By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express
Lakeridge Health is set to become the first community hospital in the country to launch a fully funded research position for those with life-threatening illnesses.
In partnership with Kingston’s Queens University, Lakeridge will be host to a research chair into palliative care – what the World Health Organization defines as “an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problem associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual.”
The chair will be named for Dr. Gillian Gilchrist, who was the first head of Lakeridge’s palliative care program in 1981.
“Staff in the hospital at the time were very receptive to what we were trying to do,” Gilchist says. “We had done some research, and found that there was a need for something to happen.”
Gilchrist, who originally worked in pediatrics, took on the lead of the burgeoning program which originally was staffed with mostly volunteers. However, even though the majority of the staff were not doctors, the change of scenery was good for those in the unit, Gilchrist says, adding that word spread quickly about the new unit.
“It was so good for the patients to see someone coming into the room that wasn’t wearing a white coat…and could sit down at bedside and take time (with them),” she says. “After one year, amazingly we had 247 referrals, and from 72 physicians in Durham Region. So obviously, people were starting to hear about the palliative care in this area. I think palliative care is different because it isn’t just medicine. It’s a whole body of medicine. It has to do with the body, the mind and the spirit, and that is why we needed such a big team.”
The research chair was made possible thanks to a donation of $2.5 million from Debbie and Dr. Hak-Ming Chiu, the latter an oncologist at the hospital.
Debbie, herself a retired nurse, said there was connection between her husband’s work in helping those with cancer and the work being done by Gilchrist.
“While Hak-Ming was very busy taking care of his patients, some patients would have difficult symptoms and sadly some would no longer respond to chemotherapy and need end of life care,” she says.
“But Dr. Gilchrist was here at what was then Oshawa General Hospital. Hak-Ming came to really appreciate her and all she offered patients and their family, and really personally, how she really helped him with his patients.”
Hak-Ming says the idea to make such a large donation started a few years ago when he and his wife were thinking about how to help the community.
“We worked hard and I married late. We made money and saved some,” the oncologist says.
“Debbie and I value education and the benefits it brings to society. Our life and work have been in medicine…and we see how research findings can lead to developments in medical care that are so beneficial to patients.”
The search for who will be named the research chair is currently underway.