Business community celebrates excellence in medical research at The Ottawa Hospital Gala

Former governor general David Johnston and his wife Sharon serve as honourary co-chairs of sold-out, black-tie dinner

The Ottawa Hospital has more than 11,000 patients taking part in hundreds of clinical trials to develop and test new experimental treatments. That’s enough folks to populate a small Ontario town.

“When conventional therapies may have been exhausted, you’re looking for answers, more options, unique and novel therapies; you’re holding on to hope,” Tim Kluke, president and CEO of The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, told some 700 attendees of the hospital’s signature gala to celebrate the remarkable medical research happening in our community.

“Those clinical trials represent hope to real people — your family, friends, your coworkers, your loved ones and, maybe, even you.”

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The Ottawa Hospital Gala, presented by First Avenue Investment Counsel, drew another sold-out crowd of business leaders and philanthropists to The Westin Ottawa on Saturday for a beautiful evening of dining, dancing and inspiration. 

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Serving as honourary gala co-chairs were Canada’s former governor general, David Johnston, and his wife, Sharon Johnston. They mingled at the cocktail reception with retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and her husband, Frank McArdle, who are regular attendees of the hospital gala.

For the past six years, the event has been co-chaired by Greg Kane and dedicated volunteer Whitney Fox, whose other half is Telesat CEO Dan Goldberg. Kane is also a lawyer with Dentons Canada LLP, former chair of the hospital foundation board and chair of the foundation’s Tender Loving Research campaign. It has raised more than $43 million of its $50-million goal.

The Ottawa Hospital does not receive financial support from the province for its research. It relies on national research grants and community philanthropy.

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Dr. Jack Kitts, the president and CEO of The Ottawa Hospital, delivered a thoughtful speech about running a research hospital built on empathy. “In a rapidly changing environment, where technology, robots and artificial intelligence is the norm, we need more than ever to make a human connection, even if just for a moment to offer comfort and hope for our patients.”

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Kitts thanked the business community for its leadership and support of the health-care institute.

“Our research success would not be possible without you,” he acknowledged. “My hope is that you will leave here this evening with a greater sense of pride, knowing that you’re helping to create a world-class hospital in your community.

“I believe we are on the cusp of something very big in Ottawa. We are entering a golden age of health care.”

“And, with a new hospital site on the horizon, with 21st-century technology and equipment and more leading-edge research and innovation to come, I believe we are on the cusp of something very big in Ottawa. We are entering a golden age of health care.”

Dr. Duncan Stewart, the hospital’s executive vice president of research, is not in the habit of boasting but he made an exception that night as he got up to the podium.

“At the Ottawa Hospital we have a lot of be proud about,” said Stewart. “We are now among the very best research hospitals in Canada; we are the fifth largest in terms of overall research activity and the third in the country in attracting highly competitive research funding.”

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Key to the evening was the honouring of three local researchers and their innovative accomplishments in their fields.

Dr. Kristin Danko, who is currently pursuing postdoctoral studies at Brown University, was the recipient of the Worton Researcher in Training Award for her work on methods for systematic review and meta-analysis of complex health interventions, including novel mathematical modelling. In other words, she’s coming up with the best practices to guide doctors and, potentially, change the way healthcare is provided around the world.

In her speech, she reflected back to when she first moved to Ottawa a decade ago to work with senior scientist Dr. Jeremy Grimshaw. “He said something to me in one of our first meetings that stuck: ‘I want you to think of where you want to be in 10 years. My job is to get you there’.

“I could not foresee in 2008 that 10 years later I would have two degrees, three children and a job working with leading scientists,” she said, sounding a little incredulous.

Dr. Bill Stanford was this year’s recipient of the Chrétien Researcher of the Year Award for his groundbreaking research on stem cells and leukemia. He’s been working on a strategy to treat chemotherapy-resistant acute myeloid leukemia (AML). The results are published in the leading cancer journal Cancer Discovery.

Dr. Fraser Scott landed the Grimes Research Career Achievement Award for his pioneering research linking the onset of Type 1 diabetes with diet-induced changes in gut immunity and regeneration of insulin-producing cells. “Research is not a luxury but rather a beacon of hope for the nearly one in 10 Canadians who have diabetes,” Scott told the room.

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Gala organizers shook things up this year by introducing Stanford and Scott through a video inspired by Jerry Seinfeld’s TV series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. The Hospital Foundation’s marketing director, Ingrid Gingras, chatted with researchers about their work while driving each of them around the city in either a Mark Motors’ Porsche 911 Targa 4S or Porsche Macan S.

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The evening kicked off with a high-energy performance from the pros at Arthur Murray Dance Ottawa and with Dr. Carole Dennie, a participant of the 2018 Dancing with the Docs fundraiser for The Ottawa Hospital.

Guests dined on beef tenderloin in the gorgeous ballroom before doing some dancing of their own, to Montreal party band 1945.

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