A Generous Spirit

An Edmonton doctor creates a lasting legacy in his field

John Wolfaardt knew Murray Mickleborough personally and professionally – Mickleborough was a maxillofacial surgeon, after all, and Wolfaardt was director of clinics and international relations at the Institute for Reconstructive Sciences in Medicine (iRSM), an Edmonton organization involved in cutting-edge biomechanics, reconstructing parts of people’s faces after surgery for cancer or trauma. And Wolfaardt knew that, in a twist of fate, Mickleborough had visited the iRSM as a patient after his 2010 diagnosis of cancer of the throat, which had spread to his mandible. But Mickleborough’s unexpected visit to the iRSM that day was neither professional nor medical.

“Murray arrived and asked to speak to me,” Wolfaardt says. “We sat down and he started asking what the opportunities were to fund research at the iRSM.” Wolfaardt found out what Mickleborough had in mind – “and I was staggered,” he says. Mickleborough was proposing to donate $1 million. The gift is the genesis of The Dr. Murray E. Mickleborough Research Chair in Interfacial Biomechanics.

“Murray had a professional understanding and a fascination for interfacial biomechanics,” Wolfaardt says, “which includes such things as bone integration and robotic prostheses.” The endowment will allow Wolfaardt to beef up the engineering side of his team. Having a senior person in place – the chair – will also direct research, avoid redundancy and increase the capacity of the iRSM. “We’ve been relying on serendipity to catch and maintain funding,” he says. The research chair provides stability that will attract top researchers.

“When Murray got sick, he toured the iRSM and was so impressed with it,” says wife and partner of 25 years, Janice Mickleborough. “He developed a real enthusiasm for it and it bothered him that it didn’t get the attention it deserved.” As a patient at the iRSM, specialists performed numerous tests on Murray, studied his swallowing and speech, among other things. Unfortunately, Mickleborough’s cancer returned and he never had a chance to access some of the reconstructive work that he otherwise would have. “Their work is remarkable,” Janice says. “The iRSM lets people get back to their lives.”

“With head-and-neck cancer patients, treatment can leave them with functional deficits,” says Myka Osinchuk, former executive director of the iRSM. “Once people’s cancer is gone, we think we’ve done our jobs, but there are survivorship challenges and rehabilitation challenges.”

There was an existing $500,000 gift from Caritas Hospitals Foundation and, in addition to Mickleborough’s million-dollar gift, funds were matched by the Alberta Cancer Foundation dollar for dollar, bringing the total to $3 million of a targeted $5 million towards The Dr. Murray Mickleborough Research Chair in Interfacial Biomechanics. Already one of the top such centres in the world according to Osinchuk, the Mickleborough chair further advances the institute.

“It puts us at the leading edge,” agrees Janice, “and it’s a legacy that Murray would be proud of.” Mickleborough was famous for his generosity, keen intellect and active nature. “The man never stopped,” says Janice. With several business interests on the go since retirement, Mickleborough was also a woodworker, stained glass maker, boater and a foodie who loved to entertain. His endowment will keep research moving forward.

Dr. Murray Mickleborough died in Victoria, B.C. on June 13, leaving behind his wife Janice, their loving family and many friends.

Find out more about Dr. Murray Mickleborough at www.albertacancer.ca. Check out some of the ground-breaking work at iRSM www.irsm-canada.com.

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