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Skin Deep to the Heart

By Sheila O’Hearn

A renowned Toronto-based plastic surgeon at Scarborough General Hospital, Dr. Timothy Sproule hustles through the front door of his Evolution Laser Rejuvenation Centre, having just emerged from the OR, in a pair of comfortable, favourite jeans. What fascinates me and accompanying Spa Life Editor-in-Chief Mary Hughes is that Dr. Sproule also volunteers substantial time in developing countries. There he performs reconstructive surgery free of charge, teaching doctors and interns who work under immense hardship and small budgets. He is a man who is passionate about his work. Generously, genuinely, and with great practicality, he plans and acts on the making of a better world.

I feel grateful to be living in a country where deformities, without question, would be fixed. Dr. Sproule acknowledges that in a developing country, a person with a cleft lip or palette is often shunned. Dr. Sproule recounts a time in Peru, when he performed on the cleft palette of a 35-year-old male who begged for help. “It took 40 minutes—a simple operation—but his life changed forever,” Dr. Sproule says. “His family and relatives, the whole community—they were all hugging each other, and he cried.”

Through an American medical charity called Interplast, an organization of volunteering physicians that Dr. Sproule joined, he travelled to locations, such as Ecuador, Peru, and Bangladesh. In 1998, Dr. Sproule founded his own charity, Canadian Reconstructive Surgery Foundation, which focused almost exclusively on burns. “Interplast didn’t want to do burns,” he says. Dr. Sproule noted that a patient’s livelihood is gravely compromised if a serious hand burn, for example, goes untreated.

Under his own charity banner, Dr. Sproule journeyed to Guyana, where the highlight of his working life was achieved. “There were one million people—and no plastic surgeon! In the five working days that I was there, I did 20 complex burn cases,” he says. Among the team, 80 were performed in that five days. It wasn’t enough, however. What could practitioners do that would make an ongoing difference? With hospital care under the British system, and with the added bonus of a pleased Minister of Health, Dr. Sproule did more than roll up his surgeon’s sleeves; he won government approval to build Guyana’s first-ever burn unit, a project he worked on with each subsequent visit. “It was cost effective and pragmatic. I designed and built a burn unit in a 4,000 square-foot facility that was also air conditioned—that was rare—a huge plus,” he says.

Through the foundation, Dr. Sproule and his team have also donated equipment valued at $10 million to the Guyana’s Burn Care Unit, including operating room tables, hydrotherapy tubs, cardio machines, monitors and anaesthesia machines. “But the most important stuff I do,” he says, “—what has made the biggest impact on me—is the training of doctors. I’ve just heard, in fact, from one doctor I trained,” he says, with pride.
“And now he’s teaching others.”

His passion for changing lives extends to first-world people who feel a need to improve through elective cosmetic surgery. His Evolution Laser Rejuvenation Centre is a place where men and women can “restore (their) natural beauty”, as his pamphlet states. “It’s about self-esteem,” Dr. Sproule says. “If I can help someone improve their quality of life, whether through helping that individual gain confidence or so they can work again, I’ve done my job.”

Evolution Laser Rejuvenation Centre