Jennifer Zlepnig and Dr. Thierry Mesana

The Impact of Care: Jennifer’s Story

by Jennifer Zlepnig

I have been a cardiac patient at both CHEO and the University of Ottawa Heart Institute my whole life, and I have always wanted to reach out to those people who have cared for me along the way – most notably Dr. Wilbert Keon, the man who saved my life and whom I consider to be my hero. I have always wanted the opportunity to meet him and thank him for helping to give me, what I consider to be, a truly exceptional life. I also want him to know how much he has influenced and inspired me.

I was born with a cardiac condition called anomalous left coronary artery from the pulmonary artery, which I am told was incredibly rare in those days.

Jennifer Zlepnig

Jennifer and her mom

For years my parents lived with the fear that I would not live a very long life, but fortunately Dr. Keon was willing to do my open heart surgery when I was three years old and give me a chance at life. I am also told this was the first time that he had performed this particular surgery. While the surgery was successful, my prognosis was not clear as there were no other “cases” like mine at that time. People born with my condition had a 1 in 3 chance of living to the age of 10, while the majority would die by the age of 30.

Jennifer at a young age

Jennifer at a young age

I am excited to say that I have recently celebrated my 31st birthday and I am, without a doubt, one of the most active, strong, and healthy women to walk the halls of the Heart Institute. Thanks to the outstanding care that I have received throughout my life, I am living a full life and am doing things that I didn’t always think were possible. This past year in particular, I have truly begun to live the life of my dreams…

After having worked as a Registered Nurse for the past 4 years, I was accepted into Medical School at the University of Ottawa last fall, in the class of 2019. Growing up, I always talked about being a Cardiologist one day, but it was never something that I seriously considered until I was in nursing school.

As a nursing student I had the opportunity to train in various units at the Heart Institute, and it is then that I realized how much I wanted to pursue medicine and ultimately a career in cardiology. As a medical student, I have had the great privilege of meeting Dr. Thierry Mesana, the President and CEO of the Heart Institute, and was able to share my story with him and he shared with me his experiences as a cardiac surgeon.

I have also had the opportunity to learn from brilliant cardiologists like Dr. Christopher Glover and observe life-saving procedures. I am truly living my dreams and I could not be more grateful. I look forward to learning more from the outstanding medical team at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute in the years to come and hope to one day make significant contributions to the field of cardiac medicine.

From the bottom of my heart, I want to extend my overwhelming gratitude to my hero, Dr. Keon; to my incredible Cardiologist and cardiac nurse, Dr. Luc Beauchesne and Joanne Morin; and to all of the staff at the Heart Institute who work so hard to give people like me the chance to live a full life – and the chance to live our dreams!

Watch her story!

Video Jennifer Zlepnig

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