Finding the Will to Survive

Finding the Will to Survive

April 04, 2011


Ilse Hubert celebrates life after near-death one day at a time.

It was a New Year’s Eve Ilse Hubert will never forget. A wife, mother, recreational Scrabble player, and former President of the South Burnaby Lawn Bowls Club, Ilse was always a very healthy person. But what began as a slight discomfort after Christmas soon became an ordeal Ilse will remember for years. On December 31, 2007, Ilse awoke in the early hours of the morning with excruciating pain unlike anything she had felt before.

Ilse’s husband, John, called 9-1-1 and they went from their home in South Burnaby to the Emergency Department of Burnaby Hospital. Within hours, Ilse was diagnosed with a perforated bowel and taken immediately into surgery. The surgeons did what they could, resulting in the removal of her colon, gall bladder and ruptured appendix. And hours later, John and Jane, Ilse’s daughter, received long-awaited news that Ilse had made it through the surgery.

But the victory was short-lived.

“Mom was getting steadily worse,” remembers Jane. “We couldn’t communicate with her anymore because she had become septic and her entire body swelled up like a balloon. That day, the doctors and nurses took Dad and I into the back room. They explained to us that we had to decide now if they were going to do a second surgery to remove the dead tissue and try to alleviate the cause of the blood poisoning. Her prognosis was not good and the chances of her surviving were slim to none. And if she did survive, she may not have all of her brain faculties and would not be able to play Scrabble again. And we thought, oh no, she loves to play Scrabble.”

“We didn’t know what to do,” Jane continues. “But we asked the surgeon Dr. Jean-Noel Mahy and Dr. Susan Kwan and the rest of the staff what they would do. And they said they would do it. So we said yes.”

Leading up to Ilse’s second surgery, John recalled feeling lost and overwhelmed with the thought of losing the love of his life, Ilse. And in his darkest hour, he tearfully remembers a hand touching his own and looking up. “It’s okay, John,” Dr. Mahy says to him. “We’ll do our best for Ilse.”

And she pulled through.

For weeks, Ilse’s family sat by her side, monitoring her as her body continued to fight the infection. Ilse was breathing with the help of a tracheotomy and was feeding through a tube. Other numerous tubes were also continuing to drain abscess fluid from her body. And while the surgery was over, Ilse was far from being in the clear.

And then after several days, she regained consciousness.

“Do you remember me?” asks Jane, at her bedside.

Ilse smiles and rolls her eyes. “Of course I remember you, Jane.”

It would be weeks before Ilse recovered enough to go home, but Ilse was just happy to be alive.

“Even when they first took out the tube in my trachea for me to speak again, I was extremely emotional,” recalls Ilse. “I just cried when I heard my own voice and they asked me to say my name.”

And on February 15th, the day after Valentine’s day, Ilse was finally ready to go home.

“How I survived this whole thing is still, to me, unfathomable,” Ilse shares. “I have everything to be thankful for – my family and John, the love of my life. I have the highest regard for the entire ICU and surgical team. They were tremendous and the care I received was excellent. It’s just so good to be alive.”


This year, Ilse and John Hubert are honouring Drs. Mahy and Kwan, and the dedicated staff of Burnaby Hospital’s ICU with a Tribute Gift. Their donation will help purchase critically-needed equipment at Burnaby Hospital that will help more patients like Ilse get better.