PATIENT-CARE MANAGER and PATIENT
Judy-Lynn Mcgrath knows Sunnybrook from both sides: as a health-care professional and patient-care manager in Canada’s largest veterans care centre, but also as a breast cancer patient in the Odette Cancer Centre.
She credits early detection at Sunnybrook (which contributed to quick interventions and more treatment options) for saving her life. Within a week of a biopsy she had a lumpectomy and lymph nodes removed.
“During my treatments at the Odette Cancer Centre, I was treated professionally and respectfully and often with humour,” says Judy-Lynn, a lifelong vegetarian and fitness enthusiast with a family history of breast cancer. “I met many women at Odette and Wellspring, a cancer support network, who shared similar experiences and I found their strength remarkable and very inspiring. So much can be learned from each other, so many warm connections.”
Diagnosed two and a half years ago after a routine mammogram screening at 51, Judy-Lynn not only continued to work throughout her chemotherapy and radiation treatments, but also stayed on top of her vigorous passion for downhill mountain biking.
By continuing to do what she loves best during a challenging time, Judy-Lynn recovered quickly after surgery to face aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatments while keeping her normal fitness and work routine.
“Keeping physically active helped me sleep, gave me an appetite and kept my mind focused and body strong, which was important to me. In downhill mountain biking you are going through trees, over jumps and rocks, down steep terrain and even ice and snow in the winter. It’s definitely very intense and technical,” says Judy-Lynn. She also rides cross-country trails year round and practices yoga daily.
For Judy-Lynn, the lesson is about pursuing what you love and never giving up. The great baseball pitcher Satchel Paige said it eloquently, “Never let the odds keep you from pursuing what you know in your heart you were meant to do.” – Sally Fur
ENSURING REALITY IN ALMOST-REALITY TV
A school-based mental-health program has earned a Sunnybook psychiatrist a consulting role on the hit Canadian television show Degrassi.
Dr. Amy Cheung was invited to consult on a script after its writers learned of the program she runs at a local high school. The program provides early mental-health care to students before symptoms affect their social and academic development.
Degrassi is known for story lines that include teen pregnancy, abuse and bullying. Dr. Cheung, a youth psychiatrist who spends much of her time diagnosing and treating adolescents with mood disorders, was the obvious choice for advice about the planned mental-health theme.
“Degrassi's writers want to ensure they are portraying situations involving mental health realistically, and in a way that its teenaged viewers can relate to,” Dr. Cheung says.
As a mother of three young children, Dr. Cheung appreciates Degrassi for bringing the realities of mental health to a younger audience. “As parents, we need to create an environment where our kids feel comfortable talking about their mental health, so that they don’t suffer in silence,” she says.
“Mental illnesses, such as depression, can often go unnoticed in teens, and is sometimes dismissed as typical teenage moodiness. In reality, it’s a condition that can have serious effects on the lives of those suffering from it,” Dr. Cheung says.
Her research shows that only 50 per cent of adolescents with depression are diagnosed before they reach adulthood. – Sybil Edmonds.
AFRICA WITH LOVE
AFRICA CAPTURED Dr. Valerie Krym's heart in 1999 on a four-month camping trip through nine countries in southern and eastern Africa. “I fell in love with the beautiful continent and its people. I have been going back ever since.”
Dr. Krym, a Sunnybrook staff emergency physician, is a founding executive board member of the African Federation for Emergency Medicine, which is helping build emergency medicine as a specialty in Africa. “I choose to give my time in Africa because the needs are so great and the opportunity to make a difference is also great,” she says. “There is a vibrant, unpretentious immediacy that makes one feel alive and joyful in connecting with others in focusing on the issue
Dr. Krym recently received a University of Toronto Faculty Award for Excellence for long-standing contributions to global health education and leadership in emergency medicine. The award recognizes her efforts toward improving access to emergency care where resources are scarce.
“I am very committed to sustainable health-care development projects in poor and middle-income countries,” Dr. Krym says. “It is a way for me to give back and help implement safe emergency care systems.”
Dr. Krym has worked as an emergency medicine consultant and educator in
Nepal, Ethiopia, Romania, with the World Health Organization in Tanzania and as an international health consultant in Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami.
