WITH LOVE FROM MONTSERATT
MARY GLAVASSEVICH learned an important lesson early in her life, as a child on the island of Montserrat. Her mother would cook a meal and before sitting down to eat would ask Mary to see who in the neighbourhood would like to share their food. “Life is not all about just you," Mary recalls today.
That simple but powerful belief has shaped her life and work. As the Patient Care Manager for Surgical Oncology and Hearing Services, Mary not only gives her time and energy to her Sunnybrook family, but also to raising money for and promoting awareness of health issues among the residents of Montserrat. For a developing country devastated by Hurricane Hugo and an active volcano, that assistance is especially precious.
In 2011, with support from Sunnybrook’s Information Services, Mary travelled to Montserrat to provide the nurses on the island’s only hospital with a computer. “I felt it was important for nurses and other health-care staff to keep in touch with what’s changing in health care and also to understand the standards of care,” says Mary, who used her own money to cover her travel and expenses.
Mary has also provided books on breast and other types of cancer, thermometers, eye examination equipment and educational material related to diabetes. During her last visit, she spent two weeks educating locals on cancer and diabetes. Next on her list is raising money to help nurses from developing countries attend an International Conference for Cancer Nursing in September 2012.
“Simply asking what is needed is the most effective way to help,” explains Mary. During one visit, the nurses identified the need for breast cancer screening, and Mary quickly raised $1,000 to help 18 high-risk women travel to Antigua for mammograms; she continues to take in donations for this purpose.
It’s not just Montserrat that benefits from Mary’s energy and fundraising skills. In one year alone, she raised $10,000 through the Sunnybrook Run for Research. She points to a plaque on her wall reading, “Top Staff Fundraiser for Sunnybrook’s Run for Research.” Mary’s name is highlighted for every year from 1996 to 2004. “The Sunnybrook Foundation eventually said, ‘Just keep it.’”, she says proudly.
THE POST-GRADUATE TRAINEE
GAINING A BROADER EXPERIENCE
DR. MARCELO STEVENSEN didn’t pursue his childhood dream of becoming a veterinarian, or an engineer like his grandfather, or working in the family bakery in Mexico – but family certainly helped guide his fulfilling career in medicine and vision care.
It was his mother’s acute angle closure glaucoma that influenced him to specialize in the disease, the world’s leading cause of irreversible blindness, after earning his medical degree at the University of Monterrey. He specialized in ophthalmology at the Instituto Tecnologico de Monterrey, and then ventured north for a year’s study at the Ophthalmic Consultants of Texas, a leading eye care centre.
Last June, he left the sweltering heat of Monterrey (Mexico’s industrial hub, brimming with rich history, culture and breathtaking mountains), to come to Toronto to complete his clinical fellowship in ophthalmology. “My first impressions were how incredibly large, busy and dynamic Sunnybrook was, and how well organized the ophthalmology clinic was despite the high patient flow and complexity of cases,” says Dr. Stevensen.
Dr. Stevensen is now training under Dr. Catherine Birt, a leading glaucoma and cataract specialist. His fellowship research project examines whether the anatomical preexisting conditions of each patient are related to the visual outcome of cataract surgery. “I focus on the fact each patient case is different, and can be controlled and treated with either drops, pills, a laser procedure or surgery. Glaucoma surgery is my main interest, along with the post-operative care, which accounts for 50 per cent of the surgery’s success.”
At the age of 32, now Dr. Stevensen is winding down one leg of his professional journey, only to soon begin another. In June, he will finish his fellowship at Sunnybrook and return 3,000 kilometres home to Monterrey, to realize his dream of joining an ophthalmology practice and becoming a part-time professor at his alma mater.
“Through Sunnybrook’s leading innovation and real-life training, I have been fortunate to gain a broader international perspective, enhancing my knowledge and education. For me, it’s about gaining the most current research and expertise to provide the best patient care, all in an effort to advance the science of medicine.
NERVES OF STEEL
THOUGH HE GREW UP in Sydney, Australia, Dr. Andrew Lansdown’s favourite thing about Canada is the weather. An avid fan of winter sports, he excitedly watches the forecast for news of massive snowfalls – and it’s this same sense of adventure that brought him to Sunnybrook.
As a clinical fellow with the Department of Anaesthesia, he is halfway through a one-year fellowship in regional anaesthesia, which involves delivering local anaesthesia to block large areas of sensation.
“It’s been just what I’d hoped it would be: it’s been perfect,” Dr. Lansdown says of his Sunnybrook experience, adding that he’s already recommending it to others.
“What I’ve tried to do is develop a greater theoretical and practical knowledge, so I can take it back home as a better teacher and educator.” Being exposed to a high volume of nerve-block procedures has helped him hone his skills and gain the necessary confidence to take his new expertise back to Australia.
Under the supervision of Dr. Colin McCartney, he has appreciated the effort of the entire Department of Anaesthesia staff to provide education and guidance. He admires his Canadian colleagues for their ability to push themselves professionally beyond their everyday clinical roles, through side projects such as participation in research, councils and committees.
