Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Tucked away in a ground level corner of the Odette Cancer Centre sits an office like no other. The nondescript white door opens to reveal an expansive workshop that wraps around one corner and back down another. A gaggle of tubing, drills, heavy machinery and materials I’ve never seen before litter wooden workbenches and wall-length shelving. The smell reminds me of my grade seven shop class. But what’s being created here couldn’t be more far removed from ash trays and birdhouses. Harry Easton and his team in medical physics are busy helping patients, one invention at a time.
His office walls are a visual monument to the thought process he brings to the job everyday. Let’s just say, Harry has a certain brilliance I never will. “What’s that square thing with the holes in it?” I asked. Harry explained that was a customized grid used to make sure breast cancer patients get precise treatment. “And what about that round ball hanging over there?” I asked. That, he told me, has actually changed care for patients with inoperable brain tumours, making sure they get right dose of radiation within sub-millimeter accuracy. Okie dokie, then.
However humbling the interview was for me, Harry never held airs. In fact, he’s one of the friendliest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of talking to. And despite the average 15 projects he’s juggling at any given time, and responsibility to keep all the multi-million dollar cancer machines running smoothly, his door is always open to curious patients. And many times a day, Odette Cancer Centre staff saunter in with problems that need solving, or even crude sketches on scraps of paper, hoping Harry and his team can make them real. They always do.
“So out of all the things you’ve built, what’s your favorite?” I asked at the end of our interview. “I have a twelve string acoustic guitar that I’ve built! That’s my favorite thing!” As totally unexpected as his answer was, I was thrilled that at least it was an object I could identify! Not that I could play it, though…
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