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.

Dr. Michael Schlossmacher
Dr. Michael Schlossmacher in his lab at The Ottawa Hospital.

For more than 200 years, no one has been able to solve the Parkinson puzzle. Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s. It affects approximately 100,000 Canadians—8,000 here in Ottawa. The national number is expected to double by 2050. Each day, many of those patients face uncontrolled trembling in their hands and limbs, the inability to speak loudly, loss of sense of smell, and pains from stiffness.

While the exact cause of the disease remains a mystery, dedicated researchers at The Ottawa Hospital are gaining ground—determined to solve the puzzle. Ottawa is a recognized centre for neuroscience research. Dr. Michael Schlossmacher is the director of the Neuroscience program at The Ottawa Hospital and while he admits Parkinson’s is complicated and complex, there is hope.

“I strongly believe we can solve that riddle. We have the expertise to make a major contribution to a cure for this disease.” Dr. Michael Schlossmacher

Predicting the risk of Parkinson’s

For Schlossmacher, a step forward in unravelling the mystery of this disease came when he was struck by the idea of a mathematical equation, which could potentially foreshadow the disease before it develops. “I’m convinced that by entering known risk factors for Parkinson’s into this model, it is indeed possible to predict who will get the disease.”

Risk factors for Parkinson’s disease include:

  • age
  • chronic constipation
  • reduced sense of smell
  • family history
  • chronic inflammation such as hepatitis or types of inflammatory bowel disease,
  • environmental exposures
  • head injuries
  • gender, as Parkinson’s affect more men than women

Dr. Schlossmacher and his team of researchers are currently combing through data to test the accuracy of their theory to predict Parkinson’s.

To date, Dr. Schlossmacher and his team have analyzed more than 1,000 people, and the results are promising. “The surprising thing so far is the prediction formula is right in 88 to 91 percent of the cases to tell us who has Parkinson’s and who doesn’t—and this is without even examining the movements of a patient.”

The goal is now to expand to field testing in the next two years. According to Dr. Schlossmacher, should the results show the mathematical equation works, this could allow doctors to identify patients who have high scores. “We could modify some of the risk factors, and potentially delay or avoid developing Parkinson’s altogether.”

Partners Investing in Parkinson’s Research

Team PIPR co-captain Karin Fuller, left, with Elaine Goetz and fellow co-captain, Kristy Shortall-Cain.

Research is costly and community support is vital to help unleash new discoveries. In 2009, a group of investment advisors came together to create Partners Investing in Parkinson’s Research, more commonly known as PIPR. Each year, the group participates in Run for a Reason and raises money as a part of Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend. In 11 years, the group has raised $1.4 million for The Ottawa Hospital’s researchers and clinicians.

PIPR has not only helped to fund research toward better treatment and hopefully a cure for Parkinson’s, but the group has also brought much-needed attention to the disease. For Dr. Schlossmacher, funding for research from groups like PIPR, means more hope for the future. He is quick to add that PIPR has galvanized the momentum in our community because they see how committed The Ottawa Hospital is to making a difference.

“This investment by PIPR into research at The Ottawa Hospital has been a total game-changer for us. It has allowed us to pursue projects that otherwise would not yet be funded.”

Donor dollars translate into results

Dr. Sachs practicing the use of 3D technology
Dr. Adam Sachs practicing the use of 3D technology for neurosurgery.

PIPR’s support helped bring deep brain stimulation surgery (DBS) to The Ottawa Hospital. For someone like Karin Fuller, co-captain of team PIPR, she knows the positive impact this type of technology can have. “When my dad had that surgery he had to go to Toronto, which meant going back and forth for the appointments. It was a lot for him and for our family. Helping to bring DBS to our community is a tangible example of what we’ve been able to do as a group to support The Ottawa Hospital,” says Karin.

Also developed at The Ottawa Hospital is the world’s first 3D virtual reality system for neurosurgery. It is being used to increase the accuracy of DBS surgery for patients with Parkinson’s. Our neurosurgeons are the first in the world to use this technology in this way and the goal is to improve the outcome for patients.

Promise for the future

It’s also expected that one day 3D technology could be in every department throughout the hospital. The possibilities for this technology are endless and, in the future, it could help countless patients, beyond Parkinson’s disease.

When Dr. Schlossmacher looks at the puzzle of Parkinson’s, which he’s been investigating for 20 years, he sees promise.

