An ‘Incredible Honour’ For This Critical Care Specialist

After three decades of dedication to Canada's sickest patients, this physician has been recognized as a Gairdner Wightman Award laureate.

 |  Transcript [PDF]

“For the last 30 years or so, I’ve been devoted to trying to understand and improve the processes of care and the outcomes for critically ill adults here in Canada and abroad.”

Deborah J. Cook is an intensive care physician at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario and professor of medicine and clinical epidemiology at McMaster University. She has devoted her career to improving care for our sickest patients.

Her research has not only defined evidence-based critical care medicine in Canada, it has also informed best practices around the world. For this work, she is now a 2022 Canada Gairdner Wightman Award laureate.

“We’ve been studying how to use, optimally, basic and advanced life supports, and figuring out how to prevent complications of critical illness,” says Cook.

“A lot of times people come into the intensive care unit with one problem, and they may develop five or six additional problems. We’re always trying to mitigate those and hasten recovery.”

Those additional complications can include blood clots, lung infections, and gastrointestinal bleeding. When they happen, they can be lethal. Cook’s studies identified best practices to prevent them, saving lives of patients in critical care as these guidelines were adopted around the world.

Moreover, she has shaped compassionate end-of-life care, helping clinicians and families participate in meaningful final memories through the 3 Wishes Project. Her focus on the human aspects of the dying experience helps to honour patients’ lives and ease family grief.

“I’m incredibly humbled by this honour and only receive it on behalf of all my colleagues who work at the bedside, and we’ve worked together from coast to coast since the early days,” says Cook.

“Canada was an incredible canvas for critical care years ago. Our culture was one of curiosity and together we designed and implemented and completed patient-centred projects that had a big impact in forming practice or changing practice. So this honour is really for our entire community of critical care here in Canada.”

In keeping with her focus on the importance of family and friends as support, Cook also thanks the people closest to her for their encouragement.

“My brother and I were blessed with amazing parents who fostered conversation at the dinner table, encouraged curiosity, and wanted to instill some sense of making a difference in the world,” adds Cook.

“My partner has been an incredible rock and a source of inspiration, particularly over recent pandemic years. And I’m so grateful to my friends, my work family for helping to make sure that this day is well-rounded as possible, and remember to laugh and dance and have fun try not to take life too seriously all of the time.”

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