Patient stories Sunnybrook Magazine – Spring 2017

Giving back: The Telfords pay it forward with support for research

Telford family

After spending 33 wonderful years going to their cottage near Gravenhurst, Ont., Ian and Carol Telford realized it was time to sell their home away from home.

“We were on the water constantly – swimming, canoeing and kayaking,” says Ian. “But when my arthritis grew so bad, I couldn’t keep up the maintenance. We decided to put the cottage on the market.”

Over those three decades, the cottage had appreciated in value, and the Telfords, both retired Toronto high-school teachers, decided to use that windfall to benefit the critical research being conducted at Sunnybrook.

The Telfords specified that the funds go to two Sunnybrook researchers who improved Ian’s quality of life through the successful treatment of his prostate cancer and ongoing care for his Parkinson’s disease.

Ian wanted to recognize the significance of the lifesaving research being done at Sunnybrook. “I know first-hand how important research is,” he says. “I’d like to see others benefit from it, too. It just felt right to make the donation when we did.”

Diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2007, he was treated by Dr. Andrew Loblaw, whose pioneering research has greatly improved the outcomes for Sunnybrook’s cancer patients. Ian underwent a variation on standard radiation treatment and participated in Dr. Loblaw’s clinical trial. “Instead of two sessions of high-dose internal radioactive procedures and five weeks of external beam radiotherapy, ” says Dr. Loblaw, “we were able to reduce Ian’s treatment to one internal procedure and three weeks of external radiotherapy.”

Not only did Ian benefit from less exposure to radiation, the new approach also left him with none of its typical side effects, such as fatigue and skin irritation. Five years on, his cancer is in remission.

Dr. Loblaw has since improved on the procedure. “We’ve been able to reduce the number of external radiation treatments from the standard five weeks now to one,” says Dr. Loblaw, “with an 80-per-cent to 95-per-cent success rate.”

The Telfords’ donation will go to the next phase of Dr. Loblaw’s research – a new MRI-guided, high-precision, non-invasive radiotherapy technique that requires no anesthetic, is less expensive and has faster recovery rates. “It’s a triple win,” notes Dr. Loblaw, “for the patient, for the hospital and for medical advancement.”

A few years after his successful treatment for prostate cancer, Ian began experiencing short-term memory loss and tremors in his hand and foot. In 2010, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Again, Ian received excellent care, this time from Dr. Mario Masellis, a clinician-scientist at Sunnybrook.

Ian volunteered to be part of Dr. Masellis’s clinical study examining why Parkinson’s patients sometimes develop problems with their memory and thinking. Examples of thinking problems common in Parkinson’s disease include troubles with focusing, multitasking and navigating the environment.

Dr. Masellis’s team suspected that the culprit might be sudden drops in blood pressure suffered by these patients, when they went from a lying or sitting position to standing. This line of study has yielded promising results. “We found a strong association between the drop in blood pressure, blood flow to certain areas of the brain and thinking problems in these patients,” says Dr. Masellis. This is the first study suggesting a link between low blood pressure in Parkinson’s patients and severity of thinking problems.

The Telfords’ donation will go toward Dr. Masellis’s continuing research of cognitive impairment in Parkinson’s. Both Dr. Loblaw and Dr. Masellis are very grateful to the Telfords for their important contribution to research. “We have a moral imperative,” says Dr. Loblaw, “to march up the field, if you will, to get closer to the goal line, which is a 100-per-cent cure with no side effects.”

Both researchers also believe they are achieving better results, and the only way to continue to do that is to run clinical trials, which require substantial funding. “That’s why we rely on people like the Telfords,” says Dr. Loblaw, “ to move the goalposts forward.”

The Telfords will continue to make their annual donations and have also gifted part of their estate to Sunnybrook.

(Photograph by Jennifer Roberts)