfoundation.ca.

For an update on Meagan’s story, click here, to see how the family is doing.

At just 28-weeks pregnant and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Meagan Ann Gordon was admitted to the hospital with placenta previa. Alone and unable to see her husband and young daughter, she began an unexpected journey of resilience, optimism, and compassionate care in the midst of an uncertain time.

The beginning of a special journey

Meagan's Ultrasound

Just a few weeks into her pregnancy, Meagan Ann Gordon went for her first ultrasound appointment. Her husband, Kyle Gordon, was out of town and unable to join her. Having already gone through a full-term and healthy pregnancy together with their first child, Maeve, Meagan felt confident going to this appointment on her own. After all, what could be so different this time around?

What her appointment revealed was an unexpected and happy surprise — twin boys! This was the beginning of many unanticipated turns Meagan would experience throughout the duration of her pregnancy — including the emergence of a novel coronavirus that would alter life in previously unimaginable ways.

Pregnant with twins

Pregnancy comes with so much anticipation and excitement. When Meagan discovered she was having twins, she was elated. Aside from standard nausea and mild discomfort, her pregnancy was going smoothly — up until midway through her second trimester. Her doctor observed that her placenta, shared by both babies, was covering her cervix — Meagan had placenta previa. This can cause significant bleeding throughout pregnancy — a reality that Meagan was all too familiar with. She experienced several bleeds that required her to stay at the hospital overnight so that her doctors could monitor her health and that of her babies. But at just 28 weeks pregnant on April 22, 2020, she experienced a bleed so large they called an ambulance. She was once again admitted to the hospital, where her care team felt she needed to stay until delivery.

Megan Gordon's sidewalk message
On Mother’s Day, Kyle and daughter Maeve, visited Meagan outside of her hospital window, leaving her a sweet message to remind her how much they love her.

For five long weeks Meagan remained at the hospital, confined to her room, away from her husband and her three-year-old daughter, Maeve. Due to the emergence of COVID-19, like many hospitals across the globe, The Ottawa Hospital has been under visitor restrictions, preventing Meagan from receiving any visitors or being able to leave the unit to visit loved ones. Pleasures that she might normally experience had she been at home, like having a baby shower with her family and friends or decorating the nursery, she missed out on.

“Being away from my husband and my daughter was really hard,” said Meagan. “But I wasn’t alone. I was with my boys and I was doing what was best for them and their health. I was also being so well taken care of by the nursing staff. They knew how hard it was to be away from my family, especially on Mother’s Day and they went above and beyond to be kind and supportive.”

Throughout the duration of her stay, nurses treated Meagan more like a friend than just a patient, helping to bring a level of comfort in a time when she was so isolated from her own friends and family. “They stopped by my room even if they weren’t assigned to me on their shift just to say hello and to chat. They shared stories of their life outside of the hospital walls and met my family over FaceTime. They even treated us to donuts and coffees. But it’s less about what the nurses “did” and more about how they made me feel,” Meagan explained.

Emergence of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped how patients are cared for across the country and the world. More than 1,700 individuals have tested positive for COVID-19 in Ottawa, many of whom have received treatment at The Ottawa Hospital. As a result, even the most well-thought-out birthing plans are being adjusted.

Given Meagan’s unresolved placenta previa, she required a scheduled cesarean delivery at 34 weeks pregnant which would prevent her from going into labour naturally. Her boys were to arrive on June 3, 2020, but they had other plans. At 2 a.m. on May 25, 2020 Meagan’s water broke. Her husband rushed to the hospital just in time to see Meagan for a few moments before Teddy and Rowan were delivered by emergency cesarean. “It was a huge relief to see him before I went into surgery,” said Meagan.

Up until that moment, Kyle had only seen Meagan’s growing belly over FaceTime. When he walked in the room, and saw Meagan for the first time, he gave her a big hug before putting his hands on her belly. Feelings of pride and excitement washed over him. Kyle was in awe at how much her belly had grown since he last saw her in April. Meagan remembers their last hug before she went into the operating room. One of the twins kicked him in the chest. “It was a big moment for us because we often talked about how he might not get to feel the twins moving again, knowing I was there in the hospital until I delivered,” explained Meagan.

Meagan with Teddy and Rowan
Meagan Gordon with Teddy and Rowan.

Due to COVID-19 protocols set in place to protect patients and hospital staff, Kyle wasn’t allowed in the operation room throughout her delivery. But he was by her side over FaceTime, supporting her every step of the way. “It was definitely a very unique experience. I was happy to be able to see Meagan and talk with her and experience the births from her perspective while it was actually going on. I just kept telling her how strong she was… And being able to hear the boys cry for the first time over FaceTime,” said Kyle, “it was as good as we could possibly hope for given the current circumstances.”

