When Tony Korosak began treatment for his swollen foot, he had no idea how his life would change.
As his foot began to worsen, he came to the Emergency Department at Joseph Brant Hospital where he was taken in for several tests. Soon after, Dr. Armstrong walked in and gave Tony some grave news with an urgent timeline.
“I was diagnosed with gangrene and he told me that I needed an amputation immediately or I would die,” says Tony. “The news truly came as a shock but I only had five minutes to make a decision.”
Tony’s wife recalls the fear she felt and couldn’t believe the news.
“Tony was not angry or negative with this experience, but I was scared. But I soon felt reassured because we were provided with a whole support system of doctors, nurses, and staff,” says Lisa.
Tony would need three lifesaving operations and was put on antibiotics to ensure the gangrene would not spread in his body.
“Dr. Armstrong, Dr. Kalina, Dr. Dzaja and the whole team were incredible with Tony and with our entire family,” recalls Lisa. “From the physiotherapy team and nurses giving us updates, they went over and beyond to ensure we had a roadmap and knew what to expect every step of the way.”
For Tony and Lisa, it was how the entire team took care of their family that made their experience one they would never forget.
“It wasn’t just a doctor or just a nurse, it was someone who truly cared and that’s the way everyone was with us. We felt like we were in safe hands,” says Lisa.
What felt like an initial bleak situation turned into one of hope.
“I could never have imagined this whole experience happening to me. But the overall experience of feeling supported – it made me confident,” says Tony. “This is a new chapter in my life.”
From the outside, those who knew Jackie saw her as accomplished and successful. She had worked hard in school, had a stable career, and a family. But underneath it all, she was working hard to keep everything together and was hanging on by a thread.
“I had struggled with mental health and addiction difficulties throughout my entire life,” she said. ”Often this struggle was in silence because it’s so hard to access that kind of help because of stigma.”
What proved most difficult along her journey was finding the right treatment. For almost 30 years, Jackie was treated mostly through community agencies and private therapists for. Despite the support she was receiving, her addiction and mental health issues were impacting nearly all areas of her life. Jackie was being treated for a diagnosis that, while listed in the DSM, many psychiatrists and therapists have moved away from.
“Despite years of therapy, I remained in a pattern of avoiding difficult feelings and memories,” Jackie says. “It left me ill prepared to cope with stressors and this led to an increase reliance on my addiction to manage.”
Unfortunately, things reached a crisis point on Christmas Day several years ago, and she ended up being admitted to the in-patient psychiatric unit at JBH. While things had really unraveled and it was a very painful time, it was actually a blessing in disguise.
“The admission was very brief and life changing for me,” says Jackie. “My consult with the psychiatrist on the unit was the first time my previous diagnosis was challenged and was the start of a very different journey.”
The admission resulted in a referral to the PHAST program which then led to the DBT program in Community Mental Health, which Jackie credits with saving her life.
Undoing 30 years of therapy has not been an easy process. There was comfort in the previous type of therapy she had received and close connection with the people who had tried so hard to help her for many years. At the same time, she could see it wasn’t getting her the results she wanted. Jackie realized she was not getting where she needed to be and made the difficult switch. For the first time, her addiction and mental health needs would be met by one person in one program through one set of skills.
“Through this program, I have learned healthy ways to cope with extreme anxiety by learning skills that help me to manage emotions and prevent the escalation of them,” Jackie says. “I have set goals and has slowly been working to re-build my life.”
One of the components of the DBT program is to re-engage with something in the community whether it be work, volunteering, or school. Jackie has done a bit of all of this. She is involved in a community food program where she gets to draw from her previous experience when she used to work in street ministry. She has returned to supply preaching after an extended absence. She has also joined the Walk to the Lighthouse Committee raises funds and awareness for Mental Health and Addiction Services at JBH.
When Jackie first joined the committee, she was worried about participating in something that was so publicly connected to mental health. She then realized how freeing it was to be open about her experiences and to be able to share her journey.
“I hope that by sharing my story, others will know they are not alone and be more comfortable to seek the help and support they need,” she says.
Jackie’s journey has been intense and full of hard work to change long standing patterns and to understand her issues and treatment through a very different lens.
