A Look at RN Brenda Reid and The Alastair Fund
By: Dana Ewachow
Brenda Reid is the Clinical Nurse Specialist for the Immunology and Allergy clinic at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. She’s also considered an official champion by the Immunodeficiency Canada for her work with patients with PI (primary immunodeficiency). Reid admits that her PI patient relationships span across her career. She’s currently on her second generation of patients; she currently sees the sons and nephews of men she had taken care of when they were teenagers. “It’s a privilege to be a part of these peoples’ lives,” she says.
Primary immunodeficiency is an umbrella definition for genetic conditions in which the immune system is either defective or missing. There are over 250 genetic disorders that could be classified as PI, though many people who suffer from PI could suffer without diagnoses or treatment. Treatment of immunodeficiency has changed dramatically in recent decades. Reid admits in the past, few people suffering with PI lived past thirty. In the 1980s, the survival rate of those suffering with PI was 30-50%. Now the survival rate is over 80%.
Along with her work at the Hospital for Sick Children, Reid further helped the cause by starting the Alastair Fund. The reasons for starting the fund, which is promoted through Immunodeficiency Canada, are more touching and admirable than you could imagine. The Alastair Fund was created in 2004 by Reid after she lost her husband Alastair Mackay to chondrosarcoma. “When you lose somebody you care about, you can’t bear to use their name,” says Reid. Creating the fund in his name was difficult for her, but it felt like the right thing to do. In a way, the charity keeps his generous spirit alive.
Reid admits a friend described Alastair as a mixture of Peter Pan and Jay Gatsby from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The combination captures his child-like sense of fun and his knack for throwing a great party. Reid laughs when she reminisces about the time when Alastair convinced John Perl, President of Immunodeficiency Canada, to put on a bear costume that was too big for him at a charity event. In a stroke of brilliance, they placed hamburger buns on top of Perl’s head so that the costume head could fit properly.
Reid decided that she would create the fund to help children suffering from immunodeficiency disorders instead of one for chondrosarcoma, which is the rare blood cancer her husband had. She believed that the fund for PI would help more people. Alastair did not work with patients with PI or even in the field of medicine, but he always involved himself in his wife’s work.
The Alastair Fund is an emergency financial assistance program available for families with children registered Toronto’s Sick Children’s Hospital, Montreal Children’s Hosptal, British Columbia’s Children’s Hospital, Alberta’s Children’s Hospital, and IWK Hospital Centre in Halifax. The fund provides money for the things that health insurance can’t cover: travel costs, meals, and a place to stay. Reid states that most people don’t even realize that the Ronald Macdonald house has a nightly fee. The fee of $15 a night is a generously low amount compared to hotel costs, but consider the fact that a family with a child going through a bone marrow transplant could stay at the Ronald MacDonald house for several months. The amount of money provided by the fund is enough to make a significant difference. “Even if it’s $500 they don’t have to pay,” said Reid. The little things can make a big impact.
Reid confides that Alastair had a personal bias against “Big Charity”, since so much money typically goes to overhead. He believed that the donations were diminished by administrative and marketing needs, instead of going to the organizations intended cause. Naturally, creating a fund through Immunodeficiency Canada the perfect way to honour his memory. The Alastair Fund directly involves itself with the lives of patients and a hundred percent of the donations are given to applicants. It seems like the Alastair Fund is another one of those little things with a big impact.