Dr. John Akabutu, MD’67
You might think Dr. John Akabutu would be relaxing and enjoying his well-earned retirement. After all, he was at the forefront of pediatric cancer and hematology treatments in Alberta for more than 30 years, and helped save hundreds of lives.
But this 2016 Dalhousie Alumni Association Lifetime Achievement Award recipient is continuing to make a difference, inspired in part by advances occurring in his profession.
“We’re seeing new tools that will allow us to design therapies that are specific to each individual,” says Dr. Akabutu. “It’s a complete shift from how we’ve traditionally practiced medicine, and it’s important to me to be involved in that because it’s going to affect people’s lives in a profound way.”
If anyone has had a profound effect on people’s lives, it’s Dr. Akabutu. As the founder of the University of Alberta’s Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Division, he led an effort that increased survival rates from less than 10 per cent to 95 per cent among children with leukemia in Northern Alberta. He created a mouthwash to treat sores caused by chemotherapy and radiation therapy that is now used for procedures such as liver and bone marrow transplants, and in emergency rooms across the province. And he introduced a revolutionary preventative homecare program for Northern Alberta that led to a reduction in emergency room visits for hemophiliacs and helped prevent crippling joint damage.
“He’s a very bright and accomplished physician who I believe has made contributions that have changed the lives of many young people with serious medical conditions,” says former classmate Dr. Eldon Smith. “His career is an inspiration to many – his patients, his students and a much wider population, including me.”
Determined to heal those in need
Dr. Akabutu will tell you that he didn’t set out to have an impact. “I saw opportunities to help, to innovate and to gain more knowledge,” he says. “And I acted on them. That’s just my nature.”
In doing so, he found that his life had been changed as well, giving him an immense sense of self-fulfillment. “The greatest joy of all is to see a child go from being deathly ill with leukemia to running around and doing all the things that a child should do. That transformation is a very moving experience, and it always reminded me to strive even harder when things were particularly difficult.”
His determination to heal, and to innovate, led Dr. Akabutu to start the Alberta Cord Blood Bank, the first of its kind in Canada, in 1996. He continues to run it, energized by the opportunities that stem cells offer to enhance our health and quality of life through regenerative medicine.
“We have the power to use these cells to heal individuals in unprecedented ways. Not just repairing immune system damage, but generating organs, or possibly achieving longevity without chronic diseases. Imagine living to be 90 without any deterioration in your mental or physical abilities. That’s what I’m working toward and I’m very grateful to be involved in this line of research.”
Leading the way
Knowing that his fellow alumni have recognized his life’s work gives Dr. Akabutu further encouragement to explore this exciting realm of medicine. “It’s really a tremendous honour. I don’t think there is any better recognition than that of your alma mater. That’s really the crème de la crème for me.”
Having received the award, Dr. Akabutu hopes his achievements, and his life, might serve as an example to other immigrants and African Canadians like him that anything they dream is within reach.
“The face of Canada is changing, and I think we need more diversity in our role models to reflect that. It would be nice to think that someone like me could be an inspiration to kids, who might say, ‘Hey, look at him. He looks like me. This is what he’s done.’ And then they do something that encourages others in turn.”
Ultimately, that’s what Dr. Akabutu’s work has been about: encouraging others. He gave his patients hope that they could live without illness, he motivated colleagues to be innovative in the delivery of medicine, and he inspired some of the children he treated to follow in his footsteps. Achievements like these made medicine more than a profession; it was, and remains, his life’s passion.
“This is a field that is constantly evolving and always exciting. You have the opportunity to learn something new every day, and to change lives. But you also have the opportunity to shape the direction of the profession. It’s been a rewarding personal experience for me.”
Justine Fedak, MBA’01
When the MS Society approached Justine Fedak (MBA’01) to be an honoree at its 2013 Women on the Move luncheon in Chicago, she agreed with one condition. “I said, ‘Only if we raise the most money you have ever raised and we get the most profile for Multiple Sclerosis ever,’” recalls Fedak, who was diagnosed with the disease in 2001. “It’s the most random, ridiculous disease of all time, so it’s very hard to raise money for something that people don’t understand.”
The luncheon garnered $100,000 in donations that year, thanks in part to Fedak’s efforts and the connections she’s made as senior vice president and head of brand, advertising and sponsorships for BMO Financial Group. “That’s the most money they’ve raised so far,” she notes with some pride. “And we got corporate contributions for the first time, which have continued, so we’ve managed to establish a real foothold for MS in Chicago.”
If anyone exemplifies a woman on the move, it’s Fedak. She may do so now with a Lucite cane (“Wonder Woman had an invisible plane; I have an invisible cane,” she laughs) but this Ontario-born, Dalhousie alumna and former long-distance runner has made quite an impact on the Windy City over the past two decades through her community and charitable work. She is a member of the Board of Directors of Gilda’s Club Chicago and Access Living. She is a board member of Noah’s Arc Foundation, which encourages youth to develop a stronger sense of self and community. And she’s involved in the Chicago Police Foundation, the Chicago Sports Commission, the Magnificent Mile Association and chairs the Municipal Marketing Advisory Council.