“At The Ottawa Hospital, we think outside the box and that’s how we’re able to unravel mysteries through our research. Research which we hope will one day be transformational.”   Dr. Michael Schlossmacher

He also has sheer determination in his eyes. “To the chagrin of my wife, I will not retire until I put a dent into it. The good news is, I may have 20 years left in the tank but, ultimately, I’d like to put myself out of business.”

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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 ( 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.

Funds for this project were used to run the 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.

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.

APRIL 29, 2020 OTTAWA, ON – The Ottawa Hospital’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund received a significant boost thanks to the generosity of a $100,000 match gift from the Nanji Family Foundation.

“The Ottawa Hospital Foundation is incredibly grateful to have the support of the Nanji Family Foundation and we look forward to seeing how their gift will inspire others to give,” said Tim Kluke, President and CEO, The Ottawa Hospital Foundation.

The COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund will help patients and staff directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Donations made will be matched by the Nanji Family Foundation and will:

  • support our frontline medical teams
  • purchase specialized protective equipment
  • develop innovative treatments through highly specialized technology
  • contribute to the care and comfort of patients
  • support our scientists and our researchers in their efforts to combat COVID-19

As the pandemic continues to evolve, incredible stories of generosity continue to emerge. Our front-line healthcare team has to adapt quickly and this match gift of up to $100,000 will help to keep them safe, along with our patients. It will also help support the work of our researchers who have joined the global fight against COVID-19. The Nanji Family Foundation has donated a total of $1.6 million to 16 hospitals across Canada in this collaborative effort.

We’re grateful to have the support from our community and thank the Nanji family for their leadership and for inspiring others to give and double their impact.

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

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.

The Ottawa Hospital is home to some of Canada’s most innovative women leaders in health care. Our female physicians, researchers, and clinicians are blazing the trail, conducting groundbreaking research and providing world-class care.

Dr.Roth Care Environment
Dr. Virginia Roth

While already recognized as a leader in health care and research, The Ottawa Hospital is constantly looking for ways to improve patient care, outcomes, and its performance as an institution. One key element to this success is encouraging women to take on more leadership positions.

Dr. Virginia Roth, The Ottawa Hospital’s first female chief of staff, has dedicated much of her career to not only working on some of the most feared infectious diseases over the last two decades, but also to empowering women in the workplace.

Women empowering women

What started as a dream of becoming a neurosurgeon has grown into a career that has helped shape the lives of many women in our community. Dr. Roth co-founded the Female Physician Leadership Committee to recognize, encourage, and support potential female leaders at The Ottawa Hospital. “Recognizing, supporting, and encouraging these women are the steps we need to really make sure we have the best leaders at the table,” said Dr. Roth.

Since the committee’s inception more than six years ago there has been substantial progress. More female physicians are being recruited, and a higher proportion of physicians and division heads are now women.

“We’re seeing a culture change because the number of women physicians here has been going up,” exclaimed Dr. Roth. “Especially in areas like surgery and emergency medicine where, in the past, we hadn’t seen so many women in those roles.”

Shaping female leaders, now and in the future

Dr. Roth credits Dr. Jack Kitts, former President and CEO of The Ottawa Hospital for his leadership in this regard. With support, mentorship, and training, women in medicine have more opportunities than ever before.

“The tone is set at the top, and if the leaders don’t see this as essential it’s not going to happen,” said Dr. Roth.

Dr. Roth hopes to inspire more women and guide them toward the pursuit of leadership roles at The Ottawa Hospital.

Meet just a few of the women revolutionizing health care right here in Ottawa – and around the world.

Dr. Kari Sampsel

Medical Director for The Ottawa Hospital’s Sexual Assault and Partner Abuse Care Program

Dr. Kari Sampsel
Dr. Kari Sampsel

As a medical student, Dr. Kari Sampsel wondered if oncology was the right career choice for her. In her first year, however, she was invited to spend time in the Emergency Department for a shift – and she never looked back.

Throughout her training, Dr. Sampsel had the opportunity to work alongside a forensic expert who solidified her interest in clinical forensic medicine, particularly in the care of survivors of sexual assault or intimate partner violence. Today, as the Medical Director for The Ottawa Hospital’s Sexual Assault and Partner Abuse Care Program, Dr. Sampsel has cared for thousands of survivors with compassion and expertise, on what is likely one of the worst days of their lives. “To be the champion for those who have been victimized or have no voice, to get them back on their feet, is extremely fulfilling,” expressed Dr. Sampsel.

