Gerry’s Blog

My friend Anthony

I’ve been thinking a lot about my friend Anthony today. Anthony was a brilliant Co-op student when I worked at a small University. Although still in his undergrad, Anthony was repeatedly asked to partner with another major University on research projects. He was already published by the time he was in his third year. In addition to his brilliance, Anthony had a refreshing view of the world, his perspective was always unique and very often challenged the status quo. I found that intriguing.

I was fortunate to get to know Anthony a little better after I moved from the Co-op Department to the Foundation office. No longer my student, we would meet at lunch or just in passing, and find ourselves deep in conversation about the universe, thermos-dynamics, nano-particles, etc. As I got to know Anthony better I came to realise that his life was very unstable. He professed to have sleeping issues, trouble concentrating, broken relationships with family members and various other challenges for which he self-medicated with alcohol and marijuana.

It was his sister who told me Anthony had untreated schizophrenia. He had been on medication, but went off and on, as many people will this illness do. I had some previous understanding of the illness, which was helpful. What I didn’t know was Anthony suffered from Anosognosia. Anosognosia, first named by a neurologist in 1914, “is a deficit of self-awareness, a condition in which a person with some disability seems unaware of its existence.”

Can you imagine living with a chronic disease and not knowing it, or in fact, being in complete denial of it? That was the life Anthony led, a life that is led by a large portion of the 1 in 100 people who suffer from schizophrenia, a chronic neurological illness. Fortunately, this is not true for all those diagnosed. Many people who have the illness are treated with medication, cognitive therapy and other supportive programs, and live fulfilling lives. This was not Anthony’s story.

Anthony’s untreated illness caused him to take his own life. It was a very sad day for all of us, in addition to the research community. His light shone brightly for a very short time.

Research is a very important part of our lives, even though we are not aware of the daily impact on the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the houses we live in, cars we drive and the medical care we receive. It is research, combined with education, which will eventually end the stigma of mental illness, as it has done for AIDS and Cancer. It is research that will unravel the complex neurological disorder called schizophrenia.

I am very proud to have been involved in research projects, either as a participant, a researcher or a funder of research. I am pleased Valley Regional Hospital Foundation is funding research projects which impact the determinants to health thus reducing the strain on an already stressed medical system. Next time you visit the hospital, give a thought of gratitude for those brilliant researchers (who may live with their own medical challenges) whose work positively impacts our lives every single day.

A funny thing happened on the way to work today. . .

“I think that since we have to renew our driver’s license every five years, we should have to renew our marriage license every five years”, or something equally clever came from a man at the counter.

Engaged in the very serious act of vehicle licensing changes and drivers’ license transfers from BC to NS, my beloved and I looked at each other, giggling.

He was a little older, and his voice resonated from one end of the counter to the other. The more we stood and stared at each other the larger our grins grew. Wouldn’t that be something? It’s like renewing your vows, in a bureaucratic sort of way. There could even be a small fee, and if you never divorced you could get a refund after 50 years.

Imagine, every five years you would seriously and intentionally have to go to a government agency to say “yes”, we are still in a committed relationship. It may give rise to conversation around “are we?”, “do we”, “will we?”, and various other questions that may pop up as each couple very publicly reconfirm their marriage is still valid and valued. I imagine some couples would find it difficult to find time to go together during business hours to invest in the process of saying “yes, we are renewing our marriage”.

Well, we renew other things, so why not marriages? Everything else seems to require continued validation: driver’s licenses, wills, insurances, registry for guns, alumni status, memberships to service clubs, professional member organizations, book clubs, fan clubs, fitness clubs and even non-profit societies which collect membership fees (annual or otherwise). Whew!

Even with the Valley Regional Hospital Foundation we annually measure the commitment of our donors by asking “will you partner with us this year by providing volunteer time and/or a donation?” It is a marriage of sorts, a process of giving and receiving in a mutually beneficial way. We feel connected, part of something larger; we feel a sense of belonging. Shouldn’t marriages continue to be that synergistic and mutually beneficial – providing us with a sense of belonging? Ah yes, but I doubt a five year marriage register will make it so.

A new face in the Foundation Office. . .

“A move to the East Coast from BC had been in our plans for a long time”.  While the move was motivated by grown children and grandchildren who reside in Avonport, Deborah feels fortunate to work with supporters of Valley Regional Hospital Foundation. “Being here with such a strong volunteer leadership team and great community support is a definite bonus.”

Deborah was born and raised on Vancouver Island; a sixth generation Islander. After growing up on the Oyster River, north of Courtenay, Deborah attended Simon Fraser University where she completed a Bachelor of Applied Sciences in Communication, and a Minor in Kinesiology. Deborah supplemented her studies in later years with a Masters’ Degree in Philanthropy and Development (not-for-profit management and fundraising).

 “The greatest attraction to the non-profit sector is the impact on people’s lives, mine included. It is astounding how you start in this field believing you can make a positive difference in the world, and as you further your career you come to realise the positive difference is within you, as well as outside you. It is not possible to remain unchanged when someone looks into your eyes and says ‘because of the work you did, I am living and loving every day – you saved my life’”.

Deborah has enjoyed working in the non-profit sector, beginning with communications and programming positions, and ultimately serving as Executive Director and Director of Development in the environmental, health, and educational sectors. In addition to her non-profit experience, she has worked in municipal and provincial governments; in the finance sector; and has managed her own locally-sourced, organic, multi-cultural restaurant.

 While she no longer has a restaurant, Deborah loves to create unique and delicious meals with her husband Daryl, their five grown children and four grandchildren. Outdoor pursuits such as kayaking, gardening and hiking are favorite activities she continues to share with friends and family.

A New Plan With a New Team

Things are starting to change at the Foundation this summer. I believe change is positive and exciting and to be embraced. In June we struck a new volunteer board of directors adding two new members. We said goodbye to four long serving volunteers with over 40 years of experience with our organization. Their contributions were immeasurable!

The second major change is with me. I’m officially retiring October 1 with my last day of work September 1. I’ve been the Foundation’s Executive Director for 11 great years, meeting donors and volunteers each day. The board has hired a new ED, Deborah Conner, who will contribute her skills and talents to continue to fulfill the Foundation’s mission. She will continue to work with Angela and Katie in our office.

We’re all working towards the same goal – to enhance health care in the Annapolis Valley were we live and work. I hope we can continue to count on your support.

Sharing knowledge and getting healthier

For the last 2 plus years, we’ve hosted talks at Kings Riverside Court for residents and the broader community. It’s been an eye opening experience for me because I began to understand the depth and breadth of knowledge existing in our health community. Our Health Talks have featured doctors, nurses, and medical staff from all areas of the hospital and community. The response has been overwhelmingly positive and, I know, like me, the listeners learned about getting and staying healthy, whatever your age.

We have several talks planned and I invite you to join us for learning and socializing. You can check out our monthly talk topic on our website and/or through Facebook or call our office at 902-678-5414. Hope to see you at a future presentation.