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“This is not normal.” A sharp shooting pain struck through Tracy White’s head as she reached over to feed her newborn baby. Heart palpitations had haunted the 36 year-old throughout most of her pregnancy. But tonight was different. 

“I was in agony,” recalls Tracy, who was rushed to the Emergency Department at Markham Stouffville Hospital (MSH) – the same hospital where she had just given birth to a healthy baby 5 days earlier. Her blood pressure was dangerously high. 

Fearing Tracy could be suffering from a life-threatening blood clot or brain aneurysm, the MSH team wasted no time ordering a head CT. Tracy’s agonizing headache continued despite pain medication that was administered.  When her brain scans came back normal, cardiology was called in. A chest x-ray revealed Tracy’s heart was enlarged. With her elevated blood pressure, Tracy could have had a stroke at any moment. 

By Lee Ann Waterman
Photography by Jim Craigmyle

Spring 2015 - When Michelle Li steps onto the badminton court at Markham’s Pan Am Centre this July, she’ll be competing for Canada in front of her hometown crowd and with the hopes of advancing the profile of her sport.

Born in Hong Kong, Ms Li, 23, grew up in Markham. It was during a visit to her birthplace at age 11 that she was introduced to badminton by an aunt. Back home in Markham, she and her mom began playing weekly in a recreational program at a local church.

An active kid with good hand-eye co-ordination, Ms Li showed a natural talent for the game. Soon she began lessons at Lee’s Badminton Training Centre in Markham, where she still trains with coach Jennifer Lee.

At 17 and competing in her first world-class tournament in Switzerland, Ms Li decided she could play with the best.

“Watching all the professional players, the top players of the world, compete, I decided I wanted to be like that. I wanted to be at the top,” she says. “And that’s when I realized I knew that I could do it.”

In the five years since, Ms Li has recorded some big wins. In 2011, she took gold in singles and doubles (with Toronto’s Alexandra Bruce) at the Pan Am Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. The pair finished in fourth place at the Summer Games in London in 2012, the best Canadian finish in badminton at the Olympics.

Last year, Ms Li won the Canada Open Grand Prix, making her the first home player to win this title. She also took the gold medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, becoming the first Canadian woman to win a singles gold in Commonwealth badminton.

But these wins haven’t come without sacrifice. Ms Li spent two years studying at the University of Toronto (2010-2011 in life sciences and 2012-2013 in kinesiology), but she put her education on hold to focus on her game.

Training, she says, requires discipline and consistency.

“I wake up, have breakfast, train for three hours, have lunch, nap, do a second session, another three hours, go home, make dinner, rest and go to sleep. And then do the same thing again tomorrow,” she says. “Sometimes I take Sunday off.

“A big part of the game is mental,” she adds. “Even sometimes when I’m off the court, I have to think about badminton and how I can improve myself.”

That’s part of what appeals to Ms Li about the sport: It’s a game that demands both physical and mental skill. It takes power, stamina, technique, speed and strategy.

“There are so many aspects and if you want to win, you’ve got to be good at a lot of things. You have to work very hard to be good.”
As the returning champion, Ms Li is a heavy favourite in the Pan Am Games.

But this contest will be about more than a medal to the athlete; it will be an opportunity to compete in front of local supporters and fans and inspire young athletes.

“I want to enjoy playing my sport in front of my friends and family because they don’t get a chance to see me play at this level very often,” she says. “It’s nice to show them what I’ve been training for.”

Although many Canadians might consider badminton “a backyard sport,” it is hugely popular and highly competitive in many other parts of the world, she says. This event and Ms Li’s performance have the potential to change perceptions.

“I realize that compared to Asian countries, badminton is underrated in Canada and I think that’s because it’s been a while since Canada had any results in badminton,” Ms Li says. “I feel if we can start bringing home medals, this will increase the profile of the sport and motivate more juniors and young kids to play badminton.”

Many Canadian players, she says, stop competing after they outgrow the junior circuit (under age 20) and start post-secondary school.

“One of my goals is to work hard and get results. I also want to be a good role model and give young aspiring players hope that they can do it.”

With her immediate sights set on a gold-medal-winning performance at home this summer, Ms Li is also looking to next year in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“A goal would be to win Olympics in 2016,” she says. “With my results and progress lately, I feel like I’m getting a lot closer. I feel like I can do it.”

Competition beyond that will depend on whether she feels she has reached her peak or not. But eventually, she will again focus on her education, which she expects will culminate in medical school.

Badminton, which she says is a social activity as well as good exercise, will always be a part of her life.

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Markham Stouffville Hospital’s approach to palliative care supports people to live well, for whatever time remains

By Sheena Campbell
Photography by
Jim Craigmyle

Life is everywhere on the palliative care unit. In the quiet conversation between a mother and daughter. In the laughter echoing from the family lounge and the tears shed in grief for what is being lost. In the warmth of a beloved pet’s fur. And in all the little moments of dignity and compassion that help dying people fill their final days with love, care and comfort.

