One year after a delicate surgery, a surprise visit to say thank you

Krystel El Koussa is a 27-year-old filmmaker who immigrated to Quebec from Lebanon. In August 2022, she began to experience unusual symptoms: extreme fatigue, weakness in the limbs, difficulty swallowing properly and smiling. She knew something was wrong. On December 5, 2022, she was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis.

Myasthenia gravis, also known as snowflake disease, is an autoimmune disorder that disrupts communication between nerves and muscles, resulting in muscle weakness. In some cases, a thymome, a tumour in the upper chest, can causes myasthenia gravis and worsen symptoms. This was the case for Krystel, who was treated at the Montreal Neurological Institute-Hospital (The Neuro) and had a sternotomy, a surgical procedure that involves opening the rib cage at the sternum, on December 23, 2022, at the Montreal General Hospital.

"It's the most difficult and painful thing I've ever experienced in my life. To say that December 2022 was traumatic for me is an understatement," says Krystel.

"Krystel has been through a very difficult time and I'm happy to know that she's doing well today. All the teams worked closely together to ensure that she was strong enough to undergo her operation and that she would recover well," says Dr. Jeanne Susan Teitelbaum, Director of the Neurointensive Care Program at the Neuro.

Krystel El Koussa
Krystel El Koussa

The importance of multidisciplinary work

Krystel spent a month in intensive care at the Neuro before her surgery. Since she had immigrated alone from Lebanon, she found herself with little support, despite a few very supportive friends. It was here that the role of her social worker, Stephanie Polacco, changed everything.

"I was without my family and very afraid of what was to come. My social worker managed to help me arrange documents for an urgent visa so that my sister could be with me. She arrived just a few hours before my surgery. I'll be eternally grateful to her for that," explains Krystel.

In fact, she repeatedly mentions that she received the best possible care during her stay. The doctors, the spiritual care centre, the nurses, the volunteers and the orderlies; she expresses her immense gratitude for their work and their great humanity.

"I had an excellent surgeon who was very human and kind to me and still is to this day. I feel very blessed with the whole team at the McGill University Health Centre," says Krystel.

A surprise visit to the teams

One year after her operation, Krystel is getting better and better, adapting to her new lifestyle. She is working to raise awareness of her illness.

To share her gratitude, Krystel visited the Neuro’s intensive care unit to surprise the team and thank them in person. She hadn't seen many of them since the operation. What a beautiful way to show gratitude during the holiday season!