“Everyone has a special talent here, their own niche that they’re really passionate about and working on; it makes for great teamwork,” he says.
Unlike most hospitals in Sydney, Dr. Lansdown says, Sunnybrook provides fellowship opportunities for international staff. Dr. Lansdown’s keen interest in gaining a diverse professional experience, as well as fulfilling his sense of adventure, brought him to Sunnybrook. But ultimately, it is his own medical expertise and unique global perspective that enrich Sunnybrook's caring practices, and no doubt will better the entire hospital community.
THE NIMBLE RESEARCHER
FROM GUITAR RHYTHMS to circadian rhythms, Dr. Georg Bjarnason has come a long way in his life and career. In 1965, he was just a 14-year-old guitarist when his band The Falkons opened for rock legends The Kinks in Dr. Bjarnason’s native Iceland.
“It was amazing,” he recalls. “I did not realize the significance of it until after the fact.”
By age 17, he was already a gliding instructor, flying engineless over the local mountainside. He says that the trick to flying safely was staying nimble and adapting to the rhythms of nature’s air currents.
After earning his medical degree in Iceland, he came to Canada in 1983 to complete his training in internal medicine and medical oncology. Twenty years later, he’s making his biggest mark yet as a medical oncologist with Sunnybrook’s Odette Cancer Centre, an expert on kidney cancer and one of Canada’s leading researchers in biological rhythms, or chronobiology.
Here, the responsive approach he learned from flying continues to guide his research in understanding the human body to better individualize cancer treatment.
All living organisms have a 24-hour biological clock or circadian rhythm. Dr. Bjarnason has studied these rhythms and the genes that control important biological processes such as cell cycle, and has found important gender differences in genes at different times of the day that may explain gender differences in the activity and side-effects of most drugs.
Chronotherapy (therapy based on an individual’s circadian rhythm) may help doctors improve drug therapies and minimize side-effects. “Chronotherapy will not cure cancer but may make the most of the few active drugs we have,” says Dr. Bjarnason.
The senior scientist at Sunnybrook Research Institute has studied timing of radiotherapy in patients with head and neck cancer and timing of chemotherapy in patients with colorectal cancer. He and colleagues have confirmed that abnormal sleep patterns are associated with poorer survival in cancer patients.
Dr. Bjarnason, also an associate professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto, has focused his clinical work and research on kidney cancer. He is the inaugural recipient of The Anna-Liisa Farquharson Chair in Renal Cell Cancer Research. He continues his long-standing collaborations with Drs. Robert Kerbel, Peter Burns, Greg Stanisz and Stuart Foster at Sunnybrook Research Institute, most recently investigating innovative scheduling of drugs using imaging technologies to understand how to best deliver therapies that block the flow of blood to tumours.
He still finds time to pick up his guitar now and then, and to go gliding on annual summer trips to Iceland.
IT MAY HAVE BEEN A CANADIAN who brought Dr. Paige Church to Toronto from Boston, but it’s Sunnybrook that keeps her here.
Of course, it helps that it wasn’t just any Canadian but her husband, Erik, whom she met even before earning her medical degree at the University of Vermont. And Sunnybrook isn’t just any hospital either, she says, but one that stands firmly behind what she’s trying to accomplish. “It’s like playing tennis with people who are better than you every day. You know you’re going to get better,” Dr. Church says of the team at Sunnybrook’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Follow-Up Clinic, of which she’s director. “The team here is better than any team I’ve ever worked with.”
And Dr. Church has worked with some excellent teams. After medical school, she did her residency in paediatrics at the University of Chicago Children’s Hospital. The experience helped her develop a keen interest in children with disabilities and ultimately brought her to Boston, where she became one of only two paediatricians in North America to complete dual fellowship training and board certification through the American Board of Paediatrics in Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine and Developmental Behavioural Paediatrics.
And she certainly grew up in a beautiful spot, Burlington, Vt., probably best known for being the home of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream; in fact, Dr. Church remembers having delicious ice cream scooped and served by Ben and Jerry themselves. But while she hasn’t yet learned to ice skate and misses Vermont’s beautiful ski slopes, she says she’s happy to call Toronto home.
Credit her satisfaction to Sunnybrook’s Neonatal Follow-Up Clinic, with its capacity to see up to 200 babies and children each month. The clinic is working to expand its exceptional follow-up care – already more extensive than at other centres – through collaboration within the community and schools, sharing its expertise and gaining additional expertise from community partners.
“To find a hospital with a mandate to follow children to the age of six years is an incredible investment. It is unusual and is one reflection of the commitment by the hospital to provide comprehensive care to the infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and their families, even after discharge. There’s a fundamental belief here that our clinic is essential for these children and that our care should extend to the early school years,” she says.
“For me, it’s a huge learning opportunity to work with the team at Sunnbyrook and to practice what I’ve been trained to do in an environment that is very supportive.”