“The path is not linear and it sometimes feels like a few steps forward and then back, but overall, I continue to move forward,” she says. “The work is both exhausting and rewarding but with determination, rebuilding my life is now obtainable.”
For Frank and Carol Tristani, charitable giving has always been a passion, with a particular focus on making things better for people.
“We’ve always been passionate about healthcare and education,” says Carol. “It’s about caring about people.”
And for Frank and Carol, making a gift to the hospital in their estate was an easy way to leave a legacy of support.
“We live in this community and we talked about making a legacy gift to the hospital and decided the best time to do it was when we can do it together,” says Carol. “It was important that we had an open dialogue so that we both knew what we wanted to support and what we wanted our legacy to look like.”
With their bequest established and supporting priorities that resonates with them, the Tristani’s also wanted to make a gift that would benefit the hospital and the community sooner, and bridge their interest in healthcare and education.
The Frank and Carol Tristani Education Awards will provide eligible nurses, registered medical radiation technologists, or imaging technologists with a bursary to continue their professional development.
“We want to look more to what we’re doing in the future, not the past,” says Frank. “Hopefully whoever uses these scholarships are setting themselves up for the future.”
The impact that will be achieved through these awards will help staff achieve their personal goals while also having a direct and immediate impact on patient care.
“For us, supporting our local hospital is critically important,” says Jeff and Susan Moore. “The path to a successful town, city, and country starts with the foundation of exemplary healthcare and strong educational systems, and everything follows from there.”
And they have always appreciated the exemplary care received at Joseph Brant Hospital. Two of their three children were born at JBH, and as Burlington residents, they take great pride in their community hospital.
Susan served on the JBH Foundation Board of Directors, and sat on the Our New Era campaign cabinet for the redevelopment and expansion of the hospital. In addition to her volunteer work, Susan and Jeff have been longstanding donors to the Foundation, most recently making a gift in support of the Mental Health & Addictions (MHA) program.
For the Moore’s, it was about making a difference to an issue that many in our community are facing.
“Everyone has had mental health hit close to home,” says Jeff. “That’s where we felt like we could really make a difference.”
For Susan, their support of the MHA, and specifically Prioritizing Health through Acute Stabilization and Transition (PHAST) and Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Services (CAPS), is helping JBH provide the care and compassion that people need to help them heal.
“I don’t know anyone that hasn’t had a family member struggle with a mental health issue at some point in their lives” she says. “Our family is no exception and so much of it is invisible. Getting the right care through supportive programs, in a facility that can provide compassionate state of the art care, should be no different than treating physical health issues.”
For the Moore family, being able to provide high-quality care in a dignified, healing space goes hand in hand to promote wellbeing.
“I would say ultimately the goal is to provide care in a space that is happy, uplifting and safe, both for the patients and staff.” says Susan.
It was a normal day at home with her two boys for Kim Classic, when her whole life changed. She was chasing around her young son and had just finished breastfeeding her 16 month old and felt a small lump in her breast.
“I thought it was just milk ducts, but when I felt a new bump on my chest, I went to my family doctor who sent me to Joseph Brant Hospital for an ultrasound and a mammogram,” Kim says. “I was told that day that it was cancer.”
At 32 years old, Kim’s worst fears were coming true. But thanks to the quick response of the team at JBH, Kim began her treatment.
“Twenty-seven days later, I started chemotherapy in the Oncology clinic here, and for a terrible situation it was a fantastic start,” she says. “Being a part of the Complete Breast Care Program I had a patient navigator who helped me coordinate my mammograms, ultrasounds, biopsies and treatments, and having all my care in one spot was extremely helpful during such a chaotic time.”
For Kim, the personal care and attention made all the difference, and she never felt like they were rushing or thinking about their schedule – it was all about her and her care.
Kim was ultimately diagnosed with stage 3, and knows it could have had a different outcome.
“I was lucky enough to have the top notch care to help me strive to be a survivor,” she says.
For Bailey Telo, her mental health journey began while she was a student at Wilfrid Laurier University. The normally happy and outgoing young woman often spent all her time alone in her dorm room with feelings of depression and negative thoughts.
