#1 The Universal Care Crusader
Dr. Danielle Martin, vice-president of medical affairs and health system solutions, Women’s College Hospital
To Dr. Danielle Martin, being a doctor and a healthcare activist is a package deal. And that’s why she’s one of our Canadian health heroes. Though she deals with patients one-on-one at Women’s College Hospital, she also advocates for the need for improvements to medicare to ensure that our health doesn’t fall through the cracks. She even wrote a book on the subject called Better Now: Six Big Ideas to Improve Health Care for All Canadians. She suggests solutions for improving prescription drug coverage, reducing wait times and doing away with unnecessary tests. But she also looks at the big picture. “To improve health, you can’t just look at issues one person at a time,” says Dr. Martin. “When we see that larger-scale social change is needed to protect or improve the health of our patients, we have an obligation to use our skills as best we can to advocate for that change.”
#2 The Equal Opportunist
Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society of Canada
For years, Cindy Blackstock has been fighting tirelessly as a social worker and member of the Gitxsan First Nation to ensure that indigenous people, especially children, have the same access to healthcare as others across Canada.
#3 The Plant Pioneer
Angela Liddon, blogger behind Oh She Glows
In 2008, back when Angela Liddon started her plant-based cooking blog, eating vegan was considered a fad – many assumed that it required food sacrifices. When Liddon shone a spotlight on beautiful, bold-flavoured plant-based meals, she turned heads. Today, Oh She Glows features more than 500 vegan recipes and gets upward of four million page views a month. Liddon has also published two cookbooks. It’s safe to say that plant-based eating is officially mainstream, and Liddon is one of the people who helped it get there.
#4 The Rethinker
MJ DeCoteau, executive director and founder of Rethink Breast Cancer
In 2001, MJ DeCoteau started Rethink Breast Cancer, an organization aimed at educating young women about breast cancer, because she was worried about her own risk factors – she lost her mom to the disease. When she looked into getting involved in existing organizations, all the pamphlets and campaigns were covered in pictures of older women. “There was a light bulb moment that there was this movement out there, but young women weren’t really involved in that movement,” says DeCoteau. Putting her on our list of Canadian health heroes, her awareness initiative was received. And it evolved when young women who were dealing with the diagnosis began reaching out, needing the support of others in their demographic. When it comes to breast cancer, early detection can be a factor in patient outcomes, so spreading awareness when women are young can literally be a lifesaver.
#5 The Boundary Breaker
Dr. Nadine Caron, Canada’s first female Indigenous surgeon
Practising medicine in Prince George, BC, Dr. Nadine Caron deals with many indigenous patients who have developed distrust for the medical system, in part because of the racism they face from healthcare providers. In recent years, Dr. Caron has been speaking out about the importance of culturally aware care – recognizing that a person’s culture and experiences need to be taken into account in their treatment – and people are taking notice. In BC, for example, there’s now a cultural training safety program to help healthcare workers engage better with patients.
#6 The Diet Debunker
Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, co-owner of the Bariatric Medical Institute
Ask any doctor about the biggest health epidemic of our time and obesity is sure to come up. When Dr. Yoni Freedhoff started his weight-focused clinic in 2004, he followed the accepted practices: Doing patient weigh-ins and putting people on low-calorie diets and meal replacements. But he quickly learned that, while these are good strategies to help people lose weight, they won’t help people keep it off if they don’t enjoy the diet. He switched methods and focused instead on long-term, sustainable lifestyle changes that would help patients achieve their “best weight.” This revolutionary perspective puts him on our list of Canadian health heroes. “A person’s best weight is whatever weight they reach when they’re living a life they can honestly enjoy,” says Dr. Freedhoff.
#7 The Planet Protector
David Suzuki, environmentalist
Long-time eco-advocate and a must-have on our list of Canadian health heroes, David Suzuki has a new initiative, Blue Dot, that asks communities to band together to get politicians to recognize healthy air and water as basic human rights. The ultimate goal? Environmental protection in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
#8 The Conversation Starter
Sandra Martin, journalist and writer
When Sandra Martin released her book A Good Death she started an important discussion that many of us never thought to have – or were too scared to initiate – with our family members, doctors and politicians: Is there a better way to die? Her thorough reporting on assisted dying incorporates tales from those who have attempted to answer that question – often driven by debilitating, life-threatening or soul-crushing illnesses. “Curing is the ultimate goal in healthcare, but we need to get over the notion that it is always achievable,” writes Martin. “It isn’t. Caring is something else.”
#9 The Media Mastermind
Mike Heinrich, managing director of Reframe Health Lab
Mike Heinrich may not have made any disease-curing discoveries or written policy books, but he is helping to fix a fundamental flaw in healthcare: Poor PR. We’ve all heard the same things from our doctors – quit smoking, eat more vegetables, exercise more – but the health rules and reminders can often come across as empty nagging. In 2011, he teamed up with Dr. Mike Evans to create a series of whiteboard videos – fun, graphic clips about healthy eating, stress and exercise – and they went viral. This got everyone’s attention, putting him on our list of Canadian health heroes. “We’re trying to change the way we talk,” says Heinrich. “A lot of it is in how we phrase these things. We don’t talk about exercise – people assume that’s in the gym – we talk about activity. And that can be on the way to work – it can be a social thing.” Dr. Evans moved on to Apple last year to work on health messaging for the tech giant, but Heinrich is still at Reframe Health Lab. He is taking the “make health fun” notion to the next level – primary care – where he is working with doctors to help engage patients to make changes for their well-being.
#10 The Policy Player
Jane Philpott, minister of health
After The Fifth Estate revealed that Canadians pay some of the highest drug prices in the world, Jane Philpott vowed a change: “There is no question that the current status is not fair, that it’s not right and that we’re paying much higher prices than other countries. And that’s exactly what I’m working on.” FYI: We’re watching.