Meagan’s team of nurses and doctors even went so far as to take photos and video footage of Teddy and Rowan’s first breath. The boys were then admitted to the NICU. While Meagan recovered, Kyle was able to meet the boys and get a report on their health. Shortly after, he was back by Meagan’s side where they reminisced about the delivery and marvelled in the fact that life had changed so quickly. A few hours later, Meagan was out of the recovery room and well enough to visit her boys in the NICU for the very first time. “It was the beginning of the next stage of our adventure – the NICU journey!” exclaimed Meagan.

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)

For the first three days, Teddy and Rowan remained in the NICU at the General Campus. While recovering from the cesarean in hospital, Meagan was finally able to have Kyle stay with her. This allowed both of them to visit their sons in the NICU frequently. With each visit they learned how to care for their premature babies, who were born at just 5lbs 2oz, including learning how to bathe them and change their diapers. “The staff was great about welcoming us into the NICU, giving us full updates and really involving us as part of the care team for the boys, which was different than caring for our full-term daughter,” says Meagan. “I found it was a very supportive environment.”

Though the twins were healthy and growing, measuring the size of a head of lettuce right before her cesarean at 33 weeks, Meagan knew her mandated cesarean would take place before the twins reached full term. This meant that her boys would stay in the NICU once born until they had grown enough to safely go home.

Home at last

After spending just over two weeks in the NICU, Teddy and Rowan were healthy and strong enough to go home where they could finally meet their older sister for the first time. “We’re settling really well into our new norm as a family of five,” said Meagan.

“We’re just so grateful for the incredible care we received as a family. Everyone we encountered was so compassionate and kind. It made a hard situation one that I will look back on fondly.”  – Meagan Ann Gordon

Ever grateful for the care she received at The Ottawa Hospital, Meagan is quick to express how thankful she is for her doctor, Dr. Karen Fung-Kee-Fung, Maternal Fetal Medicine Specialist at The Ottawa Hospital, Dr. Samaan Werlang, who delivered her boys, and each nurse that took part in her care and that of her boys.

Almost one year later

Teddy and Rowan.

Twins Rowan and Teddy are almost 10 months old and it’s certainly not the maternity leave Meagan had expected — but neither was her pregnancy.

The days can be long and feel repetitive during the winter of a global pandemic but there’s been lots to celebrate. While the boys are identical, they have very different personalities according to their mom. “Rowan is very giggly and chatty, while Teddy is very sweet and cuddly.” Meagan adds, “Rowan’s first word was ‘dada’ so I’m working hard to make sure Teddy’s first word is ‘mama’. Big sister Maeve is incredibly loving and such a good helper.”

While Meagan was a patient in our hospital during those early days of COVID-19, she’s now helping our researchers learn more about the impact of the virus as a Patient Partner. Her perspectives on pregnancy, labour, delivery, and postpartum care during the pandemic can help researchers ensure their studies are relevant to this patient population, and more likely to improve care.

As Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors of Ottawa Victim Services (OVS), Meagan, was a good fit for this research, led by the OMNI Research Group, as it explores sexual and gender-based violence, with a focus on pregnant and postpartum populations. More recently, it has evolved to examine how restrictions related to COVID-19 affect how survivors access care.

Meagan says the timing was right to get involved, “Honestly, the stars just kind of aligned. They were looking for someone during my time as an inpatient. I bring the patient lens, but also have experience from my involvement with OVS. I also have a background in research so that also made me a good fit.” The Ottawa Hospital is leading the way in partnering with patients like Meagan on research projects.

While Meagan takes time to work on the research, together, the family plans to spend the final months of winter enjoying the outdoor rink built by Kyle, who is teaching Maeve to skate. They are grateful to be healthy and spending time together in the safety of home.

Listen to Pulse Podcast, where Meagan Gordon reveals what it’s like to be pregnant with twins during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As someone who has dedicated his life to being at the bedside of others during an illness, Fr. Alex Michalopulos now has a better understanding of that fear others faced after his recent COVID-19 diagnosis in April. Today, as a recovered patient of COVID-19, Fr. Michalopulos says the experience was a real eye-opener for him and he’s grateful for the compassionate care he received.

Condition deteriorates

The Michalopulos family
Fr. Michalopulos with his wife and three daughters.

The Greek Orthodox priest wasn’t feeling well at the end of March—a busy time for this church community. By April 5, he was diagnosed with COVID-19 and he self-isolated at home. Over time, his condition worsened with extreme headaches, and a progressing cough, resulting in respiratory issues and fever. He was admitted to The Ottawa Hospital, General Campus on April 9.

