Roving Reporter Profiles

Scroll down to read the following profiles by Wendy Campbell, our Roving Rehab Reporter

Marg Shaw Leighton McDonald
Danny Slack Phyllis Carlton

Benefactor Profile: Leighton McDonald

By Wendy Campbell

Dr. Leighton McDonald

Although the internet was originally conceived as a free resource, creating and mounting content is far from free. This newsletter and the website where it appears are possible through the generous support of Closing the Gap, a healthcare organization providing a number of community health services in a wide range of settings. Occupational therapy and physiotherapy form part of the team of professionals that work toward Closing the Gap’s aim of “enriching lives and changing tomorrow”.

I met and talked with Dr. Leighton McDonald, president of Closing the Gap, in his Mississauga office on a recent wintry morning. Born and raised in Rhodesia, Leighton left for university in Cape Town in the eighties, during the war of independence that led to the establishment of the Republic of Zimbabwe. Although he came from a family of lawyers, he had always had medicine as his goal. While working as a family doctor for a short time after qualifying, he developed an interest in the field of occupational health and practiced for a number of years in the mining industry. During this time, he also gained a strong sense of the inequities and inefficiencies in the South African healthcare system and a desire to affect change. He brought these ideas with him to Canada in 2014.

Arriving here in Toronto without a commitment to a specific job, his interest in treating individuals with HIV/AIDS in South Africa led him to the Ontario HIV Treatment Network where he was Chief Operating Officer until recruited by Closing the Gap in May of 2016. It also prompted him to join the Board of Directors of Casey House, Canada’s first and only stand-alone hospital for people with HIV/AIDS. He has served on their Board of Directors since 2014, taking over the position of Chair in 2016.

Leighton feels passionately that investments in preventative medicine avoid extensive and expensive care as well as being the right thing to do for individuals and society. He and Closing the Gap value the role that physical therapy and occupational therapy play in keeping people, particularly our aging population, active, mobile and out of hospital. Although funding increases annually for community care, it doesn’t keep up with the increasing demand for service – and the gap widens. Representing Closing the Gap in meetings with government, Leighton’s philosophy is to work collaboratively towards a long term integrated strategy to better serve our citizens.

In addition to his involvement in improving the delivery of health care in the community, Leighton takes pride in Closing the Gap’s workplace wellness initiatives in a variety of settings. These take the form of identifying health risks by checking blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels and monitoring anxiety provoking situations that can lead to mental health issues. Recognition of the stresses faced by many low income employees has led to courses in financial literacy being given in the workplace.

We’re grateful for the financial assistance to launch our website, which we hope will inform and engage our alumnae. We’re also grateful to have a supporter like Leighton McDonald in our corner, both in our roles as rehabilitation professionals and as health care consumers.


Alumni Profile: Margaret Shaw

By Wendy Campbell 

Margaret Shaw

As a small girl growing up in Wallaceburg Ontario, Margaret McQueen thought of being a nurse, one of the few options open to girls in those days. When a local librarian introduced her to the book Betty Blake OT, Marg was intrigued and enrolled in the program at University of Toronto in 1946.  That year the start of classes was delayed until November when construction of the HUTS (now the site of Massey College) was completed.  She still treasures memories of late afternoon classes lit with Coleman lamps during power cuts and Isobel Robinson teaching weaving with pictures because there were no looms.   The program was increased to three years during her time and Marg graduated with a diploma, in 1949.

A placement at the Hospital for Sick Children with Muriel Driver after first year fostered a love for pediatrics. Her first position was in London at a new centre opening in connection with London Children’s Hospital and devoted to children’s rehabilitation…job interviews at that time involved hats and white gloves!  It was an exciting time in the field with many innovative initiatives going on and Marg was at the centre. Her involvement in mobile clinics travelling the province to assess and treat children in remote areas was particularly satisfying.

In 1963 it was time for a change, and a move to Toronto.  Starting out as Head of OT at the newly opened Ontario Crippled Children’s Centre, Marg progressed to Coordinator of Therapies (OT, PT and Speech).  Again it was a time of progress and change – therapists were in the classrooms, wearing culottes and coloured blouses rather than white uniforms and caps. PT’s and OT’s were working together on teams with diagnostic groups. The Ministry of Education was implementing a Bill to mandate that all schools be made accessible to all children. And, during her time at OCCC, Marg McQueen married and became Marg Shaw.

Leaving the Centre in 1983, Marg’s expertise was put to good use in the development of the Assistive Devices Program administered by the Ministry of Health.  In 1985, another move took her to Sunnybrooke Health Centre to develop a resource centre for patients and their families. Ever the practical problem solver, Marg dealt with funding issues by running the centre as a store and the six months she’d intended to be there stretched to ten years.

In the early nineties, Marg became involved in setting up the Canadian Occupational Therapy Foundation, a body that funds scholarships and research grants to further the goals of the profession.  She also joined the executive of the P/OT Alumnae Association, and was president for five years, and past president for another five, retiring in 2017. She served a four year term representing our Alumnae Association on the University’s College of Electors which is responsible for the important tasks of electing a Chancellor and representatives to the Board of Governors. Although her official roles are over, Marg retains a keen interest in the alumnae and the profession and remains an active colleague and supporter.