She led a capacity-building and sustainability project at a mission hospital in western Tanzania as part of a long-term health-care project to improve infrastructure, promote self-reliance and sustainability and augment education for hospital staff and the surrounding villages. The project has raised more than $350,000 and led to securing water rights to a local river and building a small hydro-electric dam, income-generating projects, educational programs for staff and construction of
“My approach to working with my international colleagues is to assist them to improve and add to their knowledge and skills,” she says. “I believe the ‘train-the-trainer’ approach is the key to sustainability and making improvements to the health-care system that remain long after you leave.” – Laura Bristow
THE MENTAL-HEALTH NURSE
A CAREER OF COMPASSIONATE CRISIS CARE
For 40 years, Margaret McDermott has been helping patients get through a very difficult time. “When someone arrives in the emergency department and is experiencing a mental-health crisis, they are scared,” says Margaret, a mental-health nurse. “Our priority is to make them comfortable and to give them as much information as possible.”
Margaret worked in the inpatient unit for 27 years, providing care for mental-health patients staying in the hospital for extended periods. In 1999, she moved to the new role of mental-health crisis nurse in the Psychiatric Emergency Services team. Having dedicated mental-health nurses in the ER has been key to providing a more positive hospital experience for patients.
What characteristics do you need in her job? “Respect, compassion, introspection, good interpersonal skills and solid knowledge about mental illness are very important,” she says. A sense of humour is a plus, she adds.
Now, set to retire, Margaret reflects on the changes she’s seen. Since she started at Sunnybrook in 1972, she’s seen a shift from psychotherapy to biological treatments, such as medications, and shorter hospital stays. “There is more of a focus on helping people stay in the community, rather than in institutions,” she says.
That’s not always possible, however. “I’ve known some patients for 25 years. Because mental illnesses are chronic, it gets harder for them to be self-sufficient and they come back to the hospital more often. It can be hard to see people at a similar age to you, with similar interests, lead such difficult lives.”
Margaret is moving to a new province to be closer to her grandchildren, but is not leaving her career behind. “I think I’d like to volunteer with a mental-health organization, or help people in need,” she says. “That’s where I feel most comfortable.” – Sybil Edmonds
COOKING UP A NEW APPROACH TO CANCER
A Sunnybrook oncologist AND HIS FORMER patient have joined forces to write the nutrition guide and cookbook the patient wishes she’d had during her cancer treatment. The Essential Cancer Treatment Nutrition Guide & Cookbook includes tips on managing treatment side-effects, plus 150 recipes based on individual energy levels, appetite and skill level in the kitchen.
“Every patient or family of a patient with cancer should read this book,” says Dr. Neil Berinstein, senior oncologist at Odette Cancer Centre and a professor of Medicine/Oncology and Immunology at the University of Toronto. “It will also be of value to those without cancer looking for nutritional advice on how to avoid cancer. Other health-care professionals will also find this book helpful.”
Dr. Berinstein, also a Sunnybrook Research Institute scientist, had a long-standing interest in how to harness the body’s immune system to fight cancer. He was approached by Jean LaMantia, his former patient and a registered dietitian, to consult on the book to help patients optimize their diet to deal with cancer treatments with the hopes of staying cancer-free afterwards.
Dr. Berinstein believes there’s evidence that the right nutrition plan may boost immunity – which is a key factor in achieving these objectives.
“It is very rewarding to provide practical, research-based advice that may boost the body’s immune system to support reduced cancer risk,” says Dr. Berinstein. “It is also rewarding to help patients during treatment, to recharge their immunity and energy levels through a diet that is flexible to the individual.”
Jean remembers a drastic loss of appetite and severe nausea after her first chemotherapy treatment. Reassuring advice from the doctor (nutritional tips and simply the encouragement to drink and eat what she could) helped
Dr. Berinstein has recently taken the position of director of Translational Research at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research. His research includes working with global teams on therapeutic vaccines for cancer. He also has a long-standing research interest in novel immune-based therapies for non-Hodgkins lymphoma and has initiated multiple trials through the Advanced Therapeutics Program, of which he was the founding director.
The book is available online through most major bookstores and can also be purchased at the Patient and Family Nutrition Resource Centre (TG 261) at the Odette
Cancer Centre. – Natalie Chung-Sayers
THE NEONATAL NURSE
Amanda Squires gets as excited about helping others as she does about travelling, and last November she did both. With the help of Tiny People Matter and Helping Babies Breathe, Amanda visited Zambia for two weeks, where she trained medical staff in resuscitating babies born in clinics or villages with limited supplies and skills.
As a neonatal nurse practitioner at Sunnybrook, Amanda’s specialization is in resuscitating high-risk, premature and extremely low-weight babies. She had already brought those skills to Saudi Arabia and Ukraine, where she’d started a Neonatal Resuscitation Program for local medical staff, but Zambia was a different story.
