Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Dr. Sheela Basrur, voice of reason during Toronto's SARS crisis

Dr. Sheela Basrur, the public health doctor, who appears to have calmed and charmed Canada even while Toronto was reeling under the fearful SARS crisis, passed away on June 2, 2008. She was only 51.

I am touched by how much Dr.Basrur seems to mean to Canada at a national level and to the average Canadian. Having lived in the US, I find it hard to imagine similar levels of warmth, public affection and emotions extended towards a public health professional/doctor over there (think CDC) even if they had worked through something as new and scary as SARS. Several factors have aligned together in her case, of course, but not least of which is the comparative smallness of the Canadian population that seems to tap into a 'close-knit community' feel when needed.

A female co-worker remembers bumping into her one day during the crisis as she emerged from a washroom. The co-worker told Dr. Basrur that she looked great and the doctor responded by saying she felt so tired.
“And I said Sheela, you're great,” said the co-worker. “The whole city loves you and is counting on you. And this morning on the radio I heard the host of the morning show say that he knew it was OK to go out because the little doctor with the glasses said it was.”

Toronto Star has a picture gallery and a collection of videos on their site [Link].

I was living in the US during Toronto's SARS crisis, so the first time I heard her voice over the radio was only about a few months ago. She was talking about her cancer and her experience of the health care system as a patient. She was so candid, calm and composed despite probably knowing that the prognosis for her was not good. I felt immense respect and yes, affection, for this stranger whom I have never personally known. You can listen to parts of this interview on the June 2 show of 'As It Happens.' [Link]

As a mother myself, I could not hold back the rush of emotions that swept through my body when I read yesterday that her daughter is only 16 years old.

Of interest to public health and medical students: how her travels to Nepal and India shaped her extraordinary career in public health [Link].

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