This is the palliative care unit at Markham Stouffville Hospital, a special 13-bed area in the hospital’s newly renovated facility. Some patients come here when the end of their life is near, to receive care aimed at making them comfortable and easing their passing. Others receive active treatment that helps manage their pain and symptoms and, in some cases, improves their health enough for them to return home. In every situation the goal is better quality of life for whatever time the person has remaining.

Social worker Tanya Dube says the team works collaboratively to tailor care to the needs of each patient and every family, to better support them through this extremely difficult time.

“Our approach goes beyond medication and clinical  goals encompassing the psychosocial aspects around what gives a life meaning and purpose,” Ms Dube says. “Every patient’s situation is unique. Some are able to talk openly about their prognosis and about what they want—perhaps, to be surrounded by family, to go home one more time or to attend a special event. We try to help people appreciate, in a gentle way, the window of time they have to have those interactions and we work closely with them to try to achieve them.

Along with the skilled and caring nursing staff, the interdisciplinary palliative care team at MSH includes palliative care and family physician Dr. Gina Yip and Dr. Andrew Patterson, chief of rehabilitation and palliative  care. A pain and symptom management specialist whom colleagues describe as a “gentle soul,” Dr. Patterson has been a driving force for continuously improving care at MSH for more than 15 years. Both doctors see patients in their family practices, a huge advantage for patients in terms of continuity of care.

The team conducts rounds on the unit regularly, consulting other hospital clinicians as needed to manage patients’ changing needs. Allied health professionals who work throughout the hospital, such as occupational therapists, physiotherapists, speech language pathologists, social workers, recreational therapists and dietitians, play a key role in providing the range of care required.

“It’s impossible to do this work without the support of the team as there are lots of aspects of patient health that need to be considered,” Dr. Yip says. “Many patients are ambulatory and benefit from occupational therapy and physiotherapy at some point in their illness. Social work is tremendous because there are a lot of complicated issues with palliative care. They facilitate family meetings and alternative supports and are very important in transitions to other care settings or to home.”

There is no doubt the palliative care team’s work is valued, particularly its role in creating special memories and legacies.

One nurse sings to her patients. Another team member helps patients write legacy letters or make video messages for their children. There was a young father who passed away several years ago during the holiday season and the staff took up a collection of gifts and toys for his young child. Staff have arranged birthday parties, anniversary celebrations and even a wedding in the hospital chapel. These are the moments of care that can’t be recorded in a health records chart.

“This is an exceptional team. Far and away they offer excellent care that stresses the importance of quality of life, which, when it matters most, is what you need,” says Dr. Mateya Trinkaus, one of MSH’s oncologists. “They are outstanding at supporting patients and families. A hand on the shoulder, a hug for a grieving spouse, reassuring a patient by holding their hand. Everything they do is a gentle reflection of `I get it. I care. You are not alone.’”

An aging population and the high population growth rates in the region are contributing to the growing need for end-of-life care. Over the last 15 years, the hospital has evolved its approach to palliative care to better serve the needs of the community through integrated care provided both in and outside of the traditional acute setting.  

“There is a big movement for people to be able to die at home and many more people looking for the support they need to do that,” Ms Dube says. “If that is the person’s wish, we will move heaven and earth to make it happen.”

Led by Dr. Patterson, the hospital has built a palliative care team that includes specialized nurses and five family physicians. Working with community partners such as the Central Community Care Access Centre, the team is currently supporting 90 patients considered palliative, to receive end-of-life care at home.
According to Dr. Yip, while palliative care is sometimes overshadowed by the more heroic stories of lives saved by the advances of medicine, the field has a vital place in people’s lives.

“End-of-life care is as important in its own way because it’s about extending both the quality and quantity and that brings great comfort to patients and families,” says Dr. Yip. “It’s a very rewarding field of medicine.”

Dr. Patterson agrees. “We are accomplishing very worthwhile, meaningful work here for patients, their families, the hospital and our community. Providing excellent end-of-life care the community needs. We see the benefits of it for our patients every day.”

Bonnie Jean-Baptiste  is the manager of the palliative unit. A social worker by training and former patient relations representative at the hospital, she has spoken to countless grateful families who have been helped by the palliative care team.

“So many people come up to our staff years later and express their heartfelt thanks, saying, `I remember you. Thank you for the care you gave my mother or father. It meant so much,’” Ms Jean-Baptiste says. “Many staff are brought to tears knowing that just by doing their job, they’ve had such a lasting and positive impact on people’s lives.”

Pictured: Members of Markham Stouffville Hospital’s palliative care team (from left) palliative care manager Bonnie Jean-Baptiste, Dr. Gina Yip, social worker Tanya Dube, patient support assistance Wendy Rowland, social worker Jennifer Porteous-Muller, registered nurse Amanda Gooden, registered nurse Chris Orsi and unit secretary Richelle Williams.

