Patient Stories

Susannah Tam: Mrs. Miracle

Susannah Tam always thought of herself as a healthy person but all that changed on one sunny day in September in 2012.  What started out as a typical day at work took a tragic turn, and the next time Susannah woke up, she was at the Royal Victoria Hospital at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC).

MUHC cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Dominique Shum-Tim came out of the operating room and was informed that there was an emergency case in the Intensive Care Unit. “I remember Susannah’s case very well,” he says. “I had finished a long day in the operating room, and one of the residents told me of a patient suffering from a mitral valve endocarditis (an inflammation of the heart’s valves) who was also in septic shock and experiencing multiple organ failure.” Susannah had significant internal bleeding, and she was critically ill. With little time to spare, Dr. Shum-Tim performed an emergency surgery to save her life.

Hours after the first operation, Susannah experienced very serious complications, bringing her likelihood of survival from 80% down to only 10%. Dr. Shum-Tim performed a second emergency surgery and he made the decision to keep Susannah’s chest open for two days in order to prevent any significant bleeding like she had the first time. “At the time, what went through my mind is that she was in very serious condition, and this was the safest way to control any potential life-threatening complications,” Dr. Shum-Tim explains.

It was only in the weeks following her operations that Susannah started to piece together what had happened. She was filled in by her family, friends, and the medical team at the MUHC. “To this day, I still do not remember what happened,” Susannah explains.  “Dr. Shum-Tim explained to me that I was very sick, but it was during one of the rounds that the doctors made that I began to fully understand the severity of my illness.”

Dr. Shum-Tim saved Susannah’s life not once, but twice, and after a four month recovery at the MUHC, she returned home to her family.  “I cannot express how grateful I am to Dr. Shum-Tim and the entire staff at the MUHC. I would not be here today had it not been for their dedication, compassion, and expertise,” Susannah says.

Susannah continues to be followed by Dr. Shum-Tim and she looks forward to coming back to the MUHC to visit with the staff that took such great care of her. “Every time I come back for my check-ups, it’s like coming back to old friends and family,” she explains. “The MUHC has become a second home to me, and whenever the staff sees me, they call me ‘Mrs. Miracle’.”

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At the MUHC & RVH Foundations, patients and their families are at the heart of our mission, and we understand the importance of having world-class patient care available to them when they need it most.  It is an honour and a privilege to inspire our community to philanthropically support the greatest needs of the MUHC. Our donors motivate us, as well as our researchers and healthcare providers, to offer the best care for life.

Julie Quenneville

President, MUHC & RVH Foundations