During the time I was preparing this piece, I happened upon Patti Fleury, a classmate of mine, whose career intersected Marg’s, both in pediatrics and alumnae activities…watch for more about her in the future.


Alumni Profile: Danny Slack

By Wendy Campbell

Photo of Daniel Slack
Danny Slack

When I first met Danny Slack about 5 years ago, he was an undergraduate in physiology, playing guitar and singing with a group of young musicians doing a weekly gig with patients at the Toronto Grace Health Centre. Next thing I knew he was a physio student and we discovered our common background. He graduated with an MScPT in 2015 (chosen by his classmates to be valedictorian) and is now on staff at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in the Critical Care Unit.

Since it’s possible for a person in acute care to lose up to 40% of their strength in a week, Danny and other members of a team focus on combating weakness with early mobilization and as much activity as is safe for the patient. There may be trauma from traffic accidents or advancing medical conditions and the challenge Danny faces as a physiotherapist is to find exercises that will challenge the muscles while accommodating equipment and allowing the healing process to progress. It may be as simple as passive range of motion movements and encouraging deep breathing, but the intervention gives patients a sense of hope that they will progress to more.

Danny’s first job, six years as a firefighter in his native UK, gave him a sense of how he liked working in an area of critical activity and as part of a team. His experiences in an undergraduate placement at Sunnybrook and as a musician at the Grace exposed him to a range of people and conditions and strengthened his sense of purpose. He loves his current job and, although it can be heart breaking at times, the support of the team and the importance of the work he’s doing make him very happy with his choice of career.


Profile of a Veteran: Phyllis Carlton

By Wendy Campbell

Phyllis Carlton
Phyllis Carlton
Phyllis Carlton

It seems particularly fitting in this first online presence of Update, when anniversaries are abounding, to celebrate a pioneer in our two professions – the only person I know trained in both OT and PT separately, before anyone had thought of combining them.

Phyllis Carlton graduated as an occupational therapist from the University of Toronto in 1940. She took her first position with a Curative Workshop run by the Red Cross in Windsor, working as a volunteer for the first 6 months until a salaried position became available (sound familiar?)

WWll was raging in Europe and she enlisted in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, and was posted in England, working for the duration of the war in a Canadian military hospital in the Hampshire village of Bramshott, a bit north of London. Although the needs of the injured soldiers were serious and varied and the OT’s well trained to work with them, the supplies issued were limited to needlework kits, so a great deal of creative improvisation was necessary…something that comes naturally to OT’s

Phyl’s thinking was broadened by her wartime experience and she decided it was important to broaden her training as well. She was convinced of the value of OT’s and PT’s working together and when she found that her OT background would be credited at Duke University in North Carolina, she enrolled and proudly graduated as a physiotherapist in 1953.

Returning to Canada just as the field of rehabilitation was emerging, Phyl found the newly formed Canadian Arthritis and Rheumatism Society offered an opportunity to use both disciplines. She liked being involved in educating patients and family members and loved the practicality of working in patients’ homes, using their own kitchens and bathrooms to practice activities of daily living. Marion Leslie-Bethune, a former colleague at CARS remembers watching, fascinated, as Phyl skillfully fashioned splints (using plaster of paris, the available material of the time) an early indication of her talents with her hands.

After a productive eight years, she was ready for a new challenge and accepted a position as Coordinator of Therapies – OT, PT and Speech – at the Wellesley Hospital.   Phyl earned the respect and loyalty of her staff by being a supportive leader and setting high professional standards. Barbara Jackson, another colleague, remembers how Phyl was always fair and prepared to pitch in and work on a week-end or holiday to give staff members with young families a break. When the Director of Rehabilitation Medicine decided to replace physiotherapists who left with kinesiologists, at lower salaries, she defended her staff, and, along with the head of PT and OT resigned in protest. The courage of her stance inspired eighteen of the twenty four therapists in the department (both OT’s and PT’s) to resign in solidarity. This move united the group in the spring of 1972 and they have remained in touch ever since, meeting annually (often in Phyl’s home) over the past 44 years.

Her talents for leadership and organization took Phyl next to develop a Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at Toronto East General Hospital which she directed for 12 years before retiring in 1983.

Throughout her career and well into her retirement, Phyl has been a keen weaver – spinning, dying and producing beautiful lengths of cloth on two large looms in her home. Using the fabric, she made clothes for herself as well as upholstering furniture and cutting small squares to adorn Christmas and birthday cards. She often can be seen in one of the beautiful sweaters that she’s knitted over the years, reflecting her keen sense of colour and design. A lifelong member of the Toronto Guild of Spinners and Weavers, Phyl retains many contacts in that community.

Last November for their annual get together, the Wellesley gang brought food, cutlery, dishes, and glasses – everything necessary for a gracious lunch – to a sunny dining room on the Veteran’s Wing at Sunnybrook in Toronto where Phyl now lives. They came from all directions, united by their fondness and respect for a fellow professional who had inspired them and influenced their practices and their lives early in their careers. At 97, Phyl continues to enjoy these reunions and retains her calm sense of herself and what things are important in life.

I feel very lucky to have had a chance to meet and get to know Phyllis Carlton as I prepared this piece and have been struck by the loyalty and affection she’s inspired in her colleagues. She has a well deserved place in our history and a life membership in the Canadian Physiotherapy Association recognizes the important part she’s played in our formation as a rehabilitation profession.