Believed to be the single largest private gift to paediatric cancer in North America, a $30-million gift to The Hospital for Sick Children was inspired by one boy’s journey with cancer.
Michael Garron’s illness went undetected for months. It took the form of a small lump on his hand looking more like a cyst than a deadly disease. When the lump grew larger, Michael saw a specialist in Montego Bay, Jamaica, where his father was stationed with the Bank of Nova Scotia.
Test results were grim. Michael’s specialist recommended the Garrons return home to Ontario, Canada, to seek the advice of John Hall, a specialist at SickKids. Dr. Hall diagnosed Michael with a rare soft tissue cancer, synovial sarcoma.
Just shy of his sixth birthday, Michael had his middle finger removed to stop the spread of cancer. His lower arm came next and Michael began to withdraw from his friends and family. His parent sought the help of Sol Goldstein, a psychiatrist at SickKids.
Dr. Goldstein worked with Michael to help guide him through the next few years of his life. Sadly, Michael lost his battle with cancer at the age of 13.
Myron and Berna Garron know first-hand the struggle parents must face when their child is stricken with cancer. That’s why on October 25, 2010, at a celebration at SickKids, they announced a transformative gift of $30 million to establish The Garron Family Cancer Centre. They hope their gift will allow the Hospital to help more children survive their cancer diagnosis.
Michael’s psychiatrist, Dr. Goldstein, went on to write a book in 1986 on Michael’s journey with cancer. He named it Michael’s Ship: The True Story of a Young Boy’s Struggle to Live. An excerpt from Dr. Goldstein’s book reads: “Our memories of Michael exist not to haunt us, but to help us – to show the true value of life and how it should be lived.”
Learn more about the transformational gift from the Garron family.
The devastating earthquake in Haiti and the outpouring of support from the world community, including Canada, demonstrates the vital part that we can each play as volunteers and as donors to support those in need. I have been struck by the incredible stories of generosity - children emptying their piggy banks, corporations organizing relief efforts, aid workers volunteering their time.
It is this same spirit of generosity that is so important to the work we do at SickKids. In the six short months I have been here I’ve witnessed the importance of donations to Canada’s most research-intensive hospital. I’ve seen how SickKids is able to use philanthropic support as a means to understanding and treating childhood diseases. The statistics speak for themselves. Today, three-quarters of the Canadian children stricken with cancer – the second leading cause of death among children aged one to 14 – are cured. That’s a significant increase from five per cent just 40 years ago. Fifty years ago, a child diagnosed with cystic fibrosis might survive to age four. Today, the median age for survival is 35 years old.
Philanthropy is also helping provide our patients and their families with significantly improved facilities for their treatment and care. Last week we re-opened the new Hematology and Oncology Clinic that was made possible from support by the Ontario Government and private donations including a $5-million gift from Sears Canada. Later this month we will re-open the Critical Care Waiting Room, which would not have been made possible without more than $400,000 in donations. The Waiting area has been transformed and will provide families with a more hospitable and comforting environment.
Efforts are also underway to provide our researchers with the physical space and equipment they need to carry out their transformative research. A new $400 million, 750,000 square foot facility will soon rise at the corner of Bay and Elm Streets, housing our 2,000 research staff and the SickKids Learning Institute. The Research Tower is scheduled to be completed in 2013 and will consolidate personnel who are presently scattered at seven different sites across Toronto. Philanthropy will be vital to this project – planning for a $200 million special fundraising campaign is well advanced and we will launch this appeal later this spring. Stay tuned for more exciting announcements about the Research Tower Campaign.
So, as we start the New Year, let me thank all those whose support for SickKids is helping fund life-changing equipment and facilities and enabling SickKids to attract the best doctors, researchers and nurses in the world.
I wish everyone a healthy and happy 2010.
How it came about:
When the SickKids Atrium was receiving its finishing touches
in 1992, the construction firm faced a challenge. Streams of people continually
poured through the doors at SickKids and needed to be directed around
construction, or onto alternate pathways when a whole section was closed off
(like Main Street,
down the centre of the hospital, while it was being finished).
How to show them where to go? A creative assistant came up
with the answer. Lay acrylic footprints where you want people to go and have
someone at the information desk instruct people to “follow the footprints.”
Messias Farias, now a project manager in Facilities
Development at The Hospital for Sick Children, was then working for the
contractor finishing the Atrium. It was
his task to lay the footprints and to remove and re-lay them as work zones
The idea worked. The footprints were easily seen and easily
followed, and, thanks to Messias’ hard work, fairly easily moved for
They were also a hit. Small children coming to the hospital
would step their way along the footprints – it became a favourite game. When
construction was finished, Mike Strofolino, then President and CEO of SickKids,
asked that they be placed permanently down Main Street.
Messias was the man for the job. He says he wanted to make the permanent
prints spaced for a child and considered bringing in his little girl to space
them. But no, all the footprint moving –
including the permanent installation – had to be done late at night, too late
for a little one to be out of bed. So Messias improvised by imagining his
daughter’s little steps and peeled and placed the vinyl where she might have
trod, one print at a time.
How they are made to
The footprints are a 3M product that was specially made for
SickKids. They had to be especially tough to endure the heavy traffic. Today
they cost $13.75 apiece.
They have, in their 17-year life (1992-2009), had to be
replaced five times, and they have just been renewed yet again. The hospital’s
Housekeeping team does the job – removing layers of wax and sealer, then the
footprint and laying the new one. Then a fresh coat of sealer finishes the job.
The multicoloured footprints in Main Street are the first laid – later
others in a plain orange were added leading the way to the food court in the
The Footprints and
Besides bringing delight to our little visitors (and most
staff admit they have traced the walk as well) the footprints continue to serve
our philanthropy. For a series of telethons in the mid 90s, they helped
volunteers find their way to their dinner!
The phone bank where the volunteers were working was some distance from
where food was set up, so the instruction to volunteers was, “Follow the
And last, they provided an opportunity to honour the
generosity of one of SickKids leaders and best friends. Jim Pitblado, a long-serving
board member at SickKids, had made numerous, generous gifts to SickKids,
culminating in funding for the first research Chair at the SickKids Research
Institute. There was nothing in the hospital
or Research Institute that acknowledged his long history of philanthropy and
leadership. So, on February 23, 2004 – six years to the day after the
inauguration of the Pitblado Chair in Cell Biology (February 23, 1998) –
SickKids Foundation dedicated the Jim Pitblado Footpath in his honour.