“Regular neonatal resuscitation programs are good for hospitals that have equipment, but will not help nurses in clinics where the equipment necessary isn’t available,” explains Amanda.
That’s where Helping Babies Breathe steps in. The program was developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization, in keeping with their goal of lowering infant mortality worldwide by 2015. Resuscitation is taught using a self-inflating resuscitation bag without oxygen and can be used when high-end equipment isn’t available.
It was at a Helping Babies Breathe training session that Amanda met the founder of Tiny People Matter, the organization which later helped get her to Zambia in a group of North American medical professionals. In Lusaka and Ndola, they trained staff in several hospitals, orphanages, clinics and a midwifery school. Local staff were also taught how to train others and given the medical supplies to do so.
Amanda was inspired by the optimism of the Zambian people and in awe of the camaraderie among her colleagues as they worked together. She speaks just as highly about Sunnybrook’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, where she values the team spirit and the fact everyone is passionate.
Her experience abroad is invaluable in helping Canadian families and refugees coming from Zambia. “I know how to approach them. I understand better the things that really affect them, and that helps me do my work here. I love what I do, I love my job, but I also want to go to the frontiers.”
Amanda will return this year to Zambia, visit India next year, and hopes to one day organize her own trip with her fellow colleagues to Namibia. – Dana Iliescu
IT REALLY ISN'T ROCKET SCIENCE
Melissa Carmen Cheung is on a mission to make science cool. “When I walk down the street, everything from how trees grow to how a vehicle moves fascinates me,” she says. “I want to share my excitement with others because if you give people good context, you can get them excited and involved in everyday life.”
As a PhD candidate set to convocate in November, Melissa's everyday life involves plenty of time in the lab; her research at Sunnybrook focuses on targeted cancer therapies that pinpoint the disease and leave healthy cells untouched. It’s a niche she hopes will one day improve a patient’s quality of life and overall survival rates.
But she knows science isn’t always something people can relate to. That’s why she recently started her own Sunnybrook blog, Real Research, Real Simple. It explores many curious concepts, like genetically-modified glow-in-the-dark animals and why researchers are turning the tables and giving tobacco plants cancer.
Emanating from Melissa’s snappy write-ups is her unbridled enthusiasm for the world around her. As part of her ambition to be involved in science communications, she’s also taken this talent on the road. As a volunteer with the national non-profit Let’s Talk Science, she travels to schools to educate kids about fun science concepts from DNA to how gravity works.
“Many people think that to understand science, you have to understand rocket science,” she explains. “They don’t realize that even simple things like making your daily cup of tea are also relevant. Appreciating this helps you see the world in a new perspective.” – Monica Matys
FOCUSED ON THE DETAILS
Walk through Sunnybrook’s bustling main entrance and you’re sure to catch a glimpse of optician Dexter Telenko hard at work in his storefront. That’s because he swapped the back-room operation typical of most optical store layouts with a design that brought the workshop front and centre when he built his optical shop at Sunnybrook 15 years ago.
The concept encourages curiosity and regular drop-ins from passersby. But it’s
Dexter’s devotion to craftsmanship that has customers regularly popping their heads in just to say: “Thank you.”
The praise and appreciation are well deserved. Dexter’s Optical caters to patients with some of the most difficult prescriptions in the province.
“I have the capability to build really difficult stuff,” Dexter says. “We’ll handle prescriptions from plus 30 to minus 30 and astigmatism and prism values that are just crazy. We see a lot of broken people. There are few operations doing this kind of work.”
Telenko’s attraction to seeing the world through a different lens sparked in high school. Growing up in what he calls the “tough little town north of Sudbury,” he escaped boredom by building telescopes in his backyard. Eventually, he had to face the age-old decision of what to do for the rest of his life. Not wanting to spend his career in an isolated observatory, he set out on his current path.
“I like working with people and what I do is fun. If you’re going to do something, hell, do it! Dig in!”
Dexter approaches each patient with the skill of a custom tailor. He says eyewear has to be high quality, perfectly fit, used for the right purpose and fairly priced. The devil is in the details and so are happy customers. That’s why most are repeat customers.
On occasion, Dexter has had to rearrange his shop to accommodate a patient’s bed visit in the store. And if hospitalized patients can’t come down to see Dexter, he’ll go to them. “I see people with severe disfigurement, missing limbs and eyes that don’t function normally. A big part of my job is being compassionate, but also having some backbone because the last thing people want is sympathy. They need somebody who will get things done,” he says.
“I get a great level of satisfaction out of doing what is generally not easy to do. Helping people, tackling the difficult work and doing it well. There’s really nothing better.” – Monica Matys