Thank you for the brief biography of John P. Robarts (What’s in a name? Jan. 23). It was my pleasure to meet Mr. Robarts’ family on many occasions, through my friendship with his son, Tim. Please permit me two addenda to your column:
First, Mr. Robarts pronounced the family name with the stress on the second syllable, ro-BARTs, whereas most people associated with the name today incorrectly say ROW-barts. Second, although stroke was clearly a contributing factor to Mr. Robarts’ death, the immediate cause was suicide.
Tragically, suicide was also the cause of Tim’s death, aged 21. Perhaps that experience partly explains my interest as an epidemiologist in the public health importance of premature mortality, which Statistics Canada defines as deaths before age 75 (approximately the average disability free life expectancy).
Over a recent three-year period, stroke took about 105,000 years of life from these relatively young Canadians, whereas suicide took over 315,000 years.
I can see the big smile on Mr. Robarts’ face were he to learn that important research by Robarts Institute scientists and their global colleagues has led to treatments that are partly responsible for the remarkable declines in some leading causes of death. In Canada from 2000-02 to 2005-07, age-standardized death rates for all circulatory diseases decreased by 22 per cent; for cerebrovascular diseases (mostly strokes), the decrease was an astounding 25 per cent.
Sadly, over this same period, age-standardized suicide mortality decreased by a measly 8 per cent.
I know that Mr. Robarts was devastated by Tim’s suicide; it might have even contributed to his stroke. Mr. Robarts killed himself after struggling through rehabilitation in an attempt to regain function lost due to his stroke.
Thus, it is quite possible that if Mr. Robarts could advise on health research priorities today, he would include both rehabilitation for severe stroke, and suicide prevention.
Mark Speechley, PhD
Professor, Epidemiology and Biostatistics
Schulich Interfaculty Program in Public Health