The gravity of this illness and the resulting discussions became serious very quickly. “There was a discussion about the ventilator that could be needed at some point for my care. DNR consent (Do Not Resuscitate) was discussed and how I should talk with my family about it,” remembers Fr. Michalopulos.

The 61-year-old was transferred from the Emergency Department to a floor where a specialized team could care for him. “It was very scary to go through this experience. I had no idea how this was going to evolve. Doctors and nurses coming in dressed like you see in the movies with their PPE. Not being able to breathe—coughing continuously, headaches—at times I just wanted to die they were so bad.”

Extraordinary care

Dr. Samantha Halman
Dr. Samantha Halman (left) keeping patients connected to families through technology.

While Fr. Michalopulos recalls the fear he felt as he fought for his life, he’s grateful his condition never deteriorated to the point where he needed to be on a ventilator. That gratitude also extends to each person who helped care for him while he was at The Ottawa Hospital. “The doctors, nurses, and cleaning staff were amazing. I take my hat off to them.”

It wasn’t easy to be going through this illness without his wife and daughters by his side. With visitor restrictions in place to protect patients and staff, he could only connect with his family by phone. He adds his care team put him at ease during the times he was in extreme pain.

“All those medical professionals were so caring—it was reassuring that I was in good hands. They put me at ease.”
– Fr. Alex Michalopulos

Dr. Samantha Halman, General Internal Medicine Specialist, has been caring for COVID-19 patients since the arrival of the virus in March. She says for patients like Fr. Michalopulos and others, her medical team served a dual role.

“It wasn’t always about the medical care when treating our COVID patients. Sometimes it was about spending that extra five minutes with a patient. It was important for people to know we were there for them not only as patients but as people.”
– Dr. Samantha Halman

Being on the frontlines during these unprecedented times has been challenging at times. While Dr. Halman never imagined working through something like this, she’s proud of the efforts of her colleagues at The Ottawa Hospital. “This pandemic exemplifies why we went into healthcare – we want to help people.”

It was compassionate care coupled with his faith, that carried him through. He admits it was an eye-opening experience. While Fr. Michalopulos had minor surgery in the past, it wasn’t until his COVID-19 diagnosis and extraordinary care he received at The Ottawa Hospital that he realized how fortunate he is to have this caliber of healthcare in our community. “I was so grateful to all of them for the care; I had pizza delivered to staff when I was leaving.”

Thankful to be on the mend

Fr. Michalopulos was released from hospital on April 19 — Greek Orthodox Easter. As he reflects on his time in hospital, he couldn’t be more thankful to be on the road to recovery today. “For the times when the doctors or nurses came in to see me, for the times when I was reassured—I’m thankful I was well taken care of with love and respect for human life.”

As tears well up in his eyes, and he stops briefly to regain his emotions, Fr. Michalopulos says it’s sometimes good to be on the other side, to feel what others are going through. “I have a lot more respect for the medical professionals. I always had, but this time it was at a different level. They were there for me.

Fr. Michalopulos in Church
Fr. Michalopulos at the Greek Orthodox Church.

“They held my hand. They showed compassion. They showed a lot of respect and love. I will be forever grateful for them.” – Fr. Alex Michalopulos

It was that special touch, and care from complete strangers that helped give Fr. Michalopulos the strength to get back home to the family he loves and eventually to his parish family.

“I will always remember how I was treated by strangers. I admire them and will always pray for them.”

Research update

Researchers at The Ottawa Hospital are exploring more than 60 research projects to support the world-wide effort to find better ways to treat and prevent COVID-19.  A number of those projects have been supported by the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, including a study led by Drs. Sara J. Abdallah and Juthaporn Cowan. Their research is looking into the long-term effects of the virus. They will be checking in on participating patients at three, six, and 12 months after they were initially infected. Survivors of mild, moderate, and severe infections will be included in the study and researchers will assess the healthcare resources, such as visits to the Emergency Department, hospitalizations, and medications that were used by survivors. Results will help improve care for COVID-19 survivors and optimize how healthcare resources are used.

Fr. Michalopulos agreed to take part in this study. “I thought it would be useful to help researchers understand the effects and lingering effects of the virus in gathering information to help create a vaccine and or a cure.”

He’s grateful to have survived the virus, and this is another way to show his appreciation for the care he received while also helping others. “I also feel it is important to participate as my results will add to the information used to make gains in fighting this contagious and aggressive virus that has changed the society all over the world as we know it.”


Listen to the latest episode of Pulse Podcast, where we go behind the scenes with Dr. Halman and hear what it’s like on one of the units at the Ottawa Hospital caring for COVID-19 patients.

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.