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The Thread of Excellence

July 28, 2022

Personal reflections on key anniversaries

Jonathon Lyon, President & Chief Executive Officer, HSC Foundation

By Jonathon Lyon, President and Chief Executive Officer, Health Sciences Centre Foundation

It was the phone call that no one ever wants to receive. On July 27, 2002—20 years ago—I received a call from a family friend telling me that my parents had been involved in a serious motor vehicle accident on the Trans-Canada Highway west of Winnipeg and to call Health Sciences Centre. I immediately contacted the HSC Emergency Department and spoke with a nurse—my cousin in fact, who was on shift that evening. My parents, she confirmed, had both suffered devastating injuries as their car had flipped many times. Hospital staff were concerned that my Dad might not make it through the night.

I was in my early thirties at the time, and had never before been exposed to hospitals or the health care system in a significant way. Yet there I was at HSC, holding my Mom’s and Dad’s hands that first night with my sister, holding vigil over many days and nights with our family, and holding on to hope that somehow Sterling and Barbara Lyon would emerge from this horrific episode in their lives.

Through my stress, fatigue, and fear, I noticed something quite wonderful. I saw nurses, doctors, and other HSC personnel tending to my parents with remarkable compassion, skill, and effort at all hours of the day and night. I quickly realized that my parents were safe, they were getting the best care possible, and they were surrounded by hard-working professionals committed to excellence. That commitment to excellence saved my parents’ lives. We had four more years with my Mom, and eight more years with my Dad. My siblings and I are forever grateful for the care our parents received at HSC.

My experience as the son of patients has shaped my perspectives on the health care system ever since.  I knew after that experience that I wanted to get involved somehow; I wanted to learn more and give back. In 2004, I enthusiastically accepted an invitation to join the HSC Foundation Board of Directors. As a volunteer, I was excited to help raise funds for the Breakthrough! Campaign to build the Kleysen Institute for Advanced Medicine at HSC. Through fundraising, I realized that Manitobans could help foster the culture of excellence at HSC by equipping our people with the best spaces, best equipment, and best research infrastructure possible.

In July 2012—10 years ago—I jumped at the offer to become the Foundation’s new President and CEO. What a great gift it was then, and remains today, to lead an exceptional staff team and partner with a devoted volunteer Board to help sustain and enhance HSC.

My 10 years as President and CEO have given me an important perspective on health care and philanthropy in Manitoba. I have learned that the people who work at HSC are outstanding and compassionate professionals committed to best practice. In that regard, nothing has changed since the night my parents’ car rolled on the Trans-Canada. I have learned that the pace of change in medical technology is beyond rapid and it takes uncommon focus, exceptional planning, and a good deal of money to stay current. I have learned that donors in Manitoba don’t simply write cheques. They engage, they ask questions, they buy in, they give, they champion, and then they give again—because they care deeply.

So this July, as I mark 10 years at the helm of the HSC Foundation and 20 years since my parents’ shocking accident, I find myself reflecting on the thread of excellence that has defined my experience with HSC and the Foundation. I have witnessed excellence in care, in leadership, in volunteerism, in philanthropy, and more.

My job now—and the job of our staff and our Board—is to strengthen that thread. And that is why we have launched Operation Excellence.

Operation Excellence is the largest campaign in the history of the HSC Foundation. It is a six-year, $100 million plan to address the diagnostic and surgical wait list in Manitoba and to revitalize and refocus HSC as a surgical centre of excellence and innovation. The funds we raise will be used to redevelop spaces and acquire a significant amount of new, leading-edge diagnostic and surgical equipment. Our outstanding doctors, nurses, and allied health professionals at HSC deserve to have modern spaces and state-of-the-art equipment so they can do their best work for the benefit of Manitobans.

We are off to a strong start with $75 million already raised, including a $50 million contribution from the Province of Manitoba. It is a good sign that as Manitobans we all recognize the role we must play in elevating health care and bolstering HSC—Manitoba’s hospital.

This July is an emotional time for me as I reflect on two important anniversaries in my life: my parents’ terrifying accident, and the start of my tenure at the HSC Foundation. For me, the pursuit of excellence in health care is a passion. These anniversaries are a reminder that there is a great deal of work ahead to strengthen the thread of excellence. I hope you will join me.


To hear Jonathon Lyon’s interview with Richard Cloutier and Julie Buckingham on 680 CJOB regarding this reflection, please click here.