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Bonnie Buxton and Brian Philcox are among this year’s recipients of the Meritorious Service Medal. They were presented with the award on Friday for raising awareness of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. (Sgt Ronald Duchesne, Rideau Hall/Sgt Ronald Duchesne, Rideau Hall)
Bonnie Buxton and Brian Philcox are among this year’s recipients of the Meritorious Service Medal. They were presented with the award on Friday for raising awareness of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. (Sgt Ronald Duchesne, Rideau Hall/Sgt Ronald Duchesne, Rideau Hall)

Couple honoured in Ottawa for work on fetal alcohol spectrum disorder Add to ...

A husband and wife team known around the world for raising awareness of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) has received an award from the Governor-General in recognition of their contributions.

Bonnie Buxton and Brian Philcox of Toronto are among this year’s recipients of the Meritorious Service Medal, presented to them Friday at a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

The roots of the couple’s advocacy work reach back to the 1990s when their adopted daughter who was struggling with learning and behavioural issues took to the street as a adolescent.

“I didn’t know what was wrong with her … I thought she was going to be dead,” said Ms. Buxton, who described the anguish of watching her daughter’s battle with mental illness and drugs.

When she saw a chance television story about a form of mental disorder that arises in children whose mothers consumed alcohol while pregnant, Ms. Buxton realized she was staring at the answer. The couple was able to determine that their daughter’s birth mother had been a constant drinker, and that this had left an enduring mark on the child she carried.

As the couple learned more, their personal quest to help their daughter became a public crusade to reduce the prevalence of FASD.

In 2002, they started the advocacy and support organization, FASworld, which aims to improve understanding of the disorder and help affected families. Ms. Buxton would go on to write the book Damaged Angels, which has become a manual for families dealing with the disorder. (Their daughter, now in her 30s, received help to cope with her condition and now has two children of her own.)

Today, the couple provides training to communities seeking to start their own support groups and has launched an international awareness-raising event known as FASday along with ad campaigns to draw attention to the risk of drinking while pregnant.

“It’s the most common mental disorder in the industrialized world,” said Mr. Philcox, “And yet it’s the most preventable.”

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