My Canada, 140/150: Inventive medicine

If you’ve heard that the very best thing you can do for your health is walk 30 minutes daily, you can thank a Canadian doctor whose You Tube videos are transforming medical care internationally.

Dr. Mike Evans, formerly with St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, has been creating fun, informative videos on health issues since 2011. For his first video, he set out to answer the question: What’s the single-best thing we can do for our health?

The answer (although, do watch the video: it’s far more convincing than the bare facts) is to exercise, every day, for 30 minutes. Brisk walking counts.

So far, more than 5.3 million people around the world have viewed this particular video on You Tube and it got further exposure when featured on the award-winning Netflix series, Orange is the New Black. The video is narrated by Evans, who’s represented by a cartoon caricature of himself explaining his medical topic with the help of a whiteboard. As Evans speaks, a hand (illustrator Liisa Sorsa of Think Link graphics) draws relevant cartoons. Evans calls it “peer-to-peer health care.”

He’s made more than 40 of these medical-advice-via-You-Tube animations, produced and directed by cinematographer Nicholas de Pencier, a childhood friend of Evans, and several have been dubbed into other languages. The series caught the attention of Apple, Inc., which in 2016 hired Evans to work in as-yet-untitled role, looking at digital innovation and tools in health care. Evans, who also has taught family medicine at the University of Toronto, will be moving to Apple’s California headquarters.

A 2013 feature in the Toronto Star reveals that Evans first studied English literature before medicine, which may have contributed to his effective way of telling a story and sharing information in memorable ways.  I saw him in 2014 in Toronto at a Design Meets Voices of Health Care panel, where he spoke eloquently about how technology will change not only how people learn about health information, but also how their health will be monitored and ailments treated, in future.

When he got the post at Apple, he told the CBC that he believes  “the way we engage people will totally change … Let’s say you have high blood pressure. I prescribe you a pill for that. I see you two or three times a year. In future, I’ll prescribe you an app. One of our whiteboards will drop in and explain what high blood pressure is. The phone will be bluetoothed to the cap of your pills. I’ll nudge you towards a low-salt diet. All of these things will all happen in your phone.”

Evans is the latest in a long line of medical innovators in Canada. Among the most famous Canadian medical inventions and discoveries:

Insulin

Dr. Frederick Banting and medical student Charles Best, working in a lab provided by University of Toronto Professor John Macleod and assisted by biochemist Bertram Collip, discovered insulin, revolutionizing the treatment of diabetes, and gave Canadian scientists their first Nobel Prize in 1923.

Pablum

Three researchers from the Hospital for Sick Children develop Pablum in 1930, a cereal-like food meant to improve infant nutrition.

External pacemakers

John Alexander “Jack” Hopps, an electrical engineer from Manitoba, worked with medical researchers to develop the world’s first external pacemaker, to keep a heart beating regularly, in 1951.

Deep tissue radiation therapy

The Cobalt-60 “Bomb”, developed by Howard Johns at the University of Saskatchewan, in 1951, revolutionized cancer radiation treatment.

Electronic wheelchairs for paraplegics

George Klein, a mechanical engineer from Hamilton, Ontario who worked at Ottawa’s National Research Council, invented the world’s first electric wheelchair for quadriplegic patients in the early 1950s.

Childproof medicine caps

Dr. Henri Breault, Chief of Pediatrics at Hotel Dieu Hospital in Windsor, Ontario, advocated for preventing accidental child poisonings by developing a childproof bottle cap and worked closely with pharmacists and physicians. A design from the president of ITL Industries, Peter Hedgewick, known as the “Palm N Turn,” was developed and adopted in the Windsor area in 1967, reducing the incidence of childhood poisonings by 90 per cent. It has been preventing childhood poisonings (and frustrating adults) ever since.

Emergency contraception

In 1974, Dr. A. Albert Yuzpe, a Canadian obstetrician-gynecologist trained at Western University in London, Ontario, developed an effective way of avoiding unwanted pregnancies. Says a Canada.com article on the invention: “The so-called ‘Yuzpe regimen’ involves the use of a specific combination of birth control pills, and is considered to be an effective form of emergency contraception used within 72 hours of unprotected sex.”

T-cell discoveries

Dr. Wah Mak, University of Toronto, discovered  how T-cells, essential to human immunity to disease, work. In 1983, he cloned the T-cell receptor, which enables T-cells to lock onto their targets. His ongoing, award-winning research focuses on the mechanisms underlying imcmune responses.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research provides a comprehensive decade-by-decade list of other medical milestones that includes myriad Canadian-discovered or designed improvements for things such as cancer treatments, lung transplants, heart surgery, stem-cell generation, stress research, controlled gene mutation, epilepsy seizure treatment, hip dislocation surgery for children, visual cortext mapping, osteoporosis treament, finding stroke precursors, hypothyroidism testing, finding the gene that causes cystic fibrosis, and many more: even the simple-but-effective idea to add Vitamin D to Canadian milk as a way to reduce the incidence of rickets, when children’s bones soften and weaken because they don’t get enough Vitamin D — something of higher risk in a climate with long winters and potentially not enough exposure to the sun.

Main image:  Dr. Mike Evans courtesy Speakers Spotlight.

 

 

 

 

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