Julie sitting in an Ornge helicopter

Surviving Against the Odds

April 26, 2024

26 April, 2024



| By: Par:

Sneha Tailor

In April 2023, Julie experienced discomfort in her armpit and noticed a lump. A few months earlier, she had felt the same discomfort but it had disappeared. However, this time it persisted. Upon examination, her doctor discovered a lump the size of a golf ball in her chest. A biopsy later confirmed that she was dealing with advanced triple-negative breast cancer.
Julie began her chemotherapy journey in June, undergoing weekly treatments for a span of three months. Throughout this time, she encountered various side effects such as rhinovirus, fever, and eye blisters. In an effort to alleviate the fever, antibiotics were prescribed to Julie, only to later discover that she had an allergy to the medication.
Approximately five months later, on September 1, Julie started her second round of chemotherapy, but this time the doctors opted for a different medication and immunotherapy. On September 7 while Julie was out shopping, she started to feel overheated. She went home, took her temperature and discovered a fever. Seeking immediate medical attention, she asked a friend to drive her to the hospital, where she found herself waiting in triage for over an hour, which is uncommon for chemotherapy patients. Eventually, doctors assessed her blood pressure and conducted blood work, revealing alarming results. She was admitted to the hospital on the maternity floor which was very familiar to Julie, as she had been here just six years prior when she gave birth to her son.
Approximately ten days later, Julie was admitted to the ICU at Brockville General Hospital. She experienced two instances of cardiac arrest, requiring doctors to manually perform chest compressions and provide artificial respiration. The medical team informed Julie's mother that if she were to experience another episode of cardiac arrest, there’s not much they’d be able to do. Furthermore, the overheating had caused Julie's body to sustain internal second-degree burns. She was attached to numerous machines and undergoing medication to redirect blood flow to her major organs. Due to the lack of blood circulation, Julie's hands, feet, and nose had become discolored, appearing black. Medical professionals predicted that cosmetic surgery would be necessary to restore her extremities.
In late September, Ornge received a request to airlift Julie to Kingston General Hospital (KGH) to see her oncologist. Initially, her caring physicians had intended for her to be transported by land. However, given Julie's blood pressure, it was determined that she would not have made it through the journey. Upon arriving at KGH, doctors took photos of Julie to send out to the medical community in hopes of finding a diagnosis and the best course of treatment for her condition. Doctors at KGH had also flown in a burn specialist from Sunnybrook Hospital to have a look at Julie’s condition. During this time, Julie was wrapped in cooling blankets and put into a medically induced coma to paralyze her body.
Julie awoke on October 7 with fragments of memories from the past month, unable to recall everything that had transpired. Doctors diagnosed Julie with Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), which is a systematic inflammatory syndrome due to an over active immune response. This is commonly observed in individuals with an infection or cancer. Julie underwent another round of chemotherapy to combat HLH, and thankfully, it proved to be successful in eliminating the cancer.
From relearning how to walk, eat, and dress herself to starting radiation to target her lymph nodes, Julie has a long road to recovery ahead. Just a few weeks before our conversation, Julie once again found herself in the ICU due to a lung infection. The experience was incredibly terrifying for Julie and her loved ones, as she began to exhibit the same symptoms as in her previous episode.
Below are a few photos of Julie’s reunion with her Ornge transport team.


Julie meeting her transport team in Ottawa

Julie sitting in a helicopter with Ornge Paramedic, Esther
Julie's reconnection with her transport team is nothing short of remarkable. Prior to her cancer diagnosis, Julie welcomed a new furry friend into her home. It was during a chance encounter with a couple who had also adopted a dog of the same breed that she crossed paths with an Ornge Aircraft Maintenance Engineer. This encounter led to Julie being connected with the Base Manager in Ottawa, who arranged a meeting with her transport team. During this meeting, Julie was pleasantly surprised to discover that one of her paramedics happened to be her sister's colleague.
We want to acknowledge and thank the OCC for coordinating Julie’s transport along with paramedics Esther and Matt, as well as pilots Pascal and Harry, for their vital role in ensuring Julie's safe transport.
We are deeply grateful to Julie for generously sharing her story with us, helping to raise awareness about HLH. The entire Ornge team sends their heartfelt wishes for a speedy recovery!


Have you or a loved one been transported by Ornge? Sharing your story helps raise awareness about safety and offers other patients some insight into experiences they may be facing. Share your story today!


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