“I couldn’t get out of bed,” she remembers. “And then I came home at spring break, and it was the first time I’d felt happy in years.”
Unbeknownst to Telo and her family, it was the start of a bipolar episode, that included hallucinations and would last for weeks.
“My mom and my whole family were super concerned,” Bailey said. “No one had heard of psychosis or manic episodes.”
Her family reached out to Joseph Brant Hospital, and through the Phoenix Program Bailey received the help and medication she needed.
The Phoenix Early Intervention in Psychosis Program is an outpatient, recovery-focused program that takes a team approach to helping people aged 14 to 35 years old. For Bailey, her team included a psychiatrist, a therapist, and an occupational therapist, who worked with her to provide the right combination of medication, therapy, and support to build her confidence back up. She took part in this program for three years and still has regular check-ins.
For Bailey her experience was a sign that manic psychosis is not a common subject, she saw value in sharing her story and spreading the word that it is okay to ask for help, and it’s okay to talk about your mental illness, even though it is frightening.
“The more people talk about mental illness, the less stigma will surround it,” she said. “So I wrote a book about my journey – starting from the feelings of depression right through the manic episodes.”
Her book, Well, That Was Strange, even contains her journal entries from her psychotic episodes, as it was happening, and the feedback she has received has been overwhelming.
“I wasn’t expecting it to be as popular as it is. The day I published it I posted on Instagram and there were so many comments and feedback,” she said. “A lot of people have read it, and I’ve been asked if I was nervous to share what I went through…I always respond with no, the whole point is to help somebody else.”
In late 2014, Roger Ahamad’s family doctor had some concerns based on symptoms and directed him to an Emergency Department. Roger came to Joseph Brant Hospital, and after undergoing testing, he was scheduled for a follow up four months later.
But when Roger came for his follow up appointment, the mass had grown significantly.
“I remember the worried looks on the doctors’ faces,” he recalls. “They said one way or another, this mass needs to be removed and the surgeon ordered a CT scan to prepare for surgery. That’s where things took a turn.”
The CT scan revealed a large mass on Roger’s colon, a smaller mass on his pancreas, and two spots on his liver –all of which looked cancerous.
It was April 22, 2015 when it was confirmed to be cancer, and that surgery was not recommended because it had metastasized. Roger and his family were given a median survival timeline of 11 months.
“We set my expiry date at March 22, 2016,” said Roger.
Roger began palliative chemotherapy treatments at Joseph Brant Hospital, and received what was termed the “Olympian treatment of drugs.”
Over the next almost five years, Roger received treatment every two weeks – 95 in all, in addition to 10 visits to the Emergency Department, 25 nights in hospital, and five radiation courses. Throughout it all, he knew he was in good hands.
“I have nothing but incredible memories of the entire team at JBH, most notably the nurses, who I call my oncology angels,” he said.
In March 2020, chemo was paused to determine the impact of treatment to the tumor. The good news was the multiple CT scans have, and continue to show no change. In July 2020, Roger had surgery to remove the mass obstructing his colon. The pathology, post surgery, revealed that it was a benign growth (schwannoma).
Because of the incredible care he has received, Roger has been able to continue to spend time with his wife and children, and his dog Marley.
“My family is grateful for the care I’ve received at JBH and can’t thank the team enough,” said Roger. “Thanks to the expert, compassionate care I received there, I am still able to go on holiday with my wife, celebrate important milestones with my family and play golf with my friends.”
For Katie Murray, volunteering goes beyond the sense of good that comes from giving to your community.
“Volunteering is great fun,” she says. “Getting involved and meeting new people who share a common goal, being busy, learning from each other.It’s such a wonderful way to be an integral part of your community.”
Katie has volunteered with the Joseph Brant Hospital Foundation Board of Directors since 2017 and is retiring from the board after six years of service. She has served on numerous committees and recently completed her second year as Vice-Chair.
She volunteered throughout her children’s school years – from fields trips, and class celebrations through speech judging, staff appreciation to major gala fundraising events – which she says kept her busy for almost two decades.
“Once my kids all graduated a dear friend introduced me to JBHF, and what a great fit,” Katie says. “I couldn’t think of a more important organization to which I should direct my energies. Healthcare is important to everyone.”
