Skip to main content

'Looking forward to living again': Ottawa photographer recounts Strep-A battle


Well-known Ottawa photographer Sean Sisk is looking at life through a clearer lens after an invasive Strep A infection last summer nearly killed him.

"My heart stopped four times, one time I coded for over half an hour," Sisk recalls.

Sisk was shooting the biggest names at Ottawa Bluesfest last July when what he thought was a cold got worse.

"A pain in my hip, cold sweats and I had laboured breathing."

Within days, he went by ambulance to the Montfort Hospital where he stayed for weeks before being transferred to the Ottawa Hospital's General Campus.

"We just figured he needed a little antibiotic for something, a little re-hydration and rest and they'd send him on his way," said Erin Fraser, Sisk's wife. "Little did we know he was septic at that point, his kidneys had failed."

Doctors determined an Invasive group A streptococcus, a bacterial infection, got into Sisk's bloodstream.

"They were doing everything that they could. They threw everything at him that they could but it was minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day for probably the first week or two maybe," said Fraser.

Sisk, who doesn't recall much of the time he spent in hospital, was on dialysis and had surgery to prevent the flesh-eating disease from spreading further in his leg.

"When you have flesh-eating disease it can overwhelm your body. It's an infection that can cause what we refer to as multi-organ failure," said Dr. Kwadwo Kyeremanteng, an ICU and palliative care physician and the head of critical care at the Ottawa Hospital.

"For Sean, seeking medical attention when he did was essentially lifesaving."

"My brain is ready to go and I want to start living and doing stuff, but being in a hospital bed for 15 weeks and in a coma for six weeks, it's a lot of atrophy," Sisk said.

Ottawa photographer Sean Sisk nearly died from an invasive Strep-A infection in July 2023 (Erin Fraser)To help, he does physiotherapy and occupational therapy multiple times a week.

"I went from using the wheelchair around the gym to as soon as I could, I started using a walker," said Sisk, who now only uses a cane.

His progress has been boosted by the community that rallied around him with online and in-person fundraisers raising tens of thousands of dollars to go towards expenses.

"It was just unbelievable," Sisk said. "I wish I and my family can give back half of what the city has given to me and my family in the last few weeks and few months."

Sisk also has immense gratitude to the doctors who saved his life and those who played a crucial role in his recovery.

"They become your friends. Somebody just to talk to and vent, and help explain this to you," he said. "These people here are just amazing. They're patient. I can't thank them enough."

Dr. Kyeremanteng said he's seen more invasive Strep A infections in the last several months than any other time in his career.

"One of the key messages is if you're having the signs and symptoms and you're really sick, despite what you hear in the news about these long emergency wait times you need to come in," he said.

"What I want to reinforce for folks is when it's a life-threatening condition in our country, you will get all the care you need."

Symptoms may include fever, severe pain, a red rash, low blood pressure and dizziness.

"Being in the position he was in, very few people get to return to the life they had. He is one of the select lucky ones that will get the chance to do that," said Fraser.

While Sisk misses photography and will get back to it, his focus is on family.

"To quote a Taylor Swift lyric, it was a 'Cruel Summer.' I spent two, three months away from my whole family and the thing I missed the most is just being with my kids," Sisk said.

"I'm looking forward to living again." Top Stories

Stay Connected