Being a female physician in this line of work is incredibly unique. “Despite greater than 50 percent of medical school classes being female, the default assumption in medicine is that men are the doctors,” said Dr. Sampsel. “The assumption when I walk in the room is not that I am the senior physician on the team.”

Navigating her place within this structure has been challenging at times, particularly in the areas of research, leadership, and clinical care. But it’s a challenge she has been willing to face head-on. After all, she was raised by strong-minded women. “My grandmother was a staunch feminist before it was fashionable to do so,” said Dr. Sampsel. “My mother forged her own path – staying home to raise her kids during the peak of early feminism, going back to university and completing her degree at age 40, and having a successful career while being an involved, superwoman mother!”

Dr. Sampsel has been fearless in the pursuit of her dreams. She credits several female mentors and friends for inspiring her to have an impact on the lives of patients and hopes that she will do the same for other women.

Dr. Kednapa Thavorn

Scientist and Scientific Lead of the Health Economics Unit at the Ottawa Methods Centre at The Ottawa Hospital.

Dr. Kednapa Thavorn
Dr. Kednapa Thavorn

As a health economist in the Methods Centre at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Dr. Thavorn has one goal: to improve health-care policies, and ultimately, the quality of patient care. She is a well-published researcher and has always found meaning and motivation when her findings have directly impacted and improved decision making for a heightened level of patient care and hospital administration.

Dr. Thavorn believes that as one of only a few women in her position as a health economist at our hospital, she can share and contribute different views and perspectives that might not otherwise be thought of in meetings and committees that often lack diversity.

“I believe that a diverse workforce can help foster creativity and innovation. Different backgrounds, experiences, and ideas can promote healthy discussions that move our hospital forward.” – Dr. Kednapa Thavorn

When asked what her advice is to young female researchers, she expressed the importance of being confident in one’s abilities. “Find good mentors who are willing to share skills and knowledge and provide ongoing support. Building a professional network can offer endless opportunities. Your network can provide additional knowledge and skills that you need to get your job done, do your job better, or get the job that you want.”

Dr. Jessica Dy

Division Head of General Obstetrics and Gynecology

Dr. Jessica Dy
Dr. Jessica Dy

Dr. Jessica Dy has a passion for practicing both medicine and surgery. It’s one of the reasons she loves her role as Division Head of General Obstetrics and Gynecology. As an Obstetrician, Dr. Dy takes pride in being part of a healthy pregnancy and having the opportunity to support expectant mothers and their families. “It gives me great joy to bring new life to the world,” said Dr. Dy, “but also take comfort in the fact that we are saving mothers’ lives every day.”

As a female physician in this field, Dr. Dy can truly empathize with what each woman, and mother, that walks through her door is going through. “I believe my patients appreciate that I can relate to their period pains. Also, being a mother of three myself has certainly given me more confidence when I talk about pregnancy pains, labour, and all the fun things that come with a newborn,” explained Dr. Dy.

Dr. Dy doesn’t shy away from expressing the challenges women face in being physician leaders.

“Women at work are where they are because they worked extra hard to get there. We need to acknowledge and recognize this more.” – Dr. Dy

What advice does Dr. Dy have for young women considering a career in medicine? “It is a very fulfilling career, but you have to be ready to work hard and fight for your spot.”

Dr. Angela Crawley

Scientist, The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Chronic Disease Program

Dr. Angela Crawley
Dr. Angela Crawley

Have you ever considered how the medicine and care so many rely on today is developed? It’s through leaders in research such as Dr. Angela Crawley, who dedicates much of her life researching chronic infections and liver disease. More specifically, she participates in clinically-relevant studies in diseases that affect some of our most vulnerable people.

From a young age, Dr. Crawley’s grandfather, Dr. John Crawley, DVM, PhD, inspired her to take this path. Then, throughout the duration of her career, she was inspired by many other men and women in science, taking lessons and advice whenever possible. As such, Dr. Crawley has marvelled at the collective experience of seeing so many amazing women adding to the diversity of our research institutions. “While there are a smaller number of women leaders, resulting in fewer role models to other women to enter and stay in biomedical research,” said Dr. Crawley, “I personally have met many amazing women in my training and career, too many to even list.”

Dr. Crawley feels strongly that all of these women, including herself, have earned their positions in science through hard work and dedication – each making great contributions to their respective disciplines. “Behind that woman is often a whole slew of life’s complexities (e.g. relationships, health issues, children) that are juggled while she achieves and struggles to maintain that level of greatness, to prepare to overcome future obstacles, and achieve more,” expressed Dr. Crawley.

