A Brush with Death saves Kenton Leier’s Life. 

By Joel Haslam 

Couples understand what it means to lean on each other, especially during life’s heartaches.

“I think life hands you different challenges in order to prepare you for other ones,” says Tanya Leier.

Tanya, and her husband, Kenton Leier knows all about challenges, and getting through them together.

“Relationships really make life worth living,” says Kenton.

One of the couple’s first challenges—Tanya’s sudden hearing loss. Surgery to restore it was an option, but it was not without risks.

“So, I had to decide if I wanted to hear, or possibly lose my taste,” says Tanya.

She had the operation, but did lose her sense of taste on one side of her mouth.

“Right now, as we’re talking, the air I’m breathing tastes like metal on one side of my mouth,” Tanya points out.

For Tanya, the loss was profound. Like Kenton, she had been working in the culinary world. Without her sense of taste, she chose to change careers.

And then, that same year, more health issues.

“I was also diagnosed with cancer. They found a very large tumour in my chest that had been there for a long time,” she says, her voice breaking.

Tanya went through chemotherapy. Kenton and his two daughters were her rocks.

“I was really so thankful to have him and those girls in my life. They really took me out of some dark places,” says a teary Tanya.

And when the cancer was gone, Kenton was again there to welcome Tanya’s news.

“I told him I’m cancer free not even a trace,” she announces with a wide smile.

The couple began making plans for their next chapter, a wedding, unaware that Kenton would soon be leaning on Tanya.

On a July afternoon, after getting their wedding rings sized at a local jeweller, Tanya dropped Kenton off at the National Arts Centre, where he’s served as Executive Chef for seven years.

“I needed to come back and pick up my keys from my office. My car was in the parking lot downstairs. She dropped me off here and she was going home to make dinner for us. I told her I would see her in about an hour,” Kenton recalls.

But once inside, another chef told Kenton there was smoke coming from a nearby dryer where staff launders uniforms and linens. Kenton called the fire department and walked toward the laundry room.

“At that point I said I think I’ll just grab the fire extinguisher and see if I can put it out myself,” says Kenton.

However, while working to extinguish the fire, billows of smoke and gas would take its toll on Kenton.

“And all of a sudden, I just started feeling faint. And there was another one of my cooks standing beside me and I said I’m going to pass out. And that’s the last thing I remember,” he says, grimly.

Tanya, meanwhile, had for hours been unable to reach Kenton.

“I’m texting him, calling him, but nothing.”

“And then I start to get Facebook messages that say Kenton has been in an accident. There was a fire, there was a fire,” says Tanya, the trauma of that day visible on her face.

“It was a hard day. So emotional,” says Nelson Borges, the GM of food and beverage at the NAC and a longtime friend and colleague of Kenton’s.

He still remembers getting the call about the accident.

“To hear the voices on the other side and to hear how panicked they were kind of gave me a sense of how bad it was,” says Nelson.

Kenton had collapsed and gone into cardiac arrest.

“He had died for a period of, I think they said, six minutes,” says Tanya.

But quick-thinking kitchen staff would play a critical role in saving Kenton’s life.

“They were there when I needed them the most,” says Kenton.

They rushed upstairs to guide firefighters through the massive building to Kenton’s location in the kitchen. Another colleague grabbed a defibrillator from security. Firefighters used it to twice shock Kenton.

“If those things didn’t happen right at the right moment I wouldn’t be here,” he says.

“There were a lot of people who cared about Kenton, and it showed on a day like that,” says Kenton’s friend, Nelson.

None more so than Tanya, who rushed to the hospital to see her fiancée. She remembers what she saw as she approached his room.

There was as a curtain and a foot and it was black from the soot, and I thought surely that’s not Kenton,” she recalls, tears filling her eyes. It was really tough.

Waking in ICU the next day, Kenton didn’t recall the accident, or Tanya’s visit the night before. A nurse explained to him what had happened.

“I thought, Oh my God. I can’t believe I’ve been through this,” he says.

That’s when Kenton called Tanya, knowing how traumatic the incident must have been for her.

“I was so afraid that I lost him and there he was on the phone just normal,” she says, crying tears of joy.

But shortly after his release, doctors called Kenton with concerns about the cause of his cardiac arrests. He recalls the conversation.

“We realize they released you, but we wanted to see you before you left, and we didn’t get a chance because we can’t explain why your heart stopped the way it did.”

An angiogram at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute would reveal the reason.

“I had four major blockages in my arteries, one was a hundred per cent. My heart had actually made two veins to reroute the blood to go around the blockages and that’s how I was surviving,” says Kenton, with a smile.

Kenton would need a quadruple bypass surgery. However, smoke inhalation had resulted in two blood clots in his lungs. His heart operation would have to wait until his lungs were clear, so Kenton made a request.

I said I’m getting married in 14 days. Am I still going to be able to have a wedding?,” he says with a laugh.

Doctors implanted a pacemaker-defibrillator and gave Kenton the “green light”.

“They said, we’ll schedule a surgery in three months. Good luck with your wedding.”

Soon after, Kenton and Tanya said, ‘I do’.

“We had the most magical wedding,” says Tanya.

“It was life and death. And when you’re in life and death, life seems so bright. It’s filled with kindness and appreciation and love,” she smiles.

And months later, instead of a honeymoon, Kenton had his successful surgery, along with an exceptional recovery following cardiac rehab at the UOHI.

“I’m incredibly grateful. I tell everybody how lucky we are to have this world-renowned heart hospital.

It was a fairytale ending to what began as a tragic tale.

“What almost killed him actually saved him,” says Nelson Borges.

“If that didn’t happen to him, he wouldn’t have found out about the blockages that he had. So, in hindsight, it was a miracle.”

And Kenton and Tanya are forever grateful to the miracle workers at the UOHI who keep loved ones together.

“People at the heart institute are saving lives and they’re reuniting families. We’re so incredibly fortunate to have that available to us.”

“You owe that person your life because Kenton is my life,” says Tanya, again fighting back tears.

“I don’t know what I would have done without him. I came close to finding out. And they gave him back to me.”