PATIENT STORIES

This Father's Day, give your gift to celebrate the father figure in your life and support their heart health. You'll be helping to fund life-saving and innovative patient care at the world-renowned Institute. Honour the dads in your life, just like Steve.

The MacDonald Family Motto: “Fall down seven times… and get up eight.”

Steve MacDonald was fishing one day with his son, Jason.

It was an idyllic day; the sun was shining, and the fish were biting on calm waters. With flawless timing, just like a scene from a feel-good Hollywood movie, they reeled in a big catch. 

In his excitement, Steve had forgotten his net and grabbed the fish under its dorsal fin, cutting deeply into his palm. Without a second thought, he washed the blood from his hand in the lake.

Over the next few months, Steve became increasingly unwell. He could not figure out what was wrong and visited multiple doctors and specialists looking for a diagnosis. 

While hunting for answers to his medical mystery, “tough” dad and City of Ottawa Project Inspector wasted away down to almost 110 pounds.

Finally, an infectious disease specialist shared her suspicion: in that perfect moment of celebration on the lake, Steve had contracted a relatively rare form of bacterial endocarditis, a life-threatening infection of the inner lining of the heart’s valves.

Shortly after, he suffered a severe stroke.

What happens when a father needs life-saving care? Our fathers advise, guide, and help us when we stumble and fall.

The MacDonald family had an often-repeated motto that they would lean on in the dark times ahead as they endured stress and sorrow. “We fall down seven times and get up eight.” This phrase would become a family mantra.

Steve’s wife, Sallyann, called 911. She and her daughter Katrina cared for him until the ambulance arrived. Jason was one of the first responders. 

Once on scene, Jason saw his father’s seemingly lifeless body and his mom and sister in a state of total shock. A terrifying and life-changing event was unfolding before their eyes.

Steve was in a fight for his life and was taken by ambulance to the Ottawa Civic Hospital. He underwent almost nine hours of brain surgery. 

He was quickly moved to the Ottawa Heart Institute for more life-saving surgery, this time for his heart. 

Unbelievably, he endured four operations over five weeks. 

He needed to have his heart valve repaired and his aortic valve replaced. Steve also developed a life-threatening cardiac tamponade; fluid around his heart needed to be drained, requiring immediate surgery.

Steve can’t remember much from those weeks, as his life was hanging by a thread. The family, especially his wife, Sallyann, never gave up hope. “He is way too stubborn. I had faith he would keep going, no matter what.”

Incredibly, Steve survived. Despite being paralyzed on his left side after his aneurysm, he was still in excellent spirits.

He enthusiastically credits his decades-long survival to cardiac surgeon Dr. Fraser Rubens and the dozens of doctors and nurses who never gave up on him. They saved his life, repeatedly. Dr. Rubens would also go on to become a long-term friend of the family. Steve says: “If it were not for the staff that got personally involved, I would not be here.”

After a three-month hospital stay, he was discharged into rehabilitative care and told he may never walk again, but he was determined. Against the odds, Steve could wiggle his big toe a few days later. With months of physiotherapy, he became stronger.

“Don’t let it get you down.” “‘Can’t’ is not a word in my dictionary.” “Give me time, and I will.” These were the words that Steve slowly spoke, with much difficulty, to his loved ones. He made a promise, and he meant to keep it.

Shortly after, Steve re-learned the alphabet. Consonants were particularly tough. With the help of his kids, he started to walk again but never regained the full use of his left arm.

Despite all the trials and tribulations, his family could not stop him from relentlessly telling puns and ‘dad jokes’, even if they hid a smile while attempting to discourage him.

That year, at the end of 1996, Steve gave back to those who had helped save his life by participating in the Christmas Tree Lighting at the Heart Institute, the annual Telethon, and became a patient advocate, too.

There were many more sunrises and sunsets. Steve and Sallyann had truly been given the gift of more time—decades to see graduations and special days, celebrate birthdays, and meet newborn grandbabies.

Together, they lived twenty good years until 2016, when Steve became ill. It was another life-or-death situation, and the Heart Institute was there for him and his family. 

He needed a new aortic valve replacement, and because of his weakened state, he developed sepsis. His body was attacking itself, and he was going into a lethal shock.

Sallyann was beside herself with sadness and grief as she made a tough choice, along with the support of her now adult children, Jason and Katrina, to administer a “cluster buster.” With a tiny glimmer of luck, it would break up multiple blood clots that were causing mini-strokes.

Again, the family motto of “getting back up” continues today. Sallyann shares, “Steve was determined to surprise the heck out of everyone.”

Son Jason adds, “My father has fallen hundreds of times, but he gets back up. The epitome of my dad is his relentless heart.”

Steve’s positive outlook is often remarked upon by his healthcare team and caring cardiologist, Dr. K. Chan. The MacDonalds have been married for 53 years and have five beautiful grandchildren. The proud dad no longer fishes but loves to cook and makes, in his own words, “a very mean spaghetti.”

The team at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute will be here for you and your family when you need us most.     

This Father’s Day, give your gift to celebrate the father figure in your life and support their heart health.

You’ll be helping to fund life-saving and innovative patient care at the world-renowned Institute. Honour the dads in your life, just like Steve. 

Plus, this Father’s Day week, donations will be matched generously by family-owned Waterdon Construction.  

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