McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Patient helps endow new research chair for his physician

Published: April 12, 2016
Joe DesRoches presents cheque to Dr. Irwin Walker
Joe DesRoches presents a cheque to Dr. Irwin Walker in 1987.

Almost 34 years ago Joe DesRoches became a patient of Dr. Irwin Walker, now a McMaster professor of medicine and director of the Hamilton Bone Marrow Transplant Program.

"When my dad was originally diagnosed with cancer, doctors didn't think he had more than two weeks to live," said April Faggion, DesRoches' daughter. "Then he was put in touch with Dr. Walker and, to make a long story short, Dr. Walker gave my dad 10 more years."

DesRoches suffered from lymphoma, and the president of Purity Zinc Metals Co. Ltd. Of Stoney Creek was a patient of Walker's until his death in 1991.

"Back then, when my dad was going through chemo, they didn't separate adults from children, so he could be sitting beside a five-year old. He couldn't believe that children had to go through this. He told Dr. Walker, 'I really must give back. I want to start up some kind of fund for bone marrow to help you with your research.'"

Now DesRoches' donations, with additional funds from McMaster's Department of Medicine, have established an endowed Joseph E. DesRoches Chair in Bone Marrow Transplantation, and Walker is the inaugural holder.

"The first bone marrow transplants in Canada using donors not related to the recipient were done here in Hamilton," said Dr. John Kelton, dean and vice-president of the Faculty of Health Sciences. "The Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine has been a leader in hematology research for almost 50 years, and it is excellent that we have this new endowed research chair in bone marrow transplantation."

Today, on the 25th anniversary of DesRoches' death, a private event will be held with the DesRoches family to celebrate.

"My father and Irwin became very good friends, and my dad had such respect for him," said Faggion. "He wanted to leave (the donation) in Irwin's hands to do the right thing."

"The first time he gave me a cheque, he said he better not see me driving around in a new car," said Walker with a laugh. "His generosity is going to allow more focus to be put on research. I want to thank Joe and Joe's family."

Walker is a senior physician scientist who obtained his Bachelor of Medicine from the University of Melbourne and arrived at McMaster in 1971 as a resident in hematology.

During his research career Walker has looked into the development of haploidentical, or half-related, donor transplantation and the development of hemophilia-related software programs, the Canadian Hemophilia Registry, and epidemiological data relating to hemophilia. He has been president of the Canadian Blood and Marrow Transplant Group.

Most recently, the journal Lancet Oncology published his research of treatments of chronic graft versus host disease (GvHD), a condition that occurs after a bone marrow transplant. In GvHD, the donated bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells view the recipient's body as foreign, and the donated cells or bone marrow attack the body.

Today's celebration is important, said Walker.

"First, this chair gives an acknowledgement as to how far the transplant unit has come. Second, it honours a great man that we lost 25 years ago.

"And I'll make the same promise to his family that I made to him long ago — I won't be driving around in some fancy new car tomorrow."

Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Level Double-A conformance, W3C WAI Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0