Dr. Donna Ward - Care Giver

Good Work is compassionate, dedicated, and makes a difference on whatever level it can, according to Dr. Donna Ward, this years Mayors’ Dinner Guest of Honour. For Donna, working in the area of Pain and Symptom Management and Palliative Care offers her the privilege of participating in good work. Through covenant relationships which move beyond the social contract of physician and patient, she is often drawn into the sacred space of life’s end. Although she struggles with making sure she finds balance, Donna also finds rejuvenation at the bedside of her patients. She often witnesses the healing in the dying as individuals make time to express themselves to their loved ones. She also experiences the challenge of difficult deaths and broken relationships. However, Donna is quick to highlight the supportive environment of colleagues, chaplains, social workers, nurses, and many others who are committed to walking with a patient and their family.

Dr. Donna Ward began exploring the area of palliative care in the early 1980s. She met the young mother of one of her children’s schoolmates, who was dying of cancer. This woman was a mirror of Dr. Ward, of similar age, and also a mother of three young children. Faced with terminal cancer, this young mother came to Donna for care. Donna soon realized that neither her training nor her experience as a family physician were adequate to prepare her to provide the care this woman needed to die at home. Without significant home care supports and with minimum pain management tools, Dr. Ward invested herself to find the resources necessary outside of medical institutions. Donna was able to set up a network with a pharmacist who could help her find options for pain management, and then worked personally to support this woman to die with dignity in her own home.

Jean Vanier joins Victor Frankl, Margaret Somerville and others, in challenging human communities to move beyond the fear that limits us to living an anaesthetic life. This fear leads us to suspend ourselves over the real experiences of human living and human dying. Vanier challenges us to recognize that if we are working towards a vision of society in which human rights are respected and promoted we can not “systematically exclude segments of our population” (Vanier:1998,45). Caring for people who are dying with the belief that their lives have meaning and purpose, even as they are suffering and dying, is an inherent challenge to the medical system to move beyond the limits of science and procedure. Acknowledging death as an unavoidable right of passage and not hiding from its reality, forces our communities to bring dying individuals out of the corner shadows and back into community life. Individuals who are dying have “profound lessons to teach us. When we do include them, they add richly to our lives and add immensely to our world.” (Ibid).

One of the individuals who nominated Dr. Donna Ward for the Mayors’ Dinner Guest of Honour said this of Dr. Ward:

“While the accomplishments on her resume are impressive, much more impressive is her overwhelming dedication to her patients, their families and the health care system…I see and hear first hand from many families who have experienced Dr. Ward’s care, and how caring and sensitive she has been to the person who died and her counsel to the survivors. Her care is not only medical, but includes the whole person from a spiritual and holistic perspective.”

This holistic approach to medical care begins right when Dr. Ward first meets a patient. She deliberately spends time getting to know the individual personally, asking them to tell her, in their own words, a history of their experience with this illness. This expectation that the individual brings their own knowledge and insight into the sphere of medical response is at the heart of recognizing that the patient plays a pivotal role in managing their own illness. Being a member of this team of patient, medical practitioners and family members is an honour, according to Donna. Reflecting on Dr. Ward’s care for a dying friend, one individual explained that Donna’s belief in the family role as caregiver was significant in empowering them to let their mother die at home.

By challenging the medical system and our communities as a whole to acknowledge the importance of ensuring a place within our communities for human beings who are dying, Dr. Ward moves beyond the lines of science and medicine to force the system to recognize humanity at the centre of its purpose. This work lives within the tension of the dual realities of power to cure disease and extend life, and the inevitability of death as a part of life. Many local physicians, nurses, and volunteers share this vision for palliative care, working hard to create a network of medical, social and psychological supports to carry individuals and their families as they enter into this last stage of life.

Significant changes have occurred in the field of palliative care since Dr. Ward began her work. Palliative care is now being promoted as a vital part of health care delivery and community infrastructure. At all levels of government there is increasing recognition that how we help individuals die is significant in reflecting how we valued them in life. Considerable developments have been underway in terms of the acceptance of Hospice Palliative Care Norms of Practice, and Cancer Care Ontario’s choice of palliative care as one of their priorities. Dr. Ward herself has participated in integrating palliative care into undergraduate medical curricula, creating an environment in which young doctors are introduced to the field of palliative care.

Dr. Donna Ward is being honoured as the 2006 Mayors’ Dinner Guest of Honour. She is being highlighted as a leader in palliative care in our community. Donna embodies the values of community commitment and dedication as she brings her personal compassion to the art of caring for individuals who are facing the end of life. Dr. Ward reflects the commitment to working for a community where all are valued and considered meaningful members of society. May all our work reflect a dedication to the good of our community and the belief in the dignity and worth of each citizen.

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