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The Globe and Mail

Best gift ever seals deal for rapid diagnostic centre

Emmanuelle Gattuso and husband Allan Slaight donated $13.9-million for a rapid dianostic centre at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto.

Deborah Baic/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

The Donor: Emmanuelle Gattuso and Allan Slaight

The Gift: $13.9-million

The Cause: Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation, Toronto

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The Reason: To help start a rapid diagnostic centre for breast cancer

When Emmanuelle Gattuso found out in 2002 that she had a lump in her breast she spent weeks agonizing about whether she had cancer.

"It was just on and on and on," Ms. Gattuso recalled from her home in Toronto.

Fortunately the cancer had been detected early and Ms. Gattuso was treated successfully at Toronto's Princes Margaret Hospital. During her treatment, oncologist David McCready mentioned a pilot program he was trying to launch that would offer women an assessment, diagnosis and treatment recommendation for breast cancer in a single day. The current average waiting time is 33 days, which can cause untold stress and lead to more health problems.

"I thought, 'That's incredible,'" Ms. Gattuso said. "It makes so much sense and I wondered why no one had thought about this before."

Ms. Gattuso asked Dr. McCready to draw up a business plan and estimate the cost of the new centre. He pegged it at around $25-million. She took the plan home and showed it to her husband, broadcast tycoon Allan Slaight, and they immediately went to work. The couple committed $12.5-million and promised to match every donation.

Ms. Gattuso then began calling friends to get them involved. "It was such an easy thing to explain," she said. "On the one hand it's five weeks of waiting for a diagnosis, on the other hand it's one day … Even if you have cancer, isn't it better to know what you are dealing with right away?"

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Last Christmas, as the fundraising effort was winding down, Ms. Gattuso realized the campaign was $1.4-million short. Mr. Slaight donated the final amount, as a Christmas gift to her. "It was the best gift I ever got," she said.

The new centre has been running in stages for a while and helped more than 500 patients so far. Once the final stage is completed, by 2018, it will be able to treat 3,000 patients annually. And not only women: The centre is looking at rapidly diagnosing lung and pancreatic cancers as well.

"It has been a lot of work," Ms. Gattuso said. "But it has also been so gratifying. It's amazing."

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