‘Dr. Robert Laberge Recalls ‘A Degree Of Love You Only Hear About’
From the Other Side, Barrhaven Independent
Dr. Robert Laberge didn’t know Maddy Otto.
He will never forget her.
In 2007, Laberge spent just a handful of hours with her. He was a young physician, recently graduated, who had just started his residency at Roger’s House. The few hours he spent with Maddy were the last on earth for the five-year-old girl.
“I remember that day vividly,” said Laberge. “It was just one of those things that you see – so remarkably sad but also so filled with love – that when it happens, you know it is a rare moment that will change your life.”
Maddy Otto’s passing was completely unexpected. Yet, it is something that serves as a reminder of the fragility of life. There was no prolonged sickness or any lingering medical problems. Instead, she simply woke up from a nap at the family cottage, and according to her father, Dean, Maddy “just didn’t look right. She was kind of droopy, like something was wrong.”
Dean and Jeanine Otto took their daughter to CHEO, and shortly after their arrival, Maddy had a seizure.
Within a day, the Ottos were surrounded by family members. They came from Dean’s hometown of Peterborough and Jeanine’s home province of New Brunswick. They even had relatives arrive from Alberta and the Yukon.
On July 17, 2007, Maddy Otto passed away at Roger’s House two days after being admitted into CHEO. She died peacefully, surrounded by a strong and loving family and close friends.
“There are two things I will always remember about that day,” he said. “I will always remember being with her and her family in the park when she was on the swing. I will also always remember being in their room at Roger’s House. I knew in those moments that I was experiencing something special. To see that kind of raw emotion with her family had a sense of sadness, but there was also a sense of peace and calmness as we transitioned from CHEO to Roger’s House. It was a degree of love that you only hear about.”
Laberge said that he was like a fly on the wall as he watched one of the saddest yet most beautiful moments he has ever seen.
“We were standing at the door, just watching the family lying on the bed with her,” he said. “Our role was just to make sure Maddy was comfortable. But as I watched the family, I was seeing this intensely human side of life. Those were images that will stay with me forever.”
After Maddy’s passing, Dr. Laberge left to go home. He said he had an “incomplete feeling.” He said he remembered sitting in his car, thinking about what the Otto family had just been through, while CBC radio was on in the background.
“I wanted to see them again,” he said. “I went to the wake for Maddy. Maybe it was for me as much as it was for them. I wanted to show my support for them, but personally, I also needed some closure.”
Ten years after Maddy’s passing, Dr. Laberge met with the Otto family. It was the first time he had seen them since Maddy’s wake back in July, 2007.
“Maddy was a special kid,” Jeanine Otto said. “She has impacted so many people – not just when she was with us but even after she was gone. She has a strong spirit that lives on with us. We have had many people talk to us about her and how they remember her, but to hear from Dr. Laberge and to hear him talk about how much he has been impacted by Maddy really meant a lot to us.”
Jeanine said that Dr. Laberge immediately connected with the family.
“I know he was just doing his job, but there was so much warmth and compassion that we felt from him,” she said. “He was amazing.”
The Ottos asked Dr. Laberge to speak at Maddy’s Gala that year. As the gala returns this year after a COVID hiatus, the words from Dr. Laberge still ring with the guests who were present that night.
“To me, it’s one of the three most important speeches of my life,” Laberge said. “There was my father’s funeral, and my wedding, and Maddy’s Gala. The one thing that being with Maddy taught me is how precious life is. Maddy was just a little girl. She was out at the cottage playing, and then a few hours later, she is in Roger’s House. I remember seeing her. She still had dirt under her finger nails and she still had some face paint on her face. And then, suddenly, she’s gone.”
Jeanine Otto smiles as she remembers the dirt and the face paint.
“She had been playing, and her feet and hands were dirty,” she said. “Maddy loved super heroes, and she still had a little bit of green face paint on. She was pretending she was the Hulk. She was going to wash the rest of it off in the lake but she never had the chance.”
For Dr. Laberge, there is one special thing that he learned from Maddy Otto.
“You always hear doctors say, ‘There’s nothing more I can do.’ But what I learned from Maddy and the Otto family is that there is more you can do. There is always more you can do,” he said. “It’s not just about calculating doses of medicine. There is a human side to medicine that I got to see through the experience I had with this family.”
Maddy’s Gala takes place Sat., April 29 at the Infinity Centre. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.maddysgala.com.
Featured Image: Dr. Robert Laberge addresses the crowd at Maddy’s Gala in 2017 with Dean, Hannah and Jeanine Otto beside him.