It was just about four years ago that Tragically Hip fans woke up to the news that Gord Downie was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a very aggressive and ultimately fatal brain cancer.
Following the immediate outpouring of grief, appreciation and shock, people got very serious about raising money in Downie’s name, with donations typically being dedicated to the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. It was at Sunnybrook, after all, that Downie received care until his death in October 2017.
The Sunnybrook Foundation now says more than $2.6 million has been raised in Downie’s name, with funds going to support two very distinct areas of great importance to the singer: brain oncology and Indigenous health.
“As we collectively mourned the loss of the man who gave us so much, our community stepped up in an unbelievable way to ensure Gord’s legacy continues to live on for years to come,” the hospital says. “The work being done with funds from the Gord Downie Fund is bringing hope and helping to battle the disease that took Gord and many others from us far too soon.”
In an report released earlier this week, the hospital announced the following developments:
Dr. Jay Detsky has been named the second Gord Downie Fellow in Brain Oncology.
“The Gord Downie Fellowship gave me the opportunity to learn from leading experts in the field and to help develop new treatment technologies that have the power to completely change the paradigm of care for patients with brain tumours,” he says. His one-year tenure has focused mainly on image-directed therapies and he was part of the Sunnybrook team established to prepare the Elektra Unity MR-Linac for patient trials. The machine is the first to combine radiation and MRI capability to allow doctors to “target tumours and monitor their response to radiation with unprecedented precision — even as a tumour moves inside the body,” the hospital says.
The hospital has also recruited two specialists in MRI imaging analysis, also supported by the Gord Downie Fund. Hatef Mehrabian, PhD, joined the hospital in 2019 and Angus Lau, PhD, joined earlier this year. They use quantitative metrics to examine and study each patient’s brain images, taken daily, to gain a better understanding of how their disease is progressing by monitoring changes to the tumour’s metabolism and structure following radiation treatments.
Sunnybrook is also taking a lead on a province-wide initiative to improve cancer care for Indigenous people in Ontario, creating a number of activities and workshops in 2019 to raise awareness of Indigenous health concerns and improve culturally-safe care practices. “First Nations, Inuit and Metis people in Ontario are disproportionately affected by cancer. But they sometimes don’t get the care they need because of challenges ranging from a lack of basic health services to limited and culturally inappropriate care to geographic barriers.”
This year, Sunnybrook has partnered with the Indigenous Cancer Program on a six-month pilot project to improve cancer treatment for Indigenous patients.
Additionally, the hospital is in the final design phase for the new Garry Hurvitz Brain Sciences Centre, which will be funded in part by contributions from the Gord Downie Fund in addition to a $60 million pledge from the provincial government. “Among its many features, this centre will be the largest youth mental health service in the province and a hub for adult inpatient mental health care,” Sunnybrook says. “It will also be a global leader in neuromodulation and home to both the largest traumatic brain injury clinic in Ontario and one of the largest ALS clinics in Canada.”
Sunnybrook’s full report can be read here.
Gord Downie’s legacy isn’t just the music of the Hip; it’s in his work toward reconciliation and the urging of Canadians to “Do Something.” Nearly three years after his passing, his good works and strong words are still resonating and resulting in really incredible work done to make the world a better place.