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By Cathy Hillard

Tony Mauro was just a newborn baby when his father, Frank, started in the home building business in 1964. He grew up learning about the business and understanding the importance of building community along with houses.

As co-president of the Stouffville-based Fairgate Homes, Mr. Mauro remains committed to those values, evident in a recent major donation to Markham Stouffville Hospital. Fairgate Homes came to Stouffville in 1980 and when construction began on the hospital in the mid-1980s, the Mauro family was right there to offer support. Fast forward 30 years and the needs of the community called to the family once again in the form of the capital fundraising campaign for the expansion of MSH.

“It felt like the right time,” Mr. Mauro explains.  “When we started developing in Stouffville, we were told that the hospital would need to expand [to cater for the growing population] and so the seed was planted then. We are part of the community,” he says, “and we realise the importance of having a hospital in the local community. It’s been there for us and we know how important it is. Also, as developers, we recognise that the hospital has to grow with the community.”

Emilio Ronco, Mr. Mauro’s brother-in-law and co-president at Fairgate, says the company values its connection to their community—and this is one way to demonstrate that. “We wanted to give back to the community and show that we are here for the long haul,” he says. “It is special to us so it’s a give-back.”

Both the Mauro and Ronco families live in the area and have been involved at many levels for years—from coaching their children’s sports teams to sponsoring local events like the holiday fireworks and the Strawberry Festival.

“Being in the community so long, we know a lot of people who work in the hospital as well,” Mr. Mauro explains. “It’s nice to walk through the hospital and see someone whose daughter you coached in hockey or who played sports with your child. There is that personal connection.” Mr. Ronco also has a personal connection to the hospital: He recently welcomed a third grandchild into his family, all of whom were born at the hospital. He has nothing but praise for the staff. “Everyone from the front desk to the nursing staff, they have always been great,” he says.

In recognition of the generous donation from Fairgate Homes, one of the operative delivery rooms (where Caesarean sections are performed) in the maternity wing has now been dedicated in the Fairgate family name.

The good experiences Mr. Ronco and his family have had at Markham Stouffville Hospital reflect the passion the MSH team has for its patients, staff, volunteers and community. They also inspired Mr. Ronco to join the MSH Foundation Board to help promote the hospital’s fundraising efforts. He says Fairgate Homes puts personal care and attention into every home they build and that he sees that same commitment to excellence at MSH.

“We are so proud to have what is fast becoming a world-class hospital in the area,” he says, adding he is “in awe” of some of the new ground-breaking technologies and specialized doctors that MSH is now home to.

Sustaining that level of excellence is largely dependent on the generous support of people like Mr. Mauro and Mr. Ronco. And it is support they are happy to give.

“This experience for me has been a positive one,” Mr. Mauro says. “It is a great feeling to help people. My dad has always been a big proponent of looking after those who are less fortunate and so this is an extension of that. If you have been successful and blessed to have some fruits, then you should share them.”

That is a sentiment he will no doubt pass on to his children, who are now grown and poised to enter into the family business.

Fairgate Homes’ strong ties and commitment to the Markham Stouffville community are likely assured for many years to come.

Pictured: Tony Mauro and Emilio Ronco, co-presidents of Fairgate Homes and long-time supporters of Markham Stouffville Hospital

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Emma Chionglo had been feeling sick for some time. A trip to Markham Stouffville Hospital's emergency department last December confirmed it was type 1 diabetes.

“I don’t like to think about what could have happened if Emma hadn’t received the diagnosis when she did,” says mom Shelley. “It could have been bad.” After Emma was stabilized, the family was referred to MSH's paediatric diabetes clinic where they received intensive three-day training on how to care for their daughter, and where Emma continues to be monitored by the clinic’s multidisciplinary team.

“Having this kind of program available here in Markham is just phenomenal. We learned the basics of the disease, how to give insulin and what we need to do to keep Emma healthy and active. The team is nothing short of extraordinary,” says Shelley. Emma’s diabetes team will continue to support her until she is 18. “They feel like part of our family now," says Shelley. “There’s no place I’d rather have her.”

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When Adam and Daniella Erwood said their wedding vows last September, the words, "I do" had extra special meaning. That's because the Markham couple, who have known each other since elementary school, used their fairy tale wedding as an opportunity to make a difference in the lives others.

In lieu of traditional wedding favours, the newlyweds handed out donation acknowledgement cards to their 250 guests informing them of their gift made to MSH on their guests' behalf. "We always knew that we wanted to make a donation to the hospital as a wedding favour," Adam and Daniella explain. The couple believes strongly in supporting their hospital and encourages others to consider making a wedding tribute gift. "There really is no better way to say thank you to your guests than helping ensure they have access to quality health care close to home."

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To make your wedding even more meaningful, please consider honour your guests through a donation to Markham Stouffville Hospital. For more information, or to arrange your gift, please call the Foundation at 905.472.7373 ext. 6341, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or visit www.mshf.on.ca/waystogive.

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