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Donor Profile

Investing in the Future of Children

Gift bestows recognition on maternal-fetal medicine research

Toronto philanthropists Fred and Linda Waks were delighted and surprised at the news of becoming first-time grandparents when their eldest daughter Jessica and her husband David Goodman announced they were expecting identical twins.

In the months that followed, Jessica braved a high-risk pregnancy. A team of obstetricians and maternal-fetal specialists within the DAN Women & Babies Program at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre monitored her carefully. On Jan. 27, 2014, Jessica gave birth to two healthy boys, Jack and Charlie.

“I felt the care my daughter received was of the greatest quality, and when there was a concern at one point in time for the two babies, the reaction, expertise and bedside manners that the hospital provided was beyond compare,” says Fred, who serves on Sunnybrook Foundation’s board of directors.

In recognition of this care, Fred, Linda and their four daughters decided to give back with a generous donation that was matched by family, friends and close business associates.

Fred and Linda Waks

Fred and Linda Waks established the Waks Family Chair in Maternal-Fetal Medicine Research at Sunnybrook.

Photo: Hudson Taylor

Together, they established the Waks Family Chair in Maternal-Fetal Medicine Research. The $2-million Chair will enable 10 years of specialized research focusing on patients with high-risk pregnancies and births. The main areas of study will be very small preemies, multiple births, early fetal ultrasound, and the process and service of high-risk patient transfers.

Dr. Jon Barrett, director of the DAN Women & Babies Research Program at Sunnybrook Research Institute and chief of maternal-fetal medicine at Sunnybrook, was appointed as the inaugural chair-holder. Barrett is a world-leading expert in high-risk births and was one of the physicians on Jessica’s care team.

“It’s an honour to be named Chair. There is a feeling of excitement about how we can take the program to the next level of international recognition of the excellence that we [achieve] here,” says Barrett, who is also a professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Toronto. “We will create new knowledge of the best way to look after pregnant women, and then we will be able to translate that to other people who are looking after high-risk women and their babies throughout the world. By doing this we improve the quality of care of women in Toronto and internationally.”

“This much-needed research Chair is a reality because a small group of donors who felt a deep commitment to improving the health of women and babies rallied to make it happen,” says Dr. Jon Dellandrea, president and CEO of Sunnybrook Foundation. “We’re very grateful, in particular to Fred and Linda Waks. Without their leadership and passion for the project, the Waks Family Chair in Maternal-Fetal Medicine Research would not have been possible.”

When asked what impact he hopes his philanthropy will have, Fred responds, “The most important thing is to set an example to your children in terms of community, and family is part of community. Giving back is a part of our heritage, and it’s something that defines you. We are fortunate to be able to support various philanthropic endeavours in our community.”

The DAN Women & Babies Program at Sunnybrook is unique. Barrett says they see 4,200 patients a year, one-third of which are high-risk pregnancies. Obstetricians within the program deliver the largest number of premature babies in Canada and provide care to the smallest and sickest infants. The program is also a leader in clinical trials.

“It’s an investment in the future of children in Canada,” says Fred about Barrett’s role as Chair of the research program. “As long as his vision fulfils what he’s looking for, then I’m satisfied. That’s what I hope for.”

— Eleni Kanavas

Sonja and Michael Koerner