Meet some of the inspiring faces that go above and beyond each and every day, in all corners of the hospital
Odilia Serodeo is on a mission. “I come to work and try to help people,” she says. As a porter in patient transport, Odilia takes pride in getting people to various medical appointments gently, yet efficiently. “I treat patients the way I would like to be treated – with respect and kindness,” she says.
Odilia has grown to love her “second family,” as she calls them – the doctors, nurses and her fellow porters. But she admits that her first day at Sunnybrook, in 2006, as a part-time porter, was daunting. “I had worked in a hospital in the Azores, where I came from, but it wasn’t very big. Sunnybrook is huge and there are so many patients with such different experiences and traumas who needed help.”
Two weeks of on-site training gave Odilia the confidence she felt she needed, and a year later, she was hired to work full-time. What she likes best about the job is that no two days are the same. Her pager will ring and a nurse will direct her to pick up a patient, then let her know where the patient needs to be dropped off, which can be for anything from an ultrasound to surgery. Depending on what the patient needs done, Odilia shows up with a gurney or a wheelchair and transports the patient to the next appointment.
The opening of Sunnybrook’s Women & Babies program in 2010 was a career highlight for Odilia. She helped move babies from the neonatal intensive care unit at the program’s old downtown location to the new facility at Sunnybrook’s Bayview campus. “It was so exciting to see all [those babies] here,” she recalls. “Everybody was so happy!”
On the job at Sunnybrook for 11 years now, Odilia remains committed and passionate about her role. “Without porters, patients can’t go anywhere. There are no words for how good it feels to know I help them.”
The nurse practitioner
To Deborah Brown, a good day means spending time with her 19-year-old son or enjoying a motorcycle ride. “It’s surprising to me how incredibly calm I am when riding. It clears the mind.”
At work she also likes to keep things moving – teaching, conducting research and improving the lives of patients at Sunnybrook.
“A perfect day is when I go to the units and staff talk to me about an aspect of senior-friendly care, or learning that I’ve made someone’s life better,” says Deborah, who is a nurse practitioner.
Earlier this year, she received an honourable mention in the Toronto Star 2017 Nightingale Awards, in recognition of her leadership in advancing senior-friendly care.
The definition of “senior-friendly” is clear to Deborah. “[It] means being responsive to the unique needs of the senior population, in our values and beliefs [at Sunnybrook] as an organization, the way we deliver care, conduct research and design our physical spaces. It involves all those things.”
Alongside Sunnybrook’s senior-friendly team, she leads a program that seeks to recognize, prevent and manage delirium in older people. Delirium, a state of acute confusion experienced by many in hospital, can have serious adverse consequences. She is working to minimize the use of anti-psychotic drugs while helping patients recover from delirium.
Deborah has also brought in new ideas to enhance care for seniors, like a noise-monitoring device to help patients sleep better.
Innovation and commitment are important elements of her work, says Deborah. “If you want to make a difference and significantly impact health care, Sunnybrook is the place for you.”
The family volunteer
From tragedy comes purpose. Following the suicide of her son, Kit, in 2013, Lesley Skelly and her husband became advocates for mental health, giving a series of media interviews to de-stigmatize schizophrenia, the disease that had taken their son. Immensely grateful for the care Kit had received at Sunnybrook, Lesley also joined the Patient & Family Advisory Council (PFAC) of the Department of Psychiatry “to give back and improve the [patient and family] experience for others.”
PFAC consists of patients, family members and staff who provide ideas and recommendations to help ensure that the patient’s and family’s points of view are integrated into service and quality-improvement projects throughout the Sunnybrook psychiatry program.
The advisory group was instrumental in launching a peer support program, so patients can share their experiences with former patients. Diagnosed in his second year of university at the age of 19, Kit struggled for four years with paranoia, delusions and hearing voices. He was in and out of hospital and on and off his meds, living at home when stable and then on the street and in shelters when not, eventually staying with his older brother. Lesley feels that peer support is an important addition and would have made Kit feel less isolated.
PFAC has also published a brochure about what to expect when patients are admitted. In May, the advisory group organized a community open house with four breakout sessions featuring panel discussions with psychiatrists, support staff and people with lived experience. “It was an amazing night with 200 people in attendance,” Lesley remarks.
