The entire ballroom at the Westin hotel rose to their feet and applauded Dr. Jack Kitts, long-time president and CEO of The Ottawa Hospital, during its research gala on Saturday night.
The loud and collective thank you took place after Kitts addressed the crowd. It was his final time doing so at the annual dinner while still in his leadership role.
Kitts is retiring in June, after more than 18 years as head of the hospital. His departure comes during exciting times for the academic health sciences centre. Its fundraising arm is embarking on a $400-million fundraising campaign to help build a new campus, to replace the nearly 100-year-old Civic site.
His message about the future of health care in Ottawa was positive and inspiring.
“I have no doubt that we can cure cancer and my bet is it will happen here in Ottawa,” the good doctor told the sold-out, black-tie crowd of 650 gala-goers. “But to accomplish something of this magnitude we must be ready, and with a 21st-century hospital on the horizon, a research program that is hot on the heels of some of the most devastating diseases known, I believe that we are on the cusp of something very big in health care here in Ottawa.
"As a community, I believe we’re facing a moment in time that will define each of us as innovators and city builders."
“As a community, I believe we’re facing a moment in time that will define each of us as innovators and city builders. For some, it means leaving a lasting legacy. For others, it ensures that world-class care will be there when we need it for generations to come.
“In every story there is a defining moment when doubters become believers and dreamers become doers. We are on the precipice of that defining moment with a new Carling site for the Ottawa Hospital, and I know that our community will turn this dream into a reality,” said Kitts, who will be honoured at next month’s Best Ottawa Business Awards with this year’s lifetime achievement award.
The Ottawa Hospital Gala brings together community and business leaders from across the city to proudly celebrate the hospital’s world-class research, as it helps to advance science, save lives and improve patient care both in our community and beyond. Among the attendees was former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty.
Returning as the title sponsor was First Avenue Investment Counsel, an Ottawa-based investment management firm and family office represented by Kash Pashootan and Nicholas Allaham.
The black-tie event was co-chaired by community volunteer Whitney Fox with Calian Group president and CEO Kevin Ford, both of whom are on The Ottawa Hospital Foundation board. Ford just won the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2019 Ontario award in the Professional Services category. He took over as gala co-chair from Dentons lawyer Greg Kane, who continues to give back by sitting on the board of The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute Board.
Kitts presented Kane with a special gift: an official lab coat from The Ottawa Hospital. It doesn’t make him a doctor or researcher, Kitts joked, before adding: “But, I really do believe he is one of the kindest and most caring people in this room.”
Rest assured, Kane has no plans to leave the world of law behind for medicine. He can’t stand the sight of blood, he told the audience.
A main focus of the night is the awards ceremony to honour some of the best and brightest in research. Organizers have done an excellent job in showing a fun and more personal side of the researchers in recent years through entertaining video introductions. They revealed things like favourite guilty-pleasure song (in one case, the theme song from The Big Bang Theory sitcom).
Upon accepting their awards, the brilliant researchers were humble, passionate and gracious as they briefly explained the nature of their work.
Dr. Faizan Khan, the recipient of the Worton Researcher in Training Award, was recognized for his outstanding work on vein blood clots, including a recent British Medical Journal study establishing long-term risks and consequences of clot recurrence.
He thanked God and his mentors before turning his attention to his "beautiful and amazing" parents, recognizing that they made sacrifices along the way for the sake of their three sons. “Just for the record, I do get my brains from my mom (sorry, papa),” Khan said, much to the amusement of his audience.
This year’s recipient of the Chrétien Researcher of the Year award was Dr. Marjorie Brand for her groundbreaking discovery of how a blood stem cell decides whether to become a red blood cell or a platelet-forming cell.
Dr. Paul Albert landed the Grimes Research Career Achievement Award for his leadership in neuroscience, as well as his innovative work on what causes depression and how to treat it. An individual with depression, he said, is more likely to have a stroke, Parkinson's disease, epilepsy, cancer, and heart disease. "By managing depression, we are improving life-long health in a big way," said Albert.
Guests were served a four-course dinner featuring seared Alberta beef tenderloin. After dessert, guests packed the dance floor as the Montreal-based band 1945 took to the stage to perform.