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Reasons to

Bill Dingwall still remembers the smile that first caught his eye nearly 50 years ago while he was a student at the University of Toronto — and he’s grateful to Dr. Joseph Chen at Sunnybrook that he still gets to see that same great smile today on his wife Kathy’s face.

When Kathy began experiencing low-grade headaches more than a decade ago, an MRI revealed an acoustic neuroma, a benign tumour that can develop on the nerves responsible for balance and hearing that lead from the inner ear to the brain. “I was put on a ‘watchful wait,’” she explains, to see if the tumour might grow. Eight years later, after Kathy started feeling facial numbness, imaging showed the tumour was starting to push against her brain stem. Adding to its complexity, a cyst had formed on the tumour.

Dr. Chen, an otolaryngologist and director of the Sunnybrook Otology-Skull Base Fellowship Program, walked Bill and Kathy through her options. “Dr. Chen knew we didn’t want Kathy losing her beautiful smile, but he explained that the tumour was wrapping itself around the facial nerve and would require a complex surgery.”

During the surgery, Dr. Chen removed the tumour and delicately shaved away nearly the entirety of the cyst, preserving Kathy’s facial nerve. Bill won’t ever forget the relief when Dr. Chen came out of the operating room and told him: “She smiled, Bill.”

“But the story doesn’t end there,” says Bill.

Bill and Kathy Dingwall
Bill and Kathy Dingwall speak with Dr. Joseph Chen.

Supporting new equipment

While there were no complications during surgery, Kathy experienced chest pains the following day and was found to have blood clots in her leg that had traveled to her lungs. Bill, a retired pharmacist of nearly 40 years, understood how frightening this could be. He remembers a team rushing in to stabilize Kathy.

“I wondered why they couldn’t have put Kathy on anticoagulants to help prevent further clotting prior to surgery, but Dr. Chen explained they couldn’t for risk of a brain bleed,” says Bill. “But I thought surely there must be some other way to reduce this risk.”

Dr. Chen explained that a sequential compression device could be used to massage the legs during surgery and keep blood flow moving, but that his department did not have one. Immediately Bill and Kathy knew they wanted to support the purchase of the device for the department.

“Bill and Kathy identified a need and the device continues to make a huge impact on patient care,” says Dr. Chen. “By supporting the purchase of the first sequential compression device, the Dingwalls helped spearhead an initiative. There are now multiple devices across the hospital and it has become a standard of care.”

Bill and Kathy didn’t stop there. As the years have gone by since the surgery in May 2015, they have funded the purchase of six wall-mounted otoscopes to help Dr. Chen and his team investigate ear symptoms.

Their most recent donation helped to fund innovative COVID-19 protective barrier technology for Dr. Chen’s surgical team, which also serves a secondary purpose as a skull base surgical retractor. “This type of barrier system will keep operating room personnel safer from aerosolized materials and water droplets,” says Dr. Chen. “Bill and Kathy’s gift is making a significant and real-time impact on patient care.” In parallel, Bill and Kathy have also decided to leave a gift to Sunnybrook in their estate plans.

It was Dr. Chen’s expertise and compassion from the earliest days of Kathy’s surgery that left a lasting impression on the Dingwalls. “Dr. Chen checked in on Kathy over the weekend on his way to a family barbecue,” says Bill. “He could have waited until Monday, but he took that extra step for us.”

“Dr. Chen humanized the whole process for us,” says Kathy. “The entire team was incredibly helpful and wonderful. We knew we wanted to give back any way we could.”

Young Bill Dingwall
Bill Dingwall
Bill Dingwall's own history with Sunnybrook stretches back even further than his wife Kathy's surgery. He remembers visiting the Veterans Centre as a young boy with his father, who served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II. A few years ago, Bill even found this photo of himself sitting on the steps of the Cenotaph on the grounds at Sunnybrook. "It's a little look back in time, and it shows how Sunnybrook has in a way always been there for us," he says.
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