“Philanthropy is really important in our family. I felt that given my situation in life – both my age, my experience and the fact that over the last number of years, the business has grown – it has put me in a position now to do something.”
In 2021, Ricky Black and his partner, Sophie Marquis, chose to make a generous gift to the JGH. The gift reflects their desire and means to contribute more to their community, and especially the hospital that has supported them both.
Ricky, who was born at the JGH, knew about the hospital from a young age and several members of his family are strong supporters. In 1936, his grandfather started a metal recycling company in Montreal. His father and uncle started a side business manufacturing metal products called solders, which are used in electronics assembly, and Ricky went into the business 30 years ago.
“Philanthropy is really important in our family,” Ricky explained. “I felt that given my situation in life – both my age, my experience and the fact that over the last number of years, the business has grown – it has put me in a position now to do something.”
For Sophie, the JGH is a particularly obvious choice of beneficiary given recent events in her life.
A MYSTERIOUS CONDITION
Not long ago, Sophie’s now 21-year-old daughter, Catherine, struggled with symptoms of severe fatigue and pain in her neck. When she went for a vascular ultrasound that showed inflammation in her blood vessels, she was rushed to the JGH Emergency Department. Catherine was promptly seen by rheumatologist Dr. Laeora Berkson and they had a long meeting that included Sophie and Ricky.
“From the minute we were there, all the support given to us was incredible,” Sophie said. “When you deal with a situation like that, you really need to be reassured, and that’s what happened.”
She emphasizes how comforting meeting with Dr. Berkson was, particularly given how little they understood Catherine’s condition. Dr. Berkson proposed a series of tests in order to eliminate possibilities.
After a rigorous testing period, Dr. Berkson (now the Chief of the Rheumatology Division) and her team found that Catherine’s condition is within a range of maladies very similar to Takayasu’s arteritis, which is a rare group of disorders that causes blood vessel inflammation. Cases can be unique to the individual, and yet there is some commonality across cases. For Catherine, the blood vessels in her neck are inflamed, as opposed to classic Takayasu’s arteritis, which affects the blood vessels near the heart.
The challenge for a rare and complex condition like Catherine’s is finding the right medication to control the inflammation. It’s difficult as some of the medications can have serious side effects that impact the quality of life. Thankfully, since last year, Catherine has been on a new medication that has been going very well. Every month she goes for blood testing. Her quality of life has vastly improved since the time of her Emergency Department visit. She’s studying law and recently even went on an exchange program to Portugal for three months, where she was monitored remotely.
“Thanks to Dr. Berkson, Catherine was able to do that exchange and live the experience of a foreign student and be followed remotely,” Sophie said. “That really gave us peace of mind.”
“It’s a big deal in the life of a 21-year-old to be able to go and do that,” Ricky added. “It’s not just about living. It’s about how you live.”
A DONATION THAT MAKES A DIFFERENCE
The Division of Rheumatology , which primarily addresses disorders of the immune system, treats conditions that include arthritis, disorders of the joints, and osteoporosis. It often does not get as much attention as other departments, which is part of why Ricky and Sophie are giving to this overlooked cause.
“We really wanted to give a hand to the division to help them continue the magnificent work that they do and to help other patients in similar situations,” Sophie said.
One of Dr. Berkson’s plans for the gift is to fund a full-time nurse to provide hands-on care to patients. Going forward, Ricky hopes their transformative donation, which will be disbursed over a ten-year period, will fund research into new treatments for Catherine’s type of condition.
“Part of what we’re giving will hopefully go towards research that will come up with better, less invasive treatments,” Ricky said. “The hope is that, even though it’s a very narrow field and it’s not well-known, better treatments will be forthcoming.”
Both Ricky and Sophie hope to continue giving to the JGH far into the future.
“I know that it’s the right decision,” Ricky said. “I feel really good about it. I’m proud. I’m happy. I’m appreciative. I feel privileged that we’re in a position where we can do this. I hope that we can do more. This is just the beginning.”
Last Updated March 2022