It may seem like a lot to balance, but Fedak sounds positively energized by her many commitments. “The more I invest in others, and the more I invest in the world around me, the more happiness I derive personally.”
Each role also offers Fedak another opportunity to apply the invaluable lessons and philosophies learned while earning her MBA from Dalhousie through BMO. “The professors didn’t just teach material. They taught us how to learn, how to approach problem solving, how to apply differences in thinking to arrive at a collaborative result. That focus on contributing and collaborating has 100 per cent influenced my community work, and I think it’s what makes Dalhousie special.”
Fedak continues to help where she can, and that dedication has been recognized with several honours over the years.
“It’s something that inspires me to ensure that, each and every day, I celebrate and live by the words of Jack Kerouac: ‘Be in love with your life every minute of it,’” says Fedak. “I am humbled and honoured to be acknowledged by the Dalhousie community, and I will continue to draw on the collaboration and spirit of lifelong learning that I experienced when I had the chance to earn my MBA from the university.”
Ronald Gilkie, BSc’60, BEng’62, MEng’64
Growing up in his family’s boatyard in Melville Cove, N.S., Dr. Ronald Gilkie (BSc’60, BEng’62, MEng’64) says he was always expected to go above and beyond.
“My dad said if someone gave you a job, you shouldn’t just do it, you should do it well,” says Dr. Gilkie. “That attitude sort of gets ingrained in you.”
He says he saw the value of teaching at just six years old, when he recognized that even the most difficult teachers were trying to make him a better person. When he was a senior engineering student at Dalhousie, one of his professors saw a spark in him.
“He kept finding excuses for why he couldn’t do the tutorial, and he’d say, ‘Would you mind taking it from me today, Ron?'” recalls Dr. Gilkie. “He was grooming me to be a professor someday, although I didn’t realize it at the time.”
Dr. Gilkie started out as an assistant professor in 1967, and quickly proved himself as a professor who cared. When his students were working with terrible-smelling polyester resins, he would be right there under the fume hood with them.
He volunteered on more than 70 university committees during his 40-year teaching career, and was instrumental in the merger of the Technical University of Nova Scotia (TUNS) and Dalhousie. Dr. Gilkie also helped make the engineering program a fair, progressive environment for female students back in the late 1960s, and co-chaired the DalTech Women on Campus Committee.
Even during his retirement, Dr. Gilkie spends his days volunteering on 11 different boards and committees, as well as frequently snow-blowing the sidewalks for his neighbours on his street. He was elected a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering in 2012, remains the Chief Warden of Iron Ring Camp 7 and plays electric bass in three bands.
But Dr. Gilkie’s most powerful legacy might be his commitment to giving back to the school that’s been a part of his life for nearly 55 years. Starting in 1960, he began donating $1 a year to the Tech Continuing Fund for each year since he’d graduated and promoted the idea among his students.
“It’s something that becomes a habit, without being a financial burden as they’re starting out,” says Dr. Gilkie, adding that $10 a year might be a more appropriate amount today. “I hope they realize how much Dalhousie has meant to their lives, and how much they can continue to make a difference to the students coming behind them.”
Dr. Margaret Fitch, BScN’73
Dr. Margaret Fitch (BScN’73) is always looking ahead, trying to understand how we will need to deliver cancer care in the future.
In doing so, her research, practice and professional leadership has had a defining influence on health care, not only in Canada but around the world. Her contributions and accomplishments fill an 88-page CV and have earned her recognition from the Canadian Association of Psychosocial Oncology and the National Council of the Canadian Cancer Society. And it all began here at Dalhousie.
“I still quote the theories of nursing that I learned in my undergraduate degree at Dal,” says Dr. Fitch. “The university was unique in that it had a real sense of family. There were only 35 students in my class, but it was located in the midst of this regional centre of excellence for health care. I felt very connected to my classmates as well as to what was happening in the broader medical community.”
With her dad a physician and Dalhousie Medical School alumnus, and her mother a nurse, Dr. Fitch was naturally drawn to the healing professions. “I always wanted to be able to make a difference, and graduate studies seemed a good way to achieve that,” she explains. “In the early 1980s, when I decided to do a PhD, oncology and palliative care were relatively new. There was a real opportunity to shape the future direction of the field.”
Currently, Dr. Fitch serves as head of oncology nursing at the Odette Cancer Centre, Sunnybrook and Women’s Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. Among many other professional accomplishments, she has also served as president of the International Society of Nurses in Cancer Care and as a founding member of the Canadian Association of Nurses in Oncology. She is also co-author of Supportive Care Framework: A foundation for person-centered care, which has guided care delivery across Canada, as well as in Australia and Europe.
The Hon Justice W. Andrew MacKay, BA’50, LLB’53, LLM’54, LLD’03, President and Vice-Chancellor, 1981-86
Andrew MacKay has chosen to serve his university, province and country, and all three have benefited greatly from his commitment.
