In memory of their son, couple donates $30 Million to Hospital

 What an inspiring and sad story. A family torn from the death of their son 35 years ago try to make a difference to further the research of the cancer their son died from, hopefully in time saving children’s lives.

 

“No way will you ever be forgotten,” Berna Garron recalls telling her son, Michael, before he passed away at age 13, in 1975, from a rare soft tissue cancer.

With tears glistening in her eyes — and following an announcement Monday at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children of a $30-million gift from the Garron family — Berna told the Star about how her son had mused near the end of how he was dying so young and would be forgotten.

The gift from Myron and Berna Garron of Unionville — believed to be the single largest private gift in support of pediatric cancer research and treatment in North America — will ensure that not only will Michael Garron not be forgotten but also that other children will survive their cancer diagnosis.

The $30-million donation will establish the Garron Family Cancer Centre at SickKids, supporting cancer care, research and training at the hospital. About $13 million will go toward four new senior research chairs and two clinician-scientist positions. About $10 million will fund various priority programs, including one of the first Metaiodobenzylguanidine (MIBG) suites at a Canadian pediatric hospital (Metaiodobenzylguanidine scans use radioactive substances and a specialized scanner to detect specific types of nervous tissue tumours.) More than $7 million is earmarked for the Cancer, Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine Neighbourhood at the new SickKids Research and Learning Tower, which is under construction.

The Garron gift will “advance cancer research to new heights” at SickKids, which is already the largest childhood cancer treatment centre in Canada, said Mary Jo Haddad, the hospital’s president and CEO, at Monday’s news conference announcing the donation.

Myron Garron spoke about how his son’s cancer, called synovial sarcoma, was initially misdiagnosed as a common “ganglion cyst’’ when it manifested as a lump on his hand at the age of 3, when the family was living in Hamilton. Told it was nothing to worry about, Myron Garron, who worked in banking, accepted a transfer to Montego Bay, Jamaica, and the family moved there.

Michael’s cyst grew, however, and after it was removed, there were still problems. A specialist in Kingston, Jamaica did exploratory surgery and told the Garrons that there was a serious problem and to take their son back to Canada. He referred them to SickKids hospital.

Michael was diagnosed in 1968 with synovial sarcoma and just short of his 6th birthday had his middle finger amputated in a bid to stop the cancer. Less than a year later his arm was amputated to the elbow.

“But cancer is a sneaky beast,” said Garron, and at age 12, an inoperable tumour was discovered behind Michael’s heart. He was then transferred to Princess Margaret Hospital for radiation and lost his life on Jan. 23, 1975.

Garron, who has two other sons, Mark and Anthony, explained that he and his wife are able to make the gift to SickKids because he left his banking job in 1969 to join a custom plastic injection moulder and auto parts manufacturer which was very successful and he sold the company in 2000.

Garron said he and his family were grateful for the excellent treatment that Michael had from SickKids and believes that the family’s gift will be spent in a way that will “help children immediately” and also advance research in how to treat the disease. SickKids treats about 25 per cent of the average 1,400 Canadian children who are diagnosed with cancer every year.

One of those children, Nicole Waddell, 13, who was diagnosed in 2008 at SickKids with a treatable brain tumour called a germinoma, spoke at Monday’s news conference and said her treatment at SickKids has made her feel grateful and given her “hope.”

“Today I feel more hopeful because of the Garron family gift,” she said. In addition to chemotherapy and radiation, Waddell had a bone-marrow transplant in March 2010, followed by more radiation. She finished treatment in May 2010 and will be following up at the hospital with regular checkups and testing.