Friday, March 13, 2009

Hospital Row

When you drive down University Avenue through “hospital row” have you ever wondered what is happening all around you?

Many of us have done a lot of time in hospital environments worrying over loved ones, friends and even on business with hospital clients – I am all too familiar with those perspectives. But I could not have been prepared for the perspective I gained yesterday when I spent two hours touring Mount Sinai Hospital.

In the space of 120 minutes I was exposed to some of the most incredible exhibits of both compassion and science I have ever seen.

My tour started in the Palliative Care Unit where I learned how no less than 250 doctors from Mount Sinai spend their days caring for hundreds of patients and their families in their own homes so they can die with dignity in the place where they have lived. I also visited the Child Grief Centre - a safe place that gives children an outlet and a voice to understand and express their feelings about the death of a parent or a sibling. It was humbling, to say the least.

I can only describe my next stop at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) as a testament to the incredible miracle - and medical miracle - of life. This Level 3 facility cares for some of the most vulnerable and fragile babies in the country. From preemie babies (one of them I visited, weighed about a pound at birth) whose lives are sustained through the wonders of technologies that keep tiny lungs working, wee hearts beating and in some cases even replicate the humidity of the womb, to the “big kids” in the unit - full term babies who have serious challenges in the early going that require constant care and special requirements. There are no words to describe the power of what goes on in that unit 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Miraculous, indeed.

My final stop on the tour was the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute where some of the best minds on the planet have come together to understand and help cure cancer, among other diseases. These internationally renowned scientists include Dr Tony Pawson, distinguished and world-renowned cell biologist who is a candidate for the Nobel prize for his groundbreaking work and is the first Canadian scientist to be named a Kyoto Prize Laureate. During this part of the visit I viewed an Alpha test microscope – one of six of its kind in the world and the only one in this country – that basically bends the laws of physics to provide an incredibly in-depth view of chromosomal activity in human cells. Understanding what causes chromosomal instability and finding ways to fix it is integral to cancer research. The investigators who collaborate at the Lunenfeld Institute are building on each other’s research to discover causes and identify preventions and cures for this devastating disease that touches so many. I can honestly tell you that I left yesterday believing for the first time that, in my lifetime, there will be a cure.

I felt compelled to share this with you because I wanted to point out that mere blocks from here at Mount Sinai and, no doubt in other facilities on Hospital Row there are incredible feats taking place that are life-altering on so many levels and, in fact, potentially world changing and I think it is important to talk about the amazing work that is happening right here in Toronto. And because like me, you probably associate hospitals with a lot of different things, I wanted you to know that out of my experience at Mount Sinai yesterday I have added “hope” to that list.