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