Following his completion of the Master of Laws degree from Dalhousie – he would later also complete graduate studies at Harvard – Andrew became a foreign service officer. But his plans changed when he was offered a teaching position at Dalhousie. Andrew eventually became dean of law, then vice-president and finally president and vice-chancellor of Dalhousie.
Andrew also worked tirelessly to improve human rights in Nova Scotia as the first chair of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission and as the provincial ombudsman. In 1988, he became a federal court judge, serving until his retirement in 2004.
With characteristic humility, he expresses what it means to receive this award. “It is a great honour…not one that reflects on me particularly but rather on the nature of the university, because I think the university had a significant impact on my evolution in being a thinking – I hope thoughtful – Canadian.”
William R. Crosbie, LLB’82
Graduating from Dalhousie with a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1982, Bill Crosbie has gone on to a distinguished career of public service. As Canada’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, he is a distinctive and articulate Canadian voice in a troubled world. His steadfast commitment to the highest standards of his profession has informed his career, working in the Departments of Transport, External Affairs and International Trade and Fisheries and Oceans, as well as the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.
Bill’s principled and unselfish approach to public service on behalf of Canadians here and around the world make him a worthy recipient of this award. Watch the 2011 Alumni Awards video on YouTube.
Dr. Cathy Campbell, BPE’75, MSc’77
Throughout a life in sport – as a student-athlete, a coach and a national team physician – Cathy Campbell has embraced opportunities and inspired others. She currently lives in Toronto, where she practices general medicine, urgent care and sports medicine, and teaches at the University of Toronto. For eight years, Dr. Campbell was team physician for the Canadian women’s national soccer team. Most recently, she was a doctor at the women’s hockey venue for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Dr. Campbell has always been true to her Dalhousie roots and continues to embody the Dalhousie spirit. She is a loyal donor, an avid supporter of the Black and Gold Club and a generous volunteer.
Dr. Nuala Kenny, MD’72
As a valued member of the academic, medical and religious communities, Dr. Nuala Kenny has donned many hats over the years. She is, by turn, Sister of Charity, pediatrician, professor, bioethicist, author, deputy minister of health, five-time honourary degree recipient, and Officer of the Order of Canada.
The first Sister of Charity to enter medical school in her day, Nuala has enjoyed an extensive career in pediatrics and medical education. A natural leader, she has served as Head of Pediatrics for Dalhousie, the IWK Health Centre and Queens University; and Director of Medical Education for the Hospital for Sick Children and University of Toronto. In 1996, she founded Dalhousie’s Department of Bioethics.
Author of over 100 papers and three books, Nuala is internationally recognized as a medical educator and lecturer on fundamental ethics questions in health care. As such, she is regularly involved in policy deliberations around Canadian health care, particularly in relation to values.
Budge Wilson, CM, BA’49, DEd’53
During her student days, Budge was editor of the yearbook and president of both her class and Delta Gamma, the Dalhousie girls’ society. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1949 and completed her education degree in 1953.
Budge went on to work as a teacher, commercial artist, photographer and fitness instructor. Today, she is a well-known children’s author with 33 published books and 23 foreign editions.
Recently, Budge received extensive national and international attention for her latest novel Before Green Gables, the prequel to Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series.
Over the years, Budge has won numerous writing awards. She is a committed volunteer for community literature organizations and gives tirelessly of her time to readings and workshops, spreading her joy of reading and writing to new generations.
James B. Morrow, PEng, DipEng’48, BEng’50, DEng’79
Jim Morrow has always had a passion for the sea, the town of Lunenburg and the engineering profession. Though born in Halifax, Jim has always been a proud Lunenburger. He was president of the Lunenburg Board of Trade in 1966 and during that year, he fought to keep the Bluenose on the Canadian dime.
Jim has also been heavily involved with the community’s junior sailing program, the Lunenburg Fishermen’s Mutual Insurance Association and the South Shore Regional Hospital Association. Some of Jim’s most recent work in the town was centered on the restoration of St. John’s Anglican Church after it was destroyed by fire in 2001.
Jim has demonstrated his pride for the engineering profession through his extensive involvement with the Association of Professional Engineers of Nova Scotia. In the early 1990s, he served as president, and in 1998 the Association recognized his commitment by awarding him the APENS Gold Medal.
Dr. David Fraser, MD’58
David has been a guiding force in radiological community for nearly 50 years as mentor, teacher, researcher and leader. Though retired now, his guidance continues through the Dr. David B. Fraser Learning Centre at Dalhousie- a model for teaching Radiology throughout North America.
Hailing from a long line of Dalhousians, David was Chair of Radiology department for 17 years and served was president of the VG Medical Staff in 1985. Further, he has served as visiting professor at the Universities of Calgary, British Columbia, McGill and George Washington College. David and his wife Jean are generous philanthropic supporters of Dalhousie University.
David’s dedication to Dalhousie and medicine goes unmatched. He has earned a place in history for bringing the first MRI machine to Nova Scotia and for establishing the Dept of Radiology Research Foundation in 1983. Among his many awards and achievements, David is recipient of the Commemorative Medal for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee and the Radiology Society of North America’s Gold Medal.