In June of 2020, Oakville resident, Natalie Jenner, became an international best-selling author when her first novel, The Jane Austen Society, debuted as an international bestseller and sky-rocketed up the bestseller lists of USA Today, the LA Times, The Globe & Mail, the Toronto Star and more. But the literary recognition Natalie is enjoying now has been a true labour of love that she says was only made possible thanks to the care her husband received at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton.
A few years ago, Natalie’s husband, Rob, was diagnosed with Pulmonary Fibrosis (PF) – a debilitating lung disease that has no cure. With deceptively-mild symptoms like shortness of breath and a dry cough, PF can be hard to detect and diagnose until serious and irreversible damage to the lungs has already been done. Approximately 30,000 Canadians are living with PF—but sadly the life expectancy following diagnosis is usually just a few years. That was the devastating news Dr. Nathan Hambly, a physician and researcher at the Firestone Institute for Respiratory Health St. Joe’s, delivered to Natalie and Rob one day back in 2016.
“Dr. Hambly is so personable and open-minded and he has a holistic and intelligent approach to patient care,” Natalie says. “He took the edge off of our pain when he delivered the terrible news. And even though we knew very little about what Rob’s life expectancy might be, we were able to take assurance in that we were clearly dealing with people who were the best at what they do, that we had great care, and that we were in very good hands,” she explains.
Following his diagnosis, Rob was monitored regularly by Dr. Hambly, and after nine months, it became evident that his ability to breathe was declining as the effects of Pulmonary Fibrosis intensified. But not only is St. Joe’s a hub of clinical care excellence, the Hospital is also a site for a number of clinical trials of novel treatments and new medications. Through Dr. Hambly’s support and recommendation, Rob received access to a newly available drug specifically designed to slow the progression of PF.
So far, the medication is working for Rob. It’s stalled his disease progression and placed him in to a plateau zone where he is not experiencing any further deterioration of his lungs. While this may not sound like much, for the Jenner-Leek family, it has been life-changing.
“We are so grateful for each day we have with Rob,” says Natalie. “When you’re told you might only have a year or two, the fact that we have had four years with Rob, and that his health really hasn’t changed during the past two, thanks to this new treatment, well we feel like we have been able to buy ourselves more time.”
It was that extra time and peace of mind that allowed Natalie to return to creative writing and finish her first published novel, The Jane Austen Society. In the book’s acknowledgements, she pays tribute to the physicians, including Dr. Hambly, who have helped her family through this very difficult time through their expertise, guidance and compassion.
In the spring of 2020, as COVID-19 caused severe lung and breathing issues for many Canadians, Natalie and Rob made a donation to St. Joseph’s Healthcare Foundation’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund.
“Our family can appreciate more than most, how important it is to be able to breathe. That’s why we made our donation, and it’s why we’re planning to make another one, too. Our second gift will support equipment for the respirology division and help to fund Dr. Hambly’s research into new treatments and hopefully one day, a cure for Pulmonary Fibrosis,” says Natalie. “Doing something to help the Hospital, to help others, is how we acknowledge each other’s humanity. It’s what defines us and pulls us together as human beings,” she concludes in a quote worthy of being attributed to a best-selling author.