Change the future: Rick and Colleen DeJager

Rick and Colleen DeJager

Colleen DeJager was on vacation in Napa Valley when her phone rang.  

“Hi Colleen, this is Dr. Alp Sener. I'm calling about your husband, Rick.” As the words leave his mouth, the world starts to shrink and the air becomes thicker. Colleen couldn’t breathe.

Rick DeJager, a local restaurant owner known for his generosity and community involvement, started feeling unwell on Thursday. By Sunday, his symptoms became unbearable and, with Colleen away, he decided to drive himself to Victoria Hospital.  

After checking in at 10 p.m., he was stunned to learn he had Fournier’s Gangrene, a rare and aggressive flesh-eating disease. Fortunately, Dr. Sener, the Chief of Urology and the Keith and Leanne Lavergne Family Chair, was on call. By 2 a.m., Dr. Sener was performing a life-saving operation on Rick that required both ingenuity and precision. When it was all over, Dr. Sener had removed a large piece of infected tissue the size of a laptop.

Flesh-eating disease is notoriously fast and destructive. It can escalate from a minor rash to a full-limb infection within a few hours. Often, amputation is the only treatment to prevent the disease from spreading further. After successfully navigating the initial surgery, the medical team prepared for a second procedure to ensure there was no remaining necrotic tissue.  

Rick spent the next two and a half weeks recovering in the Intensive Care Unit and then on the ward. His warmth and genuine appreciation touched everyone he met. He is passionate about highlighting the amazing care team, specifically, Lina Martins, his wound care nurse.  

“Lina was off the charts, she fought for Rick,” Colleen recalls.

Each morning, the urology team would visit, astounded by Rick's progress against such bleak odds. Following his recovery, Rick consulted a plastic surgeon who confirmed no further surgeries were necessary, thanks to Dr. Sener’s skilled intervention.

“Dr. Sener and his team are just unbelievable,” Rick passionately declares. “He saved my life.”

Before the first surgery, Rick remembers an impactful exchange took place in the operating room. Dr. Sener compassionately asked if there was anything he could do for Rick. To lighten the mood, Rick joked, “Opera music and a piña colada, please.” Moments later, opera music began to fill the room. Rick was profoundly moved by this kind gesture, appreciating Dr. Sener’s effort to provide comfort during such a stressful time.

Rick’s medical journey is still ongoing as he is currently experiencing a unique issue with his bladder. He will continue seeing Dr. Sener every three months to monitor his condition.  

During one of these appointments, Rick saw the poster promoting the “Keith and Leanne Lavergne Family Chair in Urology.” Captivated by Keith's journey, he felt a surge of inspiration. Without hesitation, Rick reached out to Dr. Sener, inquiring about how he could contribute.

Rick and Colleen chose to make an incredible pledge of $25,000 to further enhance the Urology Division at London Health Sciences Centre and offer hope to other patients.  

“I have said this a lot over the past six months, but we are honestly so blessed to live in London and have access to this level of care,” Rick says, each word laden with sincere gratitude. “Special donor-funded projects, like the Keith and Leanne Lavergne Chair, are what change the future. Every donation counts.”