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"I’m deeply grateful to every person involved in my care – for saving my life." Dr. Pancer

 

When staff at Markham Stouffville Hospital (MSH)

knew COVID-19 was coming last winter, they were

prepared. Having been at the epicentre of the SARS

outbreak in 2003, they knew how to set up a unit and

create protocols for COVID-19.

“We started thinking of how we could create a

quick visual system to keep track of the COVID-19

patients in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU),” recalls

Dr. Subarna Thirugnanam, Intensivist lead at

MSH. “We decided to use a big whiteboard in the

staff area.”

Nobody at MSH expected Dr. Larry Pancer to be the

first name on it.

Dr. Pancer, a beloved paediatrician, had worked at

MSH for more than three decades. Now, at 65, Dr.

Pancer desperately needed the help of his colleagues

to save his life.

“I had a cough, shortness of breath and chest pain,”

Dr. Pancer recalls. “I went to MSH and a CAT scan

showed pneumonia consistent with COVID-19.”

Despite receiving the best possible care, Dr. Pancer

kept getting worse. After a couple of days in the

hospital, his fever shot up to 104 degrees. His blood

pressure was unstable and would plummet.

Dr. Pancer’s care team moved him to the ICU and

then made the difficult decision to put him on a

ventilator. He was MSH’s first intubated

COVID-19 patient.

 

“I explained to him what it would be like, even

though he already knew,” says Dr. Thirugnanam.

“He looked at me and said, ‘So am I going to make

it?’ He was very sad, very scared. He was looking

forward to the birth of two grandkids, and he

knew that once he was under, he might never come

back out.”

It took 12 people to do Dr. Pancer’s intubation.

“We huddled beforehand to go over everyone’s

role and play out disaster scenarios,” explains

Dr. Thirugnanam. “I went into Dr. Pancer’s room,

covered head to toe in PPE. I held his hand and said,

‘I know this is scary, we’re going to do everything

we can to get you better. You’re very well loved.’”

 

That compassion and confidence – which our amazing

MSH Heroes provide to every patient – meant the

world to Dr. Pancer. “Dr. Thirugnanam was very

caring and knowledgeable,” he recalls. “I remember

there were dozens of people involved in my care

– everyone from doctors to nurses, to nutrition

specialists, to housekeeping and support staff.”

Meanwhile, as Dr. Thirugnanam and her team

worked tirelessly to save their beloved colleague,

other COVID-19 patients were flooding the ICU.

They were also in urgent need of lifesaving care.

“Our hospital got hit so hard early on,” says

Dr. Thirugnanam. “We added Dr. Pancer to the

whiteboard on a Tuesday. By Saturday, there were

close to 50 names, and we were looking for a second

board. At our peak, the hospital was treating 78

COVID-19 patients at once.”

 

And, while our incredible frontline health care

workers were doing everything in their power to

care for the sickest patients in the hospital, our

community let us know how much they appreciated

it. To this day, all of us at MSH are humbled

and grateful for your generosity during the most

challenging time in our history.

After 17 days on the ventilator, Dr. Pancer woke up.

“When they wheeled me through the ICU, there were

so many people applauding with tears in their eyes,”

he remembers. “I had no idea how sick I’d been

until I saw how emotional it made them to see me

recover. Physicians care a lot about their patients.

They worked so hard on my behalf and it wasn’t

because I was a colleague. It’s because our culture at

MSH is to try your absolute best to do what’s right

for every patient.”

Your support helps our MSH Heroes go that extra

mile for every patient, regardless of what brings

them to MSH. Because you give, they have access to

the equipment they need to do their job to the best of

their ability.

“I’m deeply grateful to every person involved in my

care – for saving my life,” says Dr. Pancer. “And

I’m equally grateful to the donors. As a physician,

I know firsthand how vital donor support is to the

quality of care we can offer.”

Dr. Pancer spent a week in rehab at MSH, working

on walking, swallowing and speaking. Today, he

still gets short of breath easily but he’s back to living

his life – walking his dogs, as well as back working

part-time at a clinic. Best of all, he’s enjoying every

minute of being a new grandfather.

“My grandson, Luke, was born in July, and my

granddaughter, Violet, three weeks later,” he says.

“The first half of 2020 couldn’t have been worse. The

second half couldn’t have been better.”

 

 

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Some parts of this story including quotes originally appeared in Toronto Life, September 17, 2020, Life and Death in the ICU, by OMAR MOUALLEM.