New Transformational Gift

Step into the foyer of Betsy Fruitman’s Toronto condo and one of the first things you’ll see is a framed black and white photo of her late husband, Lou. Betsy likes to see his handsome, smiling face each time she walks by.

“He was just the most wonderful man,” she says. “He always told me ‘If you have enough that it won’t take the roof off your head or food off your table, you give. You just give.’”

Betsy and Lou have been long-time philanthropists. Every year they donate to several dozen charities, mostly anonymously. They didn’t want the acknowledgement. They gave simply because they believed it was the right thing to do. Lou, the president of Pamlimar Investments & Enterprises – a real estate management company named after the couple’s three daughters – wanted others to benefit from his success.

So when Betsy learned about St. Michael’s new BARLO MS Centre last fall, she decided to give again. Her daughter, Lisa, heard about BARLO at a medical conference and told Betsy about it.

“She said to me ‘Mom, there’s going to be a world-renowned MS centre at St. Michael’s Hospital. They just announced it. I can’t wait to be a part of it,’” recalls Betsy.

The next day, Betsy called the St. Michael’s Foundation with a simple question: How could she help? Could she name the lobby in honour of her beloved husband Lou?

Betsy wanted to give because it was the right thing to do. But this time, it was also personal. Lisa has multiple sclerosis – the relapsing-remitting kind.

Diagnosed when she was 26 years old, Lisa has learned to live with a disease that gives her good days and some very bad days.  Betsy likens her daughter’s on and off symptoms to the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, There Was a Little Girl.

“Lisa is that girl in the poem with the curl,” says Betsy. “You know, when her condition is good, it’s really good, but when it’s bad, it’s horrid.’”

Betsy is hoping she can help her daughter. But she also knows Canada has the highest incidence of MS in the world – one in 340. It’s a tough, unpredictable disease that impacts not only people’s bodies, but their lives. She wants to help everyone who has this disease.

In February, Betsy and her family toured the top two floors of the Peter Gilgan Patient Care Tower, where the 25,000 sq. ft. BARLO MS Centre will live.

They were captivated by the sweeping views of the city and the natural light pouring in. Betsy wanted the patient lobby to be a hopeful and positive place for patients stepping out of the elevator and into the Centre. With Betsy and her family’s help, it will be. 

And so, the Lou and Betsy Fruitman Lobby was born. It will be the heart of the BARLO MS Centre and a reflection of our staff’s warmth and compassion. Just as Betsy asked, we are designing it not as some sterile waiting room, but as a welcoming place with comfortable seating and light that invites patients and their families to linger.

It’s going to make a lot of people’s lives just a little easier. At BARLO, we treat 7,000 patients in our clinic every year. We are the largest and the top MS research centre in Canada, the busiest in North America and among the top five in the world.

That means we have an opportunity to delve deeper into research and provide the kind of care that will help people manage their symptoms. Our patients won’t just get a doctor. They’ll get a doctor and a nurse, a social worker, a neuropsychologist, a physiotherapist, an occupational therapist, a speech therapist and other professionals – all in one place.

Patients will work with specialists in a whole range of areas. We will have an independent living lab where patients can learn how to modify their homes. We are building a gym for customized exercise, physiotherapy and high-tech gait analysis. We are establishing a nutrition clinic because what people eat matters.

“It is truly so exciting and well overdue to soon have the world-leading BARLO MS Centre right here in Toronto where so many frontline specialists will be working together with patients and the very important researchers to provide the very best and most current and personalized care,” says Lisa. “Having dealt with the many aspects and needs that MS patients face over the years – including seeking out help and advice from different specialists who are often in different locations – I know how significant this Centre is for patients like me. Thank you, Dr. Montalban, for bringing your truly brilliant vision and insights to Canada. And thank you to the Barford and Love families for enabling this to happen.” 

With Betsy’s help, we will do even more. We will become a world pioneer in research, treatment and care.

“Nobody talks about what it feels like to give,” says Betsy. “It feels like a constant hug. I hope I’m making Lou proud and doing what he would do if he were still with us.”

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