Times Colonist

Doctor in front lines of Toronto SARS fight

- JORDANA HUBER

TORONTO — Dr. Sheela Basrur, Ontario’s former chief medical officer of health, who became the trusted public face of Toronto’s 2003 battle with SARS, has died, a spokesman for her family said yesterday.

Basrur, 51, rose to prominence amid the chaos and disarray of SARS-stricken Toronto five-years ago. In the early stages, when the public was scared and there was little informatio­n about the outbreak, Basrur, then Toronto’s medical officer of health, became a figure of calming reassuranc­e.

She went on to become Ontario’s chief medical officer of health the following year but stepped down in December 2006 after being diagnosed with a rare form of vascular cancer.

“She lived life fully until the last drop of it,” said friend Doris Grinspun, executive director of the Registered Nurses’ Associatio­n of Ontario. “She enjoyed her time with her daughter and with her parents and with her friends.”

Grinspun said she had Basrur over for lunch only a few weeks ago and though Basrur was very ill she was “energized” and excited she would be conferred with an honorary degree this Friday at the University of Toronto.

In March, Basrur was on hand as the province announced the office of Ontario’s newly created Agency for Health Protection and Promotion would be named in her honour.

The following month, she was awarded the Order of Ontario for her leadership during the SARS outbreak.

Liz Janzen, who worked closely with Basrur at Toronto Public Health, choked back tears as she described Basrur as someone who loved to solve problems and inspired others to follow suit.

“It was hard to say to no to Sheela,” Janzen said. “She was this little person looking at you with these big eyes and she got you to a place where you were talking about how you were going to get something done rather than how you weren’t.”

Basrur had a capacity to connect with people and explain complex issues whether she was working on tobacco bylaws, the restaurant DineSafe program, pesticide bylaws or fighting against childhood obesity, Janzen said.

Politician­s and those who worked closely with Basrur described her as compassion­ate, brilliant, fearless and more recently courageous as she struggled with her illness.

“Today we are saddened by this loss, but we also celebrate the gift that was Sheela’s life and her work,” Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said in a statement.

“She was a woman of great courage and she always had the strength to give her best advice, no matter what.”

Toronto Mayor David Miller expressed his gratitude for her commitment to public service and her ability to calm an “anxious city” during SARS by confrontin­g the outbreak with knowledge instead of fear.

Basrur was the first medical officer to lead Toronto Public Health following amalgamati­on in 1998.

“Dr. Basrur was a guiding light for public health in Ontario,” said Dr. Ken Arnold, president of the Ontario Medical Associatio­n. “She was the type of doctor that made us all proud to be in the medical profession.”

Sujit Choudhry, a family spokesman said a private funeral will be held and a public memorial is being planned for a future date.

 ??  ?? Former Ontario chief medical officer Dr. Sheela Basrur addresses public health officials at the Art Gallery of Windsor in this file photo taken last June. Basrur, who rose to prominence during the 2003 SARS crisis in Toronto, died yesterday after being...
Former Ontario chief medical officer Dr. Sheela Basrur addresses public health officials at the Art Gallery of Windsor in this file photo taken last June. Basrur, who rose to prominence during the 2003 SARS crisis in Toronto, died yesterday after being...

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