Horizon Star - September 2019

‘He just loves the sound of motorcycles’: Health care team, former patient surprise cerebral palsy patient with his own rally

Eye bank celebrates 25 years

This summer, the New Brunswick Organ and Tissue Program - Ocular Division, based out of Horizon’s St. Joseph’s Hospital (SJH), celebrated 25 years of giving the “gift of sight.” The program, originally known as the New Brunswick Eye Bank, is responsible for cornea recovery, assessment and release for transplant service to New Brunswick and Atlantic Canada. The eye bank is the bridge between donor families and recipients, said Debbie Jefferson, who has been with the program for 15 years, and is now its nurse manager. “We’re helping our donor families turn an unfortunate situation hopefully into a better one, and we’re also helping recipients with the gift of sight,” she said, of the rewarding work. The eye bank officially opened at SJH in 1994, several years after corneal surgeon Dr. Mark Johnston determined the need for corneal tissue in New Brunswick. Dr. Johnston was recovering corneas at night and performing corneal transplants during the day, and the demand became too much for one person. That’s when Mary Gatien, an RN, was brought in as program director; for two years, they were a two-person operation, performing all corneal retrievals for this program. The eye bank has grown in the past few decades, merging with the Tissue Bank from Horizon’s The Moncton Hospital (TMH) in 2009, then with the New Brunswick Organ Program in 2013. With these mergers the eye bank name changed to the New Brunswick Organ and Tissue Program (NBOTP) - Ocular Division. Now, there is a staff of five at SJH, and 25 eye bank technicians (RNs and LPNs) who perform corneal recoveries throughout the province. Nadya Savoie, the NBOTP’s Administrative Director, works from Horizon’s TMH. In addition to Debbie, the team at SJH includes eye bank nurses Sue Giggey, Chantal Haley and Haven Perry and Robyn Richardson, the team’s administrative assistant. Debbie and Sue are both Certified Eye Bank Technicians and Physician Designees for their The New Brunswick Organ and Tissue Program - Ocular Division team at Horizon’s St. Joseph Hospital (SJH) celebrated the 25th anniversary of the program this summer. From left: Robyn Richardson, administrative assistant; Chantal Haley, RN; Debbie Jefferson, Manager; Sue Giggey, LPN, and Haven Perry, RN.

There’s not much that makes Justin Cormier happier than the roar of a motorcycle engine. Well, maybe the sound of nine of them. Justin has cerebral palsy and has been a patient on the Cardiac Step-Down Unit at Horizon’s The Moncton Hospital for two-and-a-half years. It’s no surprise to anyone who knows him that motorcycles are his thing. That’s why, on a Thursday evening in late August, Justin was surprised by his own personal motorcycle rally outside the hospital’s Ambulatory Care entrance. His face lit up with pure joy as he heard the sounds of bike after bike turning the corner to park in a line in front of him. For his patient care attendant, Tony Lapointe, who has been working with Justin for almost two years, there’s no one more deserving of this special event. “Five minutes a day with him in this building and it changes the way you feel about your day,” Tony said. Tony has been working at the hospital for 25 years, and his connection with a patient has never been stronger. “This is the most rewarding job I’ve had in my life,” he said. “I even think of him when I’m not here.” Tony works with Justin every day he’s on shift. He does his bedside and oral care, and then gets him into his own Harley Davidson — his orange and black motorized wheelchair, decked out with a licence plate and motorcycle stickers — for a walk around the hospital. There aren’t many people in the hospital who don’t know him, Tony said, and he leaves “everybody a better person.” Justin’s love of motorcycles is clear to anyone who meets him— especially someone who’s been biking for 49 years. Keith Noble was in the hospital last year for a couple months, recovering from neck, back and rib injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident when he met Justin on one of his walks with Tony.

The Donor Quilt hangs from the ceiling at the New Brunswick Organ and Tissue Program – Ocular Division at SJH. Each square of the quilt honors a donor’s memory.

