Roger Wilson’s incredible healing journey at St. Francis Memorial Hospital

Submitted by St. Francis Valley Healthcare Foundation.

Roger Wilson never thought his health would fail so rapidly.

He and his wife Dorothy operated the Freshmart grocery store in Whitney for 24 years. When they retired to Carson Lake, they pictured enjoying every minute of retirement doing the things they love. Roger particularly enjoyed hunting and enjoyed being out in nature. Above: After a harrowing year in and out of hospital, Roger and his wife Dorothy are grateful for the care that they received at St. Francis Memorial Hospital. (Photo submitted)

Roger kept healthy and didn’t have many reasons to visit the hospital. But that all changed in late 2019. Roger was diagnosed with, and began treatment for, multiple myeloma, a cancer that forms in a type of white blood cell called a plasma cell. He then experienced gout issues in his ankles, knees and hands.

“That progressed and got worse and worse,” he said. “I was losing muscle mass and strength.”

He was rushed to St. Francis Memorial Hospital, where he was quickly assessed and transferred to Ottawa. Roger was having a heart attack. He immediately underwent open heart surgery where doctors performed a triple bypass.

Afterwards, he was transferred back to St. Francis Memorial Hospital where he could heal closer to home. His health improved and he was eventually discharged.

But things took a turn for the worse. He developed sepsis and came back to the hospital. His prognosis took such a turn that he was admitted to hospice for six weeks.

“I should have died,” he said.

But he didn’t. Thanks to the specialized pieces of equipment to assist his healing journey at the hospital and the diverse staff along every step of his journey, Roger was able to return home once again.

Roger Wilson credits a portion of his recovery to the dedication of hospital staff, like nurses Lee Kelly, left, and Bobbi-Jo Coulas, right. (Photo submitted)

He was bedridden for several weeks and had to relearn how to walk. Day-by-day, his health progressed and one year later, his health has improved considerably. Still, the experience of having his health take such a turn so rapidly makes him incredibly grateful to have St. Francis Memorial Hospital so close to home.

“You never know when your health will fail,” Roger reflected. “You can be in the perfect health like I was for years then all of a sudden … your life changes and you rely on local healthcare to heal.”

His wife, Dorothy, was especially grateful that she could visit Roger any time she’d like.

“St. Francis is close to home, so there wasn’t a lot of travel involved. I could be here every day. We are so lucky to have St. Francis Memorial Hospital here. It is just a gift to the whole community. We need to continue supporting our local hospital,” she said. “The big hospitals in the city are wonderful, but you have to get there from somewhere and our hospital was the best place to start.”

Give the Gift of Healing through the Tree of Lights Campaign

During his time at St. Francis, Roger relied on some specialized pieces of equipment to help with his healing journey. This included a wound-healing device called VAC Therapy.

Mary-Ellen Harris is the Director of Patient Care Services at St. Francis Memorial Hospital. She explained that the VAC Therapy System works as a negative wound pressure treatment system.

“It applies negative pressure to a wound or a surgical incision that we are trying to heal,” Harris said. “It’s a vacuum technology. It pulls away infectious material and it helps to reduce swelling. It promotes healing because it removes any fluid that might be sitting on the wound bed. It promotes healthy tissue growth within that system.”

Nurses also administered proper medication to Roger via the specialized medication dispensing unit. He would eat his meals using the overbed tables and his loved ones would watch over him using the bedside chairs.

All of these pieces of equipment, which are critical to patient care in the medical unit at St. Francis, need to be updated and/or replaced.

Dr. Jason Malinowski watches over his patient, Roger Wilson. (Photo submitted)

Andrew Wagner is the Director of Pharmacy at St. Francis. He said the $25,000 upgrade to the medication dispensing unit has many benefits.

“The medication dispensing cabinets are critical to ensuring nurses have safe and timely access to medications needed to treat patients. The upgrade will also represent significant cost savings for the Hospital. We are so appreciative to the donors who will make this purchase possible,” Wagner said.

The cost to replace the bedside chairs and overbed tables is $10,000. Harris said that these two pieces of equipment are used daily in every patient room.

