The magic of CHEO

In 2014, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario celebrated 40 years as a pediatric health and research centre. Widely known for providing outstanding, family-centred care, it has become the third-largest pediatric research hospital in Canada. Sonia Mendes explores CHEO’s history and what it has meant to the Ottawa community and beyond.

w2015-community-profile-featMaureen Tourangeau was a young mother in a brand-new neighbourhood when she joined a grassroots campaign to build a children’s hospital in Ottawa.

“We started raising money in 1965,” recalls Tourangeau of the Citizen’s Committee on Children. “I had a baby and we had just moved into Parkwood Hills – the streets weren’t paved or anything – and I went up and down the street delivering invitations for a coffee party.”

Tourangeau and other members of the committee would take turns providing coffee and refreshments to neighbours in their living rooms, requesting a small donation, which was diligently set aside towards the idea of a new hospital.

“If you got a five-dollar bill you were living high,” she laughs. “Our group was 99.9 per cent stay-at-home moms, so we had the time to do these parties and things that aren’t done anymore.”

In addition to staging small fundraising events, says Tourangeau, the committee spent much time and energy raising awareness of their cause.

“We wrote to every politician in the province of Ontario,” she says. “Every councillor, the mayor – they all heard from us. At first it seemed that nobody was interested – they felt we already had a hospital – but slowly the idea began to grow.”

Shirley Post was a nurse who had just moved to Ottawa with her young family when Wanda O’Hagan, the president of The Citizen’s Committee on Children, asked her to join their efforts. Post recalls that Mayor Charlotte Whitton was against the idea of a children’s hospital.

“In December of 1964, Don Reid decided to run against Charlotte Whitton for mayor,” Post wrote in a document sharing her CHEO memories. “Wanda and I approached him and he agreed to make a children’s hospital part of his platform. All of our moms supported him and he WON!”

Soon afterwards, Post and O’Hagan presented the newly-elected mayor with a cheque for $150 – money raised from the coffee parties that the mothers had held – and requested that he set up an account for a children’s hospital.

“He was quite speechless,” Post recalled of Mayor Reid.

Our vision, Post wrote, was that it should be a stand-alone children’s hospital serving all of Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec. It would be a bilingual, multi-disciplinary teaching and research hospital affiliated with the University of Ottawa, and it would be a family-centred place.

Gaining the support of the Ontario government and raising funding for the hospital were uphill battles, but in April 1966 the Ottawa Citizen declared, “Ontario Gives in, Ottawa Gets Children’s Hospital.”

When the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario officially opened its doors on May 17, 1974, it was an emotional day for all those who had worked so tirelessly to see it happen.

“We stood out on Smyth Road – dressed in our Sunday best – and we were so proud,” says Tourangeau. “We all cried.”

Post, who had joined the staff before CHEO opened, helped select other staff members and equipment. She went on to become CHEO’s first director of nursing.

The mothers from the early days of fundraising were organized into 10 guilds, and continued to raise money and support for the hospital. After CHEO opened, they became the volunteers and the auxiliary, and ran the gift shop and the coffee shop.

In 2014, CHEO celebrated 40 years as a pediatric health and research centre, widely known for providing outstanding, family-centred patient care. The treasured community fixture has grown to become the third-largest pediatric research hospital in Canada.

“CHEO now helps more than 500,000 kids each year through the unique combination of expertise and caring that makes me so proud,” says Alex Munter, CHEO’s president and CEO.

“CHEO also has one of the fastest-growing research institutes in Canada. That means our work not only serves our local community, but contributes to the health of children around the world.”

While CHEO’s reach extends far beyond Ottawa’s city limits, some of the most incredible success stories come from right here in our own backyard.

Tim Inglis is one such example. In 1999, at the age of 11, Inglis was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma, a tumour in his leg, very similar to Terry Fox’s condition. He recalls CHEO being his second home for nearly a year of his young life.

“I don’t remember the treatment, but I remember the child-life professionals,” says Inglis. “I actually had a lot of fun during my time at CHEO; I did a lot of throwing up, but they’re pretty good at handling that, and there was always something to do, something to play with.

“Part of the magic of CHEO is the design of the building,” he continues. “It’s not a dreary, drab place, it’s a place where people are getting healthy; it’s a bright, friendly atmosphere.”

While he lost part of his leg, CHEO surgeons were able to use his ankle and foot to provide Inglis with a working knee, to which he attaches a prosthesis.

“Because I’m walking on a foot instead of walking on a stump, I can be more aggressive in terms of physical activity,” Inglis explains.

It would seem he hasn’t taken this benefit for granted, either.

Now 26, Inglis is an accomplished athlete who enjoys rock climbing, longboarding, snowboarding, kayaking and
canoeing. Fittingly, he has used his talent as a scuba instructor to work with the non-profit group Freedom at Depth, teaching people who are quadriplegic and paraplegic how to scuba dive.

“For people who are confined to a wheelchair, scuba offers a sense of weightlessness and freedom, as well as the confidence to engage in recreational activities,” says Inglis. “I just adore it – it’s the most fun activity ever; to be able to put a smile on people’s face is worth it a thousand times over.”

With a degree in biomedical and electrical engineering under his belt, Inglis says even his professional life is coloured by his relationship with CHEO; he’s now part of a startup company working to develop sensors for use in prosthetics and other medical applications.

“To me, CHEO defines Ottawa – it was so central to my growing up and it’s really a fundamental part of our community,” says Inglis. “The way I see it, CHEO has more than doubled my life.

“I’m so incredibly fortunate to have come out the other side – I am forever grateful.”