Man regains sense of smell thanks to new medical procedure

January 7, 2016

Hubert Frenette was walking with his wife in downtown Ottawa when the smells started coming back. “The first thing I noticed was the hint of a cigarette, but then I smelled bread and fried food and it was the most wonderful thing in the world,” he said.

Hubert Frenette’s problems started more than 20 years ago when he was working as a salesman in New Brunswick. He had developed severe allergies, accompanied by growths in his nose that completely blocked his ability to breathe. (The condition is called chronic rhinosinusitis with nasal polyps.)

“I had several surgeries to remove the growths, and these helped for a time, but the problems always came back,” said Frenette. “Each surgery involved several days in the hospital, plus a long and painful recovery at home. Eventually, I decided that the treatment was worse than the problem, so I resigned myself to a life of breathing through my mouth.”

In addition to losing his sense of smell, Frenette also lost his sense of taste and had trouble sleeping.

Then, in 2014, Frenette moved to Ottawa and started seeing Dr. Shaun Kilty, a medical specialist and researcher at The Ottawa Hospital who focuses on diseases of the nose, sinuses and skull base.

Dr. Kilty had developed a novel way to remove nasal polyps in the clinic without surgery, using a “microdebrider.” The procedure doesn’t require general anesthesia and takes only an hour.

Frenette, along with nine other patients, took part in a pilot study that showed the procedure significantly improved smell, taste and sleep, while reducing runny nose, sneezing and other symptoms of chronic sinusitis. A survey showed that 95 percent of patients who had undergone the procedure were fully satisfied with it and 97 percent would recommend it to another patient.

“It is amazing to see patients come into clinic and have their quality of life transformed during a one-hour visit,” said Dr. Kilty, who is also an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa. “We know the nasal polyps will eventually come back – they always do – but if we can fix it so easily without invasive surgery, that is a huge improvement in care.”

Dr. Shaun Kilty’s new procedure for removing nasal polyps helps The Ottawa Hospital provide better care at less cost.

Dr. Kilty noted that the new procedure costs nearly one-tenth of what traditional endoscopic sinus surgery costs. The procedure allows the hospital to save at least $140,000 per year and it also frees up operating rooms to help reduce wait times for other patients. Dr. Kilty is now planning a randomized controlled trial to rigorously compare his new procedure with the traditional surgery.

“Dr. Kilty changed my life,” said Frenette. “I can finally breathe easily, enjoy my food again and get a good night’s sleep.”

Dr. Kilty’s research is supported by The Ottawa Hospital Academic Medical Organization and The Ottawa Hospital Foundation. The equipment he uses for his procedure was purchased with funds from a donor who wishes to remain anonymous.

About The Ottawa Hospital

The Ottawa Hospital is one of Canada’s largest learning and research hospitals with over 1,100 beds, approximately 12,000 staff and an annual budget of over $1.2 billion. Our focus on research and learning helps us develop new and innovative ways to treat patients and improve care. As a multi-campus hospital, affiliated with the University of Ottawa, we deliver specialized care to the Eastern Ontario region, but our techniques and research discoveries are adopted around the world. We engage the community at all levels to support our vision for better patient care.

For further information, please contact

Jennifer Ganton
Director, Communications and Public Relations
Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
Office: 613-798-5555 x 73325
Cell: 613-614-5253