Dr. Crawley is an avid supporter of diversity and gender equality in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ottawa, regularly assisting in workshops on harassment and intimidation for medical students and residents. She has provided recommendations in the recruitment, retention, and recognition of female scientists.

Research careers can be an arduous pursuit, particularly for women. Dr. Crawley is an active role model for many young female research trainees in the University of Ottawa’s graduate studies programs, whom she strongly encourages to pursue their passion and strengths in science, despite its inherent challenges and uncertainties. She is confident that with the appropriate encouragement from effective mentors, you can stand firm and strong in navigating the path to success and that the rest of life’s complexities such as love, and possibly family life, will all fall into place.

Dr. Debra Bournes

Chief Nursing Executive and Vice-President, Clinical Programs

Dr. Debra Bournes
Dr. Debra Bournes

Dr. Debra Bournes never planned to become a nurse, but when the option to go to nursing school presented itself, she jumped at the opportunity. It was during her first job as a nurse that her love for this line of work truly blossomed. It was then that she realized the opportunity and responsibility nurses have to make a significant difference; seeing patients and their families through some of the most difficult times in their lives.

Now, in Dr. Bournes’ current leadership role as Chief Nursing Executive and Vice President of Clinical Programs, she is making a difference in a new way – by creating and supporting local, regional, and provincial systems and processes that help nurses and other health professionals provide personalized and meaningful health care. She works with health-care teams to engage patients and improve their health-care experiences. She also helps create quality work environments where teams feel supported, energized, and inspired to be the best they can be.

Dr. Bournes feels confident in her abilities as a leader and mentor, having had several amazing women as mentors herself who guide her throughout her career. “In my first professional leadership role Dr. Gail Mitchell was my mentor,” Dr. Bournes explained. “She was the Chief Nursing Officer where I worked and she taught me how to be a leader and how to stay engaged with what I was passionate about, even when it got hard, because to see that you are making a difference, even if it is a little bit at a time – is very worthwhile. She also introduced me to Dr. Rosemarie Rizzo Parse, who continues to be a force in my life. Her work fundamentally changed how I relate with people and shaped how I am as a leader.”

Dr. Mary Ferguson-Paré was another source of inspiration for Dr. Bournes. Together, they created a research culture and team that supports growth and innovation in nursing and personalized care. “All of these incredible women continue to be wise presences in my life so that I can do what I do!” said Dr. Bournes.

Though these aforementioned women shaped Dr. Bournes’ leadership style, she continues to be inspired every day by the knowledge and expertise of all of the women who work at The Ottawa Hospital. “It is a privilege to call them my colleagues and to learn from and be challenged by them,” expressed Dr. Bournes. “They all make a difference every day and that is what helps make The Ottawa Hospital an incredible place to work.”

Dr. Jacinthe Lampron

Medical Director, Trauma Program

Doctor in scrubs standing in a hospital emergency room
Dr. Jacinthe Lampron

Dr. Jacinthe Lampron has always had an interest in becoming a surgeon. But it was her deployment to Afghanistan, working in the medical unit with the Canadian Armed Forces, which solidified her interest in trauma. “There, major trauma was a daily event. I realized that with resuscitation and surgical skills, I could make a difference to acutely injured patients.” said Dr. Lampron.

Though her tours in Kandahar fueled her passion for saving the lives of the most severely injured, she credits her supervisor and mentor Dr. Najma Ahmed for sparking her curiosity in this field as a surgery resident. “She definitely inspired me and probably defined my career choice,” exclaimed Dr. Lampron. “Having a mentor is very useful and helps navigate the system we work in.”

Dr. Lampron hopes that she too can act as a mentor and help pave the way for female residents and colleagues to feel comfortable in the pursuit of what interests them the most, regardless of what that may be. “I believe in equal access to opportunity,” said Dr. Lampron. “If someone is interested in a position, the gender should not matter. What matters most is fairness and competency.”

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

A race against the clock

Karen Lawrence is no stranger to helping those in need. After all, she’s a Clinical Manager of Oncology at The Ottawa Hospital. Her position, largely characterized as providing specialized treatment and care to some of the hospital’s most ailing, has taught her the value of advocating for those in need and raising money for critical research.

Now, sitting with the knowledge that her own body will soon start to deteriorate, she reflects on her life – and the future of her three boys.