“The overbed tables and bedside chairs are used by patients, family and visitors,” she explained, adding that both pieces of equipment are in disrepair and need to be replaced. “The new ones will effectively be meeting infection control standards because they are made with hospital-grade materials that meet infection control standards.”

Replacing the VAC Therapy System will cost $35,000. Combined, the cost to replace these pieces of equipment on the medical unit will be approximately $70,000.

Chief of Staff at St. Francis, Dr. Jason Malinowski, spoke about the importance of having these items replaced and/or updated at St. Francis Memorial Hospital.

“It is invaluable to us as a Hospital to have new equipment like a VAC Therapy System, overbed tables, bedside chairs as well as a critical upgrade to our pharmacy dispensing unit,” Dr. Malinowski said. “Without these vital pieces of equipment located in the medical unit at St. Francis Memorial Hospital, we simply could not function to our high standards or have the ability to allow patients to heal close to home.”

Tree of Lights campaign underway

That’s the goal of this year’s Tree of Lights Campaign, organized by the St. Francis Valley Healthcare Foundation. The annual campaign, now in its 20th year, is hoping to raise $70,000 to help purchase these critical pieces of equipment and upgrades.

Executive Director of the Foundation, Erin Gienow, acknowledges that 2020 has been a challenging year, but is confident that with the support of the community, the Campaign will reach its goal.

“Covid-19 has challenged us all, and we thank everyone for their ongoing commitment to local healthcare,” she said. “The needs of the hospital continue throughout the global pandemic. We want to ensure that St. Francis continues to provide the excellent medical care that we have come to know and expect.”

She added that medical equipment is expensive and is simply not funded by the government.

“Which is why we need your help,” Gienow explained. “When you give to the Tree of Lights Campaign, you are essentially Giving the Gift of Healing to patients at St. Francis Memorial Hospital.”

giving-tuesday-dec-1-2020Early November, over 2,500 pieces of mail were folded, stuffed and checked twice by 15 volunteers. Several sponsors helped with the mailing costs of the campaign, including the Killaloe Lions Club, Quadeville & District Service Club and the Barry’s Bay Knights of Columbus.

The pieces of mail accompany the Tree of Lights Campaign, and are sent to community members along with a letter, donation form and bulb card.  Donors can fill out the bulb card, dedicating their donation in memory, or honour of, a loved one. These bulb cards will be prominently displayed at the hospital, as well as at the Barry’s Bay Metro.

In past years, a public tree lighting ceremony takes place as a way to commemorate the Campaign. Due to public healthcare directives, the Foundation will not be proceeding with the traditional tree lighting event. However, in keeping the spirit of the season alive, a virtual tree lighting ceremony will take place on Friday, December 4 at 6:30 p.m. The video will air on the St. Francis Valley Healthcare Foundation’s Facebook page.

“This wonderful Holiday tradition is truly a cherished event that started many years ago as a small gathering at the Hospital and later moved to the railway station in Barry’s Bay,” Gienow said. “This year, we will be back on the grounds at the Hospital.  We will be lighting not one but two trees to mark this very special occasion – our traditional tree will be lit at the railway station and we have added a second tree at the hospital where patients will have a birds-eye view of the lights from the activities room.”

Traditional tree lighting ceremonies around the Valley, including the Palmer Rapids and Area Lions Club Tree of Love and Killaloe-Hagarty-Richards’ Tree of Peace have also been cancelled.

“We thank the Palmer Lions and KHR communities for their past support of these events,” Gienow said. “Although we can’t gather this year, we hope to see all of your smiling faces in your home communities in 2021.”

If you would like to Give the Gift of Healing and received a letter in the mail, please fill out the donation card along with the bulb card and return to the Foundation at 7 St. Francis Memorial Drive, P.O. Box 129, Barry’s Bay, Ont. K0J 1B0. There are also drop boxes located at the Northern Credit Union, Barry’s Bay Bank of Montreal and Killaloe-Hagarty-Richards Township office.

Donations can also be made by calling 613-756-3044 ext. 217 or online at

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