She is proud to have learned so much about the funding requirements of hospitals, how only the operations are funded by the province, all equipment needs to be paid for through fundraising.
For Katie and her family, Burlington has been home for over 25 years, with her youngest being born at JBH, as well as a few visits to the Emergency Department over the years. So getting involved in supporting healthcare close to home was an easy decision.
“Burlington is a great community to raise a family and it’s important for Burlington residents to be able to count on our local community hospital to provide excellent healthcare,” she says. “Through my time on the Foundation Board and hearing regularly from the senior leadership team I have total confidence our hospital provides excellent healthcare and will continue to do so moving forward.”
For Dr. Douglas Belton, Chief of Radiology and Diagnostic Imaging at Joseph Brant Hospital, the biggest lesson learned in college emerged during his time as a student-athlete.
Dr. Belton played Division I college basketball for Hampton University (Virginia, USA). While it was great to play against future NBA stars such as Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison, it was obtaining firsthand knowledge of team building and creating a culture of winning that transformed his approach to life and his leadership at JBH.
“I saw firsthand how to build a team, how to nurture it to get the most of out everyone,” he said. “I have carried this over to my current role.”
In fact, it was the team and some of the innovative thinking and approaches to healthcare that inspired Dr. Belton to take on his current role at JBH.
“When I came for my interview, I saw the Pandemic Response Unit, which clearly put the community and patients first,” said Dr. Belton. “The Complete Breast Care program is another example of an innovative program that our community is lucky to have and deserves.”
For Dr. Belton, diagnostic imaging is central to the healthcare system and provides a truly unique opportunity to work collaboratively with other departments toward the success of the entire organization.
“The vast majority of patients will require some sort of imaging during a typical hospital visit,” he says. “I want to work with my colleagues to provide the best possible care.”
The Eaton Family – Brooklynn, Rob, Madilyn and Hugh
When Brooklynn and Rob Eaton’s twins arrived six weeks early, it wasn’t the storybook beginning to parenting they were hoping for.
“You’re expecting the same thing as your friends, and the movies, and it’s not always the case,” said Brooklynn.
After spending two days in a local Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), the doctors came to tell the new parents that their newborns, Madilyn and Hugh, needed to be transferred to make room and that Joseph Brant Hospital had space.
Before they came to JBH, the twins were separated within the hospital, which meant Brooklynn and Rob needed to split up and take turns spending time with their son and daughter separately. But once they arrived at JBH, they were quickly moved to the same bay so the family could be together.
“Right off the bat the whole atmosphere was amazing,” Brooklynn said. “We live an hour away and were worried about being on time, but the nurses were so reassuring and supportive. It was just so accommodating and it made me feel 100 times better.”
For the first-time parents, it was the staff and the support that truly made the difference. The nurses and pediatricians were in constant contact providing updates on the overall health of the twins and how they were progressing.
“They were fine to stand there and listen to our dumb questions,” joked Rob. “They did a fantastic job of telling us what the issues were, and what Madilyn and Hugh needed to do to be able to come home.”
For Brooklynn, the nurses truly made the experience.
“Nurses are just another breed of human,” she said. “Madilyn was suffering from acid reflux, and I was so upset. The nurses took the time to teach us, answer our questions, and always made us feel better.”
The twins spent a total of 30 days in the NICU and being an hour away Brooklynn and Rob often would call the nurses when they woke up to check-in.
“We would call and say ‘how was their night?’ and I felt we were becoming annoying, but it felt like they were waiting for our call,” Brooklynn said.
Overall, the couple was very happy with the care they received, and the overall experience.
“Whenever we tell people we were in the NICU, we would get that sympathetic ‘Oh…’,” said Brooklyn. “And I’ll say ‘you don’t understand – our experience was as good as it could be in the NICU. At one point there were only 4 babies in the NICU, and we were half of them!’”
In honour of the incredible care their family received, and in celebration of World Prematurity Day (November 17), Brooklynn and Rob asked for donations to the NICU instead of presents for Madilyn and Hugh’s first birthdays.
“The whole experience was very, very impressive and we’re so grateful,” Brooklynn said.