She is enthusiastic too about the soon-to-be-launched parent support group. “That first time Kit was admitted to Sunnybrook was the scariest thing and we felt totally alone,” she says. “For other parents, being able to share, to talk to others in the same boat will be huge.”
The paramedic and life-support educator
“It’s easy to lose sight of how blessed we are, how well we’ve been trained as practitioners in Canada, and the integrity we carry with us as Canadians,” says Mark Cameron, a paramedic and advanced life support educator at Sunnybrook.
Raised in rural Ontario, Mark says it was the farming community that taught him the essential health-care values of accountability, interdependence and collaboration.
“As a fellow farmer, you’re going to need your neighbours at some point and they’re going to need you,” he says. “You need to be able to trust them at their word because if you can’t, you don’t survive.”
But to Mark, the term “neighbour” has nothing to do with proximity.
For years, he was a critical-care flight paramedic who travelled internationally to bring home injured vacationers. Today, as one of the original advanced-care paramedics trained through Sunnybrook, Mark trains paramedics and other health-care providers from around the world. He is also the co-founder of a growing humanitarian organization that provides medical education and relief for global disaster zones like Syria and Guyana.
He has received two honours from Queen Elizabeth II thus far – a Medal of Bravery and a Meritorious Service Medal. Humbled, Mark says both were simply for answering the call of duty.
“I took an oath. All health-care providers are my colleagues. No matter what country they work in, we are a team. And anyone in need is our patient.”
The co-op student
Over the past decade, every Waterloo co-op student who has worked for Dr. Chow, a radiation oncologist, has gone on to win the university’s Co-op Student of the Year Award. Pearl, a health studies undergraduate student in the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, kept the tradition going: she too received the honour this year.
“Being immersed in a clinical environment was eye-opening and humbling,” Pearl says. “There was a steep learning curve, but working with Dr. Chow, his staff and patients in the Rapid Radiotherapy Response Program really extended my health education beyond the classroom.”
Pearl spent her co-op term collecting data, coordinating clinical trials and conducting research projects within the program, which provides palliative radiotherapy to relieve symptoms in patients with advanced cancer.
What she didn’t anticipate was the profound and lasting impact that working with terminally ill patients would have on her. Some patients came in several times a week and, by the end of her co-op term, Pearl had developed close friendships with five of them.
Within two weeks of her return to school, she received messages that all five of those patients had passed away. “It’s a reality you have to accept, but at the same time, you have to maintain your sensitivity. It’s one of the biggest challenges of working in medicine,” Pearl says, whose ultimate goal is to attend medical school.
Fatima Brunning, a registered practical nurse (RPN) at Sunnybrook’s Veterans Centre, not only cares for elderly war veterans but is also, as a member of the Canadian Forces Reserve, helping to build a committed, responsible young generation through Canada’s Cadet Program, which is geared to youth from age 12 to 18.
In 1973, Fatima and her family moved to Canada from Portugal. Several years later, she discovered a love for nursing at Central Technical High School and graduated with a certificate from the Registered Practical Nursing program (back in the ’80s and ’90s this course was offered at the high-school level).
“What I love about Sunnybrook is that it’s a teaching hospital. I’m a preceptor [instructor] and I usually take on at least one student a year,” says Fatima. “Not only do they learn during their clinical placement, but I also learn from them and that makes me a better nurse.”
Fatima continues to nurture her other interest – being involved with the military. In 2004, she was sworn in as a Reserve Officer with the Cadet Instructors Cadre (CIC). Currently, she is a Supply Officer and her main role is in logistics. Fatima is a First Aid Officer, as well as a marksmanship coach and canoe instructor.
And as for her career at Sunnybrook, Fatima has spent 15 years to date, working at the Veterans Centre – Canada’s largest care facility for war veterans – where she helps to take care of Second World War and Korean War veterans. The average age of the residents is 94, and each of them requires advanced nursing skills and expertise in providing reassurance and support.
November 11 is a special day at the Veterans Centre. Fatima will arrive at 6 a.m. sharp to wake the residents in her unit and get them ready in their blazers and medals for Remembrance Day. “I’m proud to be able to serve our veterans,” says Fatima. “Everyone has a story to tell. [Working here] is both an enriching and a rewarding experience.”
– By Sally Fur