When Dr. Sean Murray was a child, he and his parents travelled from Sudbury to Toronto on a regular basis so he could be treated for his cleft of the palate.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s Sudbury did not have the means to treat Murray's condition.
“I spent years travelling back and fort to Sick Kids (in Toronto) for appointments and operations,” Murray said.
That experience marked Murray at an early age and inspired him to become a pediatrician to help children in his hometown, and offer them the kinds of medical services that were not available to him.
“My heart has always been in Sudbury,” he said. “My passion is in advancing child health.”
Murray, now Health Science North's chief and medical director of the family and child program, wants to make Sudbury a hub for children's health in the North.
His plan is to amalgamate the hospital's pediatric outpatient clinics under one roof, in a new standalone building for pediatrics.
Through the plan, Health Sciences North would also hire three new pediatricians over the next five years, to bring the total to eight.
“Culturally speaking, people from the North like to stay in the North,” Murray said.
Parents from Northern Ontario still have to travel to Toronto's Sick Kids or Ottawa's Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) for treatments — but those treatments could be provided in Sudbury, Murray argues.
“We're not here to replace Sick Kids or CHEO,” he said. “We're here to advance what they're able to do for us.”
He said parents will still need to travel to Toronto and Ottawa for specialized procedures that aren't offered anywhere else, but he hopes those situations can be reduced.
Keeping families and their children closer to home would have a number of benefits. Some professionals, Murray said, have to turn down job offers in Sudbury because their children may not be able to receive the treatment they require for their particular condition.
Other families have to move to larger centres when their children fall ill and cannot be treated at home.
Sudbury is above the Canadian average for a number of chronic diseases in children under the age of 18.
About 8.3 per cent of children nationally have asthma, for instance, but in Sudbury the rate is 9.1 per cent. Twenty-six per cent of children in Sudbury have allergies, while the national average is 22 per cent.
There are 10,333 children in Sudbury who are considered to be obese or overweight. That is roughly 29 per cent of the population under the age of 18.
In Canada, the average for obese or overweight children is 22 per cent.
The number of children diagnosed with cancer in Sudbury has doubled in the past five to six years.
Murray said part of the reason for the increase is that Health Sciences North receives more referrals from across the northeast than it once did.
There are now up to 40 children with cancer being treated at Health Sciences North at any one time.
Murray said he hopes the hospital will have a functional design ready for the new pediatrics centre by the new year.
In addition to government funding, the pediatric centre will also depend on community fundraising to get off the ground.
“Over the last 10 or 15 years, we have not had anything in health care to really grapple to and own from a community perspective,” Murray said. “I'm really hopeful this particular initiative will be that.”