“It’s rarely been my experience as an interviewer, to find common personal ground with a subject. The reporter’s role, after all, is to extract a story at a “professional distance.” But quickly, Dr. Mike Gilmour and I began a spirited discussion when we discovered a common shared passion,” Scott Mercer.
“We ran Boston this year,” Dr. Mike Gilmour declares proudly.
His audience of one is sincerely impressed.
And why not? The annual Boston Marathon represents the pinnacle of any runner’s competitive ambition. Winning the storied race is never a realist’s goal, with elite international runners sprinkled liberally among the field. Simply qualifying marks a world-class achievement.
Earning a place among Boston’s throng of starters demands documenting a time, from a previous marathon, below three and a half hours.
Mike and his running partner, Dr. Tony Brown, accomplished the feat by recording personal-best times last fall in Picton, fulfilling a long-time shared goal which once seemed more of a pipe-dream.
“Definitely, the hardest marathon we’ve ever done,” he reports of his and Tony’s April experience. “But it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and probably the peak of our running career.”
A significant event sparked his initial interest. “Early in my medical career, I watched a teenager die from cancer,” he recalls. “That inspired me to run in the Terry Fox, eventually the Port Perry half-marathon.”
Now 47, Mike targets completion of ten marathons before returning to more recreational distances. He’s philosophical about the demands of his training program.
“I always say that it would be best for your body to train for a marathon, then be sick the day-off!”
Mike brings the same tenacious dedication to his medical pursuits.
“I especially enjoy treating multiple members of the same family,” he says of his practice. “You make a real connection with people, sharing the joy of births and grieving with them when deaths occur.”
Early in life, Mike easily identified his eventual vocation. “By ten years old, I knew I wanted to follow medicine,” he remembers. “I had a number of relatives in that field, and grew up enjoying sciences in school. So it was a natural progression, and I couldn’t be happier with the outcome.”
Toronto born and educated, Port Perry may have begun as only a dot on Mike’s provincial map. But a short posting, as part of his two-year internship, convinced Mike and his wife, Janice, that it was a perfect fit.
“My placement here lasted only a month, but Janice and I quickly felt the warmth of the town. It allowed us to stay close to Toronto – we have family there and Leafs’ season tickets – but also enjoy a community with that ‘personal’ touch. Just what we wanted, socially and professionally. So when Dr. Cohoon and Dr. Allin offered me a position, I jumped at it.”
Port Perry’s small-town atmosphere, removed from the challenges of big-city life, also suited the couple’s future plans.
Janice and Mike began dating in their final year of high school, when they were both swimming instructors with the City of Scarborough. Marriage would wait until Mike completed his medical studies. Janice’s own career would take a lengthy, but voluntary, “detour.”
“She made a big commitment to our family – and my career – when she took a hiatus from teaching to raise our kids,” Mike says. “Three years ago, she decided to go back to supply teaching.”
Now 20 years old, elder son Ryan sits midway through his second year at Waterloo with an eye towards his own medical career. Like his 18 year old sister, Kirstie, Ryan is studying kinesiology, hinting his future may lie in optometry. Kirstie, on the other hand, hopes to put her undergraduate degree from St. Francis Xavier University to a different end, pursuing a career as a teacher. Youngest son, Mack, according to Dad, hasn’t yet chosen his calling, but as a Grade 10 student, there’s still lots of time to experience and decide.
The entire family shares in an active lifestyle. “We’ve had a cottage since the kids were young where we water ski and wakeboards,” he says. “We snow ski. Those activities helped us to really ‘get away’ together as a family.”
Mike’s practice has offered him satisfying professional scope over its 20 years. “The Clinic had only eight doctors when I arrived, so working here has allowed me to practice the full spectrum of medicine. I’ve always enjoyed challenges, and I find my work intellectually stimulating.”
Mike witnessed, first-hand, what might arguably be Port Perry’s most dramatic medical event. When a local bank was robbed 15 years ago, and a police officer and bank manger were shot, Mike was the on-call physician.
“It’s a night I’ll never forget,” he says, wincing ever so slightly at the memory. “Ambulance dispatch warned us to expect multiple gunshot wounds. Right away, we mobilized a number of off-duty doctors and nurses to assist, and fortunately, all the victims survived.
But it was an event which changed Port Perry - people realized a tragedy of that magnitude could happen here, too.”
Mike recently expanded his scope to include a share of the local coroner’s role.
“I’ve always had an interest in the forensic side of medicine, so when Dr. Allin approached me, I accepted enthusiastically. It’s added a twist to my professional life, some extra variety. It’s much different, of course – you’re dealing with the families, not the patient – but I see it as an important and necessary part of the medical process.”
He’s also begun using his now-veteran knowledge for humanitarian applications.
“Dr. (Tony) Brown is the Medical Director for ‘Feed the Children,’ which provides care in stricken regions of the world. He encouraged me to join their team.” His acceptance has taken Mike on recent missions in Nicaragua and El Salvador.
“We were the first medical team into some coastal communities which had been ravaged by mudslides. We visited five communities in seven days, providing food and clothing as well as medical care. Janice joined me, assisting with distribution.
“Those were long days in extreme heat, where we’d likely see half the people in a community. Exciting, and very rewarding.”
The experiences also touched him on a personal level.
“In spite of the tragedy around them, the people I met loved life and appreciated what they had, though many had little by our standards. It changed my perspective on a few things. First, how we take so much for granted here, like good food and clothing. But also the ‘struggles’ we see as paramount at home, how meaningless they are by comparison.”
Mike also contributes to Port Perry’s role as a teaching hospital. The rewards of that work, he says, go both ways.
“Teaching helps to keep me current with new developments, and I’m able to offer the students the benefits of my experience.”
Twenty years on, and now Chief of Port Perry’s ER, Mike carries forward the community-minded philosophies taught to him in training by Drs. Cohoon and Allin, for whom he reserves high praise.
“They created a ‘flavour,’” he says. “To ensure the community would benefit, leaving no gaps in available care. They recruited wisely, stressing it was each new doctor’s task to maintain that standard. And it was apparent they loved their work. I added their attitude to my career ambitions.”
It’s a career far from its “marathon” finish line.
By Scott Mercer
Focus on Scugog