Donor Spotlight

Cycling docs climb mountains to support trauma patients

St. Michael’s physicians biked through the Alps to raise funds for the hospital’s MyBeST Trauma Survivors’ Network, the first of its kind in Canada.

When a cyclist is knocked off her bike and suffers a brain injury, the St. Michael’s trauma team knows what to do. They leap into high gear, stopping at nothing to save her life. But what happens after the physical wounds heal? What can a hospital do to help heal the anxiety, sleeplessness and depression that often persist long after she gets home?

A patient looking for answers approached Amanda McFarlan, St. Michael’s trauma registry manager and quality assurance specialist, and together they came up with the MyBeST Trauma Survivors’ Network. The first of its kind in Canada, MyBeST is a peer-support group where people help each other recover from the hidden social and emotional impacts of traumatic injury. “We see folks who aren’t able to return to work or school, or function at the same level as they did before their injuries,” McFarlan explains. “At the same time, they’re faced with health issues and legal and insurance issues, so they’re often going to multiple appointments, and they just find it a lot to navigate.”

Now, a group of St. Michael’s trauma physicians is going farther—much farther— in their relentless drive to help their patients. They’re going on an epic bike ride to raise funds and awareness for the MyBeST Trauma Survivors’ Network. In September, seven riders, including St. Michael’s trauma team leaders Dr. Joel Lockwood, Dr. Alun Ackery and Dr. Samuel Vaillancourt, internal medicine physician Dr. Rob Sargeant and family physician Dr. Rajesh Girdhari, will cycle from Geneva, Switzerland, to Nice, France, covering 850 km over seven days and climbing a heart-pounding 19,000 metres in total. That means climbs of more than 2,500 metres a day. 

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This is not their first mountain ride: two years ago members of the group cycled through the Pyrenees for the same cause. “That was pretty much the hardest physical thing I’d ever done,” says Dr. Vaillancourt. “Alun came up with the idea that we could do something more meaningful than just three guys on bikes trying to climb mountains. At that time, Amanda, who is really the hero of this, had started the trauma survivor’s network, and we thought it might be an opportunity to raise a bit of money. It was six days of riding up and down mountains, and even in mid-September we had to re-route because of snow and we had heavy, cold rain for days. So it was pretty tough, but absolutely amazing.”

They did raise a bit of money, but this time they’re aiming higher, hoping to raise $10,000 for the MyBeST program. “It’s easier to fundraise for a new CT scanner or a new building than it is to fundraise to facilitate these human interactions,” explains Dr. Vaillancourt. “So we thought we could help with that. It could be simple things like food, a meeting space, a co-ordinator. We want to get the word out that there are resources available so more people can benefit, and break the stigma and isolation.”

McFarlan would like to expand the program and provide more resources for participants. “We want to reach a wider audience,” she says. “This is the only program in Toronto working with patients who have survived traumatic injury. It now takes place at St. Michael’s Hospital in the downtown core, and it’s often difficult for patients to get to. We’d like to create other kinds of resources, like a patient handbook that explains what to expect in your recovery. We have different speakers come in—spiritual advisers, a psychiatrist, a physiatrist, a dietician, folks from public health. They are really doing it on a volunteer basis—it’s not part of their regular workload—so having some dedicated support would be fabulous.”

“For us, it’s easy to say that when you leave the trauma bay or the hospital you’re okay and the trauma ends, but that’s not really how it is,” Dr. Lockwood explains. “If you’re really injured, it’s rare to have full functioning right away, and what we don’t see are the rehab and the stress, the PTSD and the more long-lasting effects. The effects can be with you for a long time, and we have to support victims of trauma after their physical injuries have healed.”

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