‘Watching my kids grow up:’ A dad and husband’s gift of life
Jean Michel recalls a walk up the stairs at a friend’s cottage.
It’s a climb he’d done countless times. But on this day, it felt tougher than ever.
“I realized halfway through that I was huffing and puffing and trying to catch my breath, finding it very hard to go up the stairs,” says the Orleans resident.
Jean’s wife, Deneen Perrin, was walking up the stairs alongside her husband on that day.
Observing her husband’s concern, she tried to reassure him that he shouldn’t worry.
“I said, ‘You’re just out of shape. It’s all good. It’s a hundred stairs. I’m out of breath, too,’”
“He looked at me and said ‘no, it’s more than that.’”
“It was definitely out of the ordinary for me,” said Jean.
Jean’s doctor examined him and suggested he go to the University of Ottawa Heart Institute for a cardiac stress test.
“As they put me on the treadmill, very quickly, I was labouring,” he said.
“That was the first failure for my heart health.”
“My first reaction was ‘you’re 51 years old. I’m sure they’ll fix it with a stent. They’ll be able to fix this,” said Perrin.
But it wouldn’t be a simple fix.
Jean had four badly blocked arteries. He would require a quadruple bypass cardiac surgery.
The gravity of his condition began to sink in.
“That’s when you worry about your family,” he said, his voice breaking and tears filling his eyes.
Jean, now admitted to the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, would spend the weekend before his surgery preparing for the worst.
“I asked my wife to bring me my laptop and I started making sure that all of my affairs were in order,” he said.
“At this point, you’re looking at potentially not being around anymore.”
When Deneen recounts that weekend, the trauma of Jean’s reality returns.
The pain of potentially losing Jean, still raw.
“When Jean handed me a USB stick, he said all of the passwords are on the USB stick, so if you need them, you have them,” she said, her eyes brimming with tears.
“I said, ‘I don’t like doing paperwork, so everything is going to be fine,’” she said, laughing.
Jean Michel needed it to be fine. The surgery wasn’t just for him, but for the family he cherished.
“Yeah, that’s what I live for,” he said, nodding.
In her heart, Deneen believed the surgery and subsequent recovery would go well.
“I did know he was in the best place. If it (the surgery) was going to happen anywhere, this was where it needed to happen,” she said.
And when the surgery was completed, Jean was granted his second chance.
The operation was a success; the husband and father gifted a future.
“My surgeon was Dr. Marc Ruel and his team. They were amazing. I was lucky. Everything went according to plan,” Jean said.
And going forward, Jean won’t be alone in his journey to lasting heart health.
“My son, who is eighteen, started his life with heart disease. So, at birth, he required open-heart surgery,” he said.
For years, Alex Michel was in the care of CHEO. Now, as an adult, he will be cared for at the UOHI.
“As much as I love CHEO, I’ve grown out of CHEO and now I’m going to the Heart Institute. I’m excited about the move,” said Alex.
“Now, we’re both going to be clients of the Heart Institute,” said Jean.
“Two members of one family. Two generations,” he smiled.
And the younger generation vows to help keep his dad alive and well.
“He said he’d go mountain biking with me. I’m calling on him to go mountain biking with me,” said a smiling Alex.
Jean Michel is up for the challenge.
He’s grateful to unwrap all of life’s gifts to come; excited, in particular, by one.
“Watching my kids grow up,” he said, smiling through his tears.
“Yes, it is.”
Deneen and Jean’s family agree.
“I can’t imagine life without Jean,” she said, tears continuing to fall.
“So, we are very grateful, and we’ll do twenty million interviews to let people know that this place (the UOHI) is the best place on earth.”
For more stories about the Ottawa Heart Institute, you can visit februaryisheartmonth.ca.