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Canada Family donates $30-million to help Sick Kids treat cancer

Myron and Berna Garron donated $30-million to SickKids for the treatment of pediatric cancer.

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Michael Garron's battle with cancer began at the tender age of three. He lost a finger, then an arm and, 10 years later, his life. But the efforts of a team of specialists at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children were not forgotten.

So much so that his parents, Myron and Berna Garron, stepped onto a stage on Monday, more than three decades after Michael's death, to donate $30-million to the hospital, believed to be the largest private gift in North America for pediatric cancer care.

Hospital officials have described the donation as nothing short of transformational. While the survival rate for children with cancer has improved, many still suffer health problems through much of their lives, caused by intensive treatment therapies. The money will help bolster the hospital's presence on the world stage as it embarks on new clinical treatments and recruits more bright minds to help children with cancer, officials say.

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"It's not a donation that will just be put in one area. It's being spread over different areas, where it will help children who are currently dealing with cancer. It will help get new and better equipment in which to treat them," Mr. Garron said Monday.

Michael was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma, a rare, soft-tissue cancer. His middle finger was removed when he was five in an effort to stop the spread. His arm was amputated soon after. After further operations, the tumour was deemed inoperable.

The donation to Sick Kids was made on behalf of the entire family and in Michael's memory. "We wanted to do this to include the whole family, which Michael certainly would have wanted," Mr. Garron said.

The money will support four new research chairs and two clinical scientists, and help in the building of new facilities. But it will also fund clinical trials and develop new treatments for some of the most difficult childhood cancers such as neuroblastoma.

The hospital plans to build MIBG suites. MIBG, whose full name is metaiodobenzylguanidine, is a chemical that homes in on neuroblastoma cells, and doctors use radioactive particles attached to these chemicals to kill the cells without harming the adjacent normal tissue. James Whitlock, division head of hematology and oncology at Sick Kids, said the suites should be up and running as early as next year, and it will make the hospital one of the first in Canada to provide this treatment.

"We're very excited that this facility will give children, not just in Toronto or in Ontario, but across Canada, access to these sorts of innovative and very promising treatments," he said.

The Garron family gift will also support improving the outcome for cancers that pose the biggest challenges, such as treating children with neuroblastoma, recurrent or high-risk brain tumours, and sarcomas.

"I think it gives us an opportunity to both keep and to bring to Sick Kids some of the best and brightest minds that can address these challenges," Dr. Whitlock said. "Sick Kids is a great institution, and it already has a great childhood cancer program. But this is really going to kick it up a notch."

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