An uncertain future

On January 27, 2014, Karen received the results of a genetic test, confirming one of her biggest fears. She is a carrier of a gene that causes amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – a rare disease that gradually paralyses people because their motor neurons, which send signals from the brain to the muscles, break down and die.

As she sits staring at an oversized clock mounted on her living room wall, it seems to take on more significance – each second that passes moves Karen toward her inevitable fate. Like so many family members before her, Karen will too develop the disease. It’s just a matter of time.

“My family has been stricken with the familial form of ALS,” she explains with a pained expression. “I have lost 14 members of my family to this devastating disease, including my father.”

Watching ALS render her father helpless, while keeping his mind intact, was a cruel reminder that today there is no fighting this disease. “There is little hope yet. Today, there is only pain and suffering. Facing an uncertain future, a cure can’t come soon enough,” says Karen.

Karen Lawrence sitting at the kitchen table in her home.
Results of a genetic test showed Karen Lawrence carries a gene that causes ALS.

Family ties

No one in Karen’s family realized it at the time. Several members of her extended family were diagnosed with ALS and passed before they connected the dots. It was only once her grandfather, uncle and father were diagnosed that the family started to talk about the fact that it was likely genetic. The women in her family, her aunt and cousins, were diagnosed in their 40’s. The men were diagnosed when they were a little older, but under the age of 60. Once diagnosed, most only survived 12-18 months.

With a 50/50 chance of having the gene, it was never far from Karen’s mind. “It’s like walking around with a target on your back. You’re just kind of waiting,” she said. And she was tired of it – the waiting. That’s when she got tested.

“It’s like walking around with a target on your back.” – Karen Lawrence

“When they told me I had the gene, I was very composed and held it together until I thought of my kids and then I started to cry. That’s when it really hit me. I potentially gave a terminal illness to my children. So that’s very difficult to live with.”

The race is on

When Karen found out that she had the gene, something as simple as dropping a pen, or a small stumble, would have her mind racing to the future.

Karen is aware that it’s just a matter of time before her brain will no longer be able to talk to her muscles. Eventually, she’ll have trouble with her balance, then she won’t be able to walk, then talk and then eat. But her mind will be intact, trapped within her body, while she waits for ALS to take her ability to breathe. Karen has a pretty clear idea of what this will look and feel like, having watched her father go through it just a few years ago.

So, how does she grapple with the thought of such a grim future? She runs – literally. And she raises a substantial amount of money in support of neuromuscular research and care while she’s at it.

Her first ever marathon was in Copenhagen and her second in New York City. More recently, she has participated in The Ottawa Hospital’s Run for a Reason, where alongside her team, she raised funds towards a brand-new Neuromuscular Centre right here in Ottawa.

“The race is on to fund research to find a cure, or to prevent onset before my three beautiful boys are faced with the same agonizing decision of whether to get tested.” – Karen Lawrence

A new Neuromuscular Centre

Thousands of people in eastern Ontario are affected by neuromuscular diseases. Until recently, patients had to travel to Montreal or Toronto to participate in clinical trials to help further research in these diseases. However, Dr. Jodi Warman Chardon noted that The Ottawa Hospital had more than 50 researchers and clinicians working on behalf of people like Karen. Each is working on various aspects of neuromuscular disease – from clinical care to lab research. There was no reason why the most promising clinical trials couldn’t be offered here in Ottawa.

Dr. Warman teamed up with Senior Scientist Dr. Robin Parks, who is conducting lab-based research on neuromuscular diseases. Their dream to have a centre that would bring these experts together in one place caught traction, and in May 2018, The Ottawa Hospital Neuromuscular Centre opened its doors to patients. “What’s exciting is it’s more than just a clinic. It’s a clinical research centre,” said Dr. Robin Parks. “So the idea is to do research and get results that will then feed back to the patient to provide insight into new therapies for them.”

Today, Ottawa is at the global epicenter of neuromuscular research. Equipped with the strongest neuroscience research team in the world, we are well positioned to discover new treatment options and cures, which will change patient outcomes worldwide.

“When a cure is found for this disease [ALS], the chances are it will be found in Ottawa,” said Duncan Stewart, Executive Vice President, Research, The Ottawa Hospital.

Zest for life

Karen does not yet have ALS, so she is not undergoing any treatment. But she remains hopeful that when she develops the disease, she will participate in the Neuromuscular Centre’s clinical trials and benefit from treatment developed at The Ottawa Hospital.

Until then, she tries to not dwell on what lies ahead and instead focuses on her hope for a healthy future for her boys.

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