Jack Keys was enjoying retired life surrounded by his family when his life would take an unexpected turn. Following a series of medical tests, Jack was diagnosed with stomach cancer.

“It was hard to hear that I had cancer,” says Jack. “But my doctor was confident that with the right treatment, I could beat it.”

His devastating diagnosis of cancer in his upper stomach and esophagus led to Jack having to undergo surgery to remove most of his stomach at a nearby community hospital. However, during his stay in ICU, unforeseen complications caused Jack to experience a painful struggle to simply breathe, forcing him to be on a ventilator.

As Jack battled back, his family stood by his side, watching the daily toll it took on him. “He couldn’t talk, he couldn’t walk and more often than not, he was sleeping,” explains Bill, Jack’s son. “As a family, we were very concerned that he wasn’t going to pull through.”

Each passing day seemed to drain his strength, leaving his loved ones feeling helpless and heartbroken. But despite it all, Jack's surgeon was optimistic that he could recover and eventually be weaned off the ventilator.

Jack is just one of many patients in hospital ICUs across Ontario who can’t be discharged home because they require long-term ventilation. Recognizing the urgent need to address this issue, the Ministry of Health, in collaboration with Mackenzie Health and Michael Garron Hospital, launched a new three-year pilot program in 2021, known as the Long Stay Program. Its primary goal is to enhance the quality of life for patients like Jack, who struggle to breath on their own.

“The program focuses on helping patients recover and eventually leave the hospital,” explains Samantha McLachlan, Program Director of Critical Care. “Patients are referred by the ICU teams at hospitals where they are receiving care to our program at Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital, where our multidisciplinary team reviews the case and determines their eligibility for the program.”

In Jack’s case, he was referred to the Long Stay Program at Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital under the care and expertise of Dr. Kimia Honarmand, the lead physician of the Long Stay Program within the Critical Care Unit.

“Being on a ventilator is more than just having a machine breath for you,” explains Dr. Honarmand. “Imagine not being able to speak or not being able to eat or drink. One of our milestones in our program is to help the patient get strong enough so that we can install a speaking valve to help them talk. When this happens, most of our patients haven’t heard their own voice in months. It’s the same with food. Ventilated patients are fed through a tube. When they finally get to eat again, they’ll tell you how long it’s been since they’ve last tasted anything.”

For Jack, regaining these functions — speaking and eating — meant he was on the road to recovering his strength and reclaiming the life he once knew. Jack was determined to become strong enough to return home.

“Seeing the tube come out was an unforgettable day,” explains Bill. “Finally, my dad was one step closer to coming home with us and being surrounded by his family.”

The Long Stay Program provides unique care tailored to meet the individual needs of each patient. From physiotherapists to dietitians and speech-language pathologists, every patient in the Long Stay Program has their particular needs incorporated into their recovery plan.

Bill was incredibly thankful for the exceptional care his dad received at Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital.

“The entire care team was so responsive to everything he needed,” he says. “And they took the time to explain what we could expect. That alone gave us great piece of mind.”

Jack’s stay in the program lasted two months. Several months after discharge, he managed to come back to Mackenzie Health for a visit with his care team. Jack was now able to walk through the hospital unit without needing his walker.

Today, Jack has embraced life’s precious moments once more thanks to the transformative care of the Long Stay Program. Learn more about this program here: https://www.mackenziehealth.ca/programs-services/intensive-care-unit-icu/long-stay