Medical Director, Dr. Christopher Seamone, a corneal surgeon in Halifax who has been the eye bank’s Medical Director since 1997. Chantal and Haven are in training for these specialized eye bank roles. All recovered corneas in New Brunswick are sent to the Eye Bank at SJH for an evaluation and assessment. The Certified Eye Bank Technicians assess each cornea to ensure all standards and regulations are met prior to the corneas be offered for transplant. Donors must be under the age of 76. They don’t have to have 20/20 vision or be in perfect health. For example, even people living with diabetes with retinal disease can still be donors if they meet all other criteria. The program has between 100 to 125 donors a year, and since its inception has recovered over 4,000 corneas in New Brunswick. Corneas are sent to Halifax to be transplanted, which is also where New Brunswick patients currently go to have their corneal transplant surgery. Donor families must give consent and answer questions about their loved ones’ medical and social history within a few hours of their passing. The donor family is contacted so soon after death due to tight timelines needed in the recovery of the cornea. The cornea can be transplanted up to 14 days following its recovery. “I’m always so amazed with our donor families. They are always so kind and gracious when we call to ask about donation,” said Debbie. “They’ve gone through a rough time, their family member has passed away, yet they’re very kind and answer our questions.” A year after the donation, a letter is sent to donor families asking them if they’d like to participate in the Donor Quilt, which

The New Brunswick Organ and Tissue Program - Ocular Division recently achieved 100 per cent compliance on its Eye Bank of America (EBAA) inspection site visit. The rating means the program can expect to obtain full accreditation status from the EBAA Accreditation Board for the next three years. Congratulations to the team on this achievement and thank you for all of your hard work leading up to and throughout this inspection! is on display at SJH. The Donor Quilt was developed in 1998 as a way to honour donors and their families. Families are given the opportunity to make a quilt square showing special memories of their loved one. The Donor Quilt will be on display this year at the NBOTP Annual Donor Celebration of Thanks Ceremony at Horizon’s Saint John Regional Hospital (SJRH). Each year the NBOTP has a special celebration to say thank you to its donors and their families. Debbie has seen many changes in corneal recovery and transplants over the years, and there are still lots of advancements to be seen in the province. Corneas used to be transplanted whole; now, they’re transplanted by layers. Most eye banks are performing these cuts, but that doesn’t happen in New Brunswick because the team doesn’t have the specialized equipment and training and direct access to a corneal surgeon. However, this is changing, as Dr. Zack Ashkenazy has recently joined Horizon and has already performed two corneal transplants at SJH.

Justin and his parents pose for a photo behind one of the Harley Davidson motorcycles during a special surprise visit to Horizon’s The Moncton Hospital.

She called Keith and her brother-in-law, who called their friends, and asked other staff who had motorcycles in the hospital, who did the same. The answer to her request of asking if they’d come to the hospital one evening for Justin was always an easy, “Yes.” “All you have to do is reach out to people,” she said. “People are great.” Nancy agrees. “There are no words to explain how thankful, how grateful, how blessed we are to have these people who can do this for him,” she said, adding that Justin is doing well and has received excellent care by everyone who has worked with him at the hospital. Justin and Keith shared a special moment at the visit, when Keith told Justin’s mom to wheel Justin close enough to his Harley so he could put his hand on the throttle while he revved it, feeling the vibrations. It’s the rev of the engines that elicit such joy from the 26-year-old. He doesn’t see 100 per cent, so his hearing is very much in tune. “He hears them from a long way’s away. By the time they got here, it was like, ‘Breathe, Justin!’,” she said. “He was on top of the world.”


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Keith had a collection of stuffed Harley toys and memorabilia his daughters had given to him over the years, and he knew Justin would appreciate them. He was right — “They’re all in his room,” said Justin’s mom, Nancy, who attended the surprise motorcycle rally, as did his dad, brother, grandparents and extended family members. Keith just so happened to be friends with Lori Vrensen, the staff scheduler for Stroke, Palliative Care and Family Practice units, and Lori wanted to do something special for Justin. Justin Cormier, a patient at Horizon’s The Moncton Hospital, was surprised by a motorcycle motorcade visit by former patient Keith Noble (right), his mom, Nancy, and his patient care attending Tony Lapointe, and other Horizon staff members and family members.

Justin and Lori Vrensen, staff scheduler for Stroke, Palliative Care and Family Practice units, share a moment of excitement as more motorcycles roll in.

Teammembers of the New Brunswick Organ and Tissue Program celebrated the 25th anniversary of the program’s Ocular Division in June at SJH.

Justin and his crew outside the Ambulatory Care Clinic.

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