McMaster University

McMaster University

Health-care heroes

Hamilton Spectator
February 23, 2010
By Jeff Mahoney

There's nothing like being in a room full of people who spend their lives saving lives to make me suspect that I've been misspending mine.

Maybe if I'd tried harder at biology. Then I imagine myself in a lab coat, putting catheters in the wrong places — never a good thing — and I know I've chosen wisely.

Still it helps put one's efforts in perspective to hear some of the inspiring stories that come out of our hospitals.

And while there was far more pleasure than business at the Hamilton Health Sciences annual fundraising gala Saturday, this year called Bollywood Circus, they did talk shop.

But even that was part of the pleasure. Dr. Peter Rosenbaum, for instance. He can tell a story. And he has a story to tell.

His speech to the multitudes (more than 7oo people turned out for the beautifully staged black-tie event at the Hamilton Convention Centre) was by turns touching, motivational and funny.

He began by thanking everyone who made the evening "necessary," in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, and so he had me right there.

Rosenbaum, decked out in dapper black vest and trademark red tie, spoke of his own crossroads as a physician, deciding which direction to take.

He was drawn by circumstance and sensibility to pediatrics, but, as it turns out, specifically children with disabilities. Did he ever choose wisely.

Rosenbaum, the honouree of the evening, has, over a long career, distinguished himself again and again in his elected field, winning many honours. For instance, he cofounded the CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research at McMaster, now internationally recognized as a world leader in the development of tools of measurement used with children with disabilities and their families.

This has been perhaps Rosenbaum's greatest contribution — the inclusion of family life as a chief consideration in understanding childhood disability.

That came across in his speech and in the accompanying video presentation, which gave us, among other images, a smiling Rosenbaum having his beard pulled by a baby girl sitting on his lap, and there's the red tie again. It seemed to express his approach perfectly.

But you find out his virtues from others, Rosenbaum himself, in his speech, remaining steadfastly and endearingly humble. Not false modesty, but the humility of a man who sees the talents of others and is more focused on what lies ahead than on his own laurels.

"We all start as rookies," he said of researchers, adding in characteristic fashion that today's research rookies are smarter than he was. "The startup support that these New Investigator funds provide can make a huge difference to the development of young researchers," he said.

The event was a veritable who's who of Hamilton's hospital and health sector and those who support it.

Attending were HHS CEO Murray Martin; Pearl Veenema, CEO of HHS Foundation (in East Indian garb, a la the Bollywood theme, as were many of the guests, women more than men); well-known Hamilton lawyer Karen Shea, gala chair; Craig Laviolette and Don Pether, honorary gala cochairs; Juanita Gledhill; Dr. Salim Yusuf, HHS vice-president research, who introduced Rosenbaum; Dr. John Kelton, dean of McMaster's Faculty of Health Sciences; outgoing McMaster president Peter George, who received a special mention; EllisDon vice-president Michael Schaeffer; and Kevin Smith, CEO of St. Joseph's Health Care Hamilton.

Also attending were recipients of New Investigators awards Dr. Jennie Johnstone, infectious diseases consultant, and Dr. Guillaume Pare, biochemist consultant. Others included Connie Smith and Dave Wilson; Robert Bernacci of Locke Street Tire and Automotive; Gail and Pat Johnson (Gail is site administrator at Henderson and Juravinski Cancer Centre); Brenda Flaherty, executive vice-president, clinical operations, HHS, and husband Brent Wood.

The Bollywood theme of the evening was sensational, with colourful costumery, aerial hoop and strap acts.

Dan McLean was emcee. The Lincolns, featuring Prakash John, played live music. The night raised $213,000 with an additional $375,000 from presenting sponsor EllisDon, all for research.

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