Working on the Front Line

By Susan Hastings Photo By Stan Switalski
Resident Feature from West Galt Neighbourhood Magazine

In January of this year, Cambridge Memorial Hospital (CMH) opened a new wing. It had been under construction for years and finally, the citizens of Cambridge had access to state-of-the art facilities.

But a hospital is only as good as its staff – the doctors, nurses, room attendants, personal support workers and the army of clerical staff that keeps the facility operating. This month, we’re pleased to feature one of CMH’s front-line workers. Heather MacLeod is a general surgeon who opened her practice in Cambridge in 2013.

“The pandemic has changed the way everyone works,”

she agrees, “and the operating rooms at CMH were practically shut down for three or four months.

“I continued to perform essential surgeries, such as for those patients diagnosed with cancer. It’s hard enough to receive that diagnosis without having to worry about whether or not you can get the necessary treatment.”

Heather lives in West Galt with her partner, Ian McEachern, and their son, Finlay (3). “Ian also has three kids from his first marriage, Gaius (12), Apollo (10), and Týr (6). Most of the time they live with their mother in Victoria, B.C., but they are with us for 8-10 weeks of the year.”

Ian and Heather have known each other for most of their lives. They both grew up in Thunder Bay and met in Grade 1, “where we read to each other at recess like nerds, which we weren’t.”

They remained good friends throughout their school years but after high school, although they tried to keep in touch, it was more of a challenge because their education and careers meant that they both moved around quite a bit.

When Ian was posted to Meaford, Ontario they were given an opportunity to reconnect. Having both recently separated from their spouses, they developed a unique bond, strengthening their friendship and eventually changing the course of their relationship to a romantic one.

Heather spent many years in post-secondary education in preparation for her career as a surgeon, starting out as the winner of one of the prestigious President’s Entrance Scholarships at the University of Western Ontario and earning an honours degree in chemistry and biochemistry.

She attended medical school at Western as well and completed her residency training through McMaster University in Hamilton to become a general surgeon. After her residency, Heather returned to northern Ontario, working as a locum in Thunder Bay and Sioux Lookout before moving to Cambridge in May 2013.

Ian has been a front-line worker of a different kind for most of his adult life. In high school, he enrolled with the local Canadian Armed Forces Primary Reserve unit, the Lake Superior Scottish Regiment. Upon graduation, he was accepted into the Regular Officer Training Plan, where his B.Sc. Computer Science (Hardware) at Lakehead University was fully subsidized in exchange for committing to five years of service.

In the 17 years since graduation, he has served as a communications and electronics officer at military bases all over Canada and he also  deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan, where his duties included advising the Afghan personnel officers and communications officers on best practices in the performance of their duties. He’s now part of the IT team at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto.

The pandemic has meant huge changes in the way programs are delivered at the college, and Ian’s position was crucial in supporting college staff through the transition. Like many others, he is currently doing a mixture of working from home and going into the office. This suits him well because, “I really don’t enjoy the commute,” he says with a smile, as he reveals his plans for the future.

“I’ve been in the military for 21 years, and it might be time for a change.”

Despite a demanding career and busy home life, Heather finds the time to give back to the hospital and the community in her non-clinical work in support of CMH. For the past four years, she has been vice president of the Medical and Professional Staff Association Executive which involves participating on a number of committees and attending meetings, including the Board meetings and meetings with City Council.

In addition, she was recently appointed as co-chair for the CMH Foundation’s newest campaign, Caring Physicians and Midwives.

“I can’t express how wonderful the staff at CMH are,”

she says. “Everyone has been under considerable stress this year regardless of their position, and we all appreciate the community support that we see all around us. “It really means a lot to see your signs and find your rocks in the gardens in our neighbourhood and at the hospital.

“I truly believe we live in the best neighbourhood in Cambridge,” she continues. “It is so beautiful. We can walk everywhere downtown, and Victoria Park is just a few blocks away. There are several biking trails nearby and the trails connecting Galt to Hespeler are a joy to ride.”

Many of the homes in West Galt are so unique that potential buyers fall in love with them as soon as they step inside. “I had just sold my house in Hamilton when my realtor showed me the listing for the house in which we now live,” recalls Heather. “I wasn’t really ready to buy a house at that time, but I didn’t think there was anything to lose by looking at the place. “Within about 30 seconds of stepping into the front door of the house, I was pretty sure I would buy it; it was love at first sight.”

Ian and Heather enjoy being physically active, and find plenty of opportunities to mountain bike and hike in the region, even through the winter They make regular day trips to explore neighbouring cities and towns and one of their favourite weekend activities is to walk around downtown Galt, supporting the local shops or visiting the library and Old Post Office.

Ian and Heather also like to travel further afield, although the pandemic has halted any such trips for the time being. “Our most recent trip with the whole family was during the summer of 2019,” she reflects, “when we spent a week in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. We had fun on the beach and explored the local parks and the rainforest.”

But one of their most memorable trips was a last-minute trip to Scotland. “We had originally planned to go to Italy but there was an issue with my passport and we were denied boarding for our flight from London.

“We then changed gears and booked hotels and a car rental and spent four days in Scotland. We went hill walking near Loch Lomond, toured the Highlands in Cairngorms National Park, and explored Edinburgh, among other things. Even though we were disappointed not to go to Italy, our trip to Scotland was fantastic.

“Of course, we’d like to travel more once travel restrictions have eased somewhat, but for now we’re content where we are, watching our family grow up.”

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