Paying it forward

Every month for the past 34 years, Patricia Nilsson has transferred a small amount from her bank account to St. Michael’s Hospital Foundation. And at Christmas time, if she has enough to spare, she gives a little extra.

“There are people who have millions of dollars and can contribute large amounts, and there are others that don’t have as much,” she says. But it adds up: “I’m thinking of ants when they build an ant hill – one grain of sand at a time.”

Patricia began giving even before St. Michael’s Hospital became a second home for her. Her family doctor was affiliated with the hospital and she remembers routine appointments during which medical teams put her at ease.

“I’ve always thought highly of St. Mike’s personnel,” she says. “They have this aura of confidence that always makes me feel better.”

Later, when her partner Barry Chapman was diagnosed with lung cancer, she got to know the hospital and its staff very well, including the oncologists and nurses who did everything they could to save him. She remembers the compassion they showed as they explained what to expect as he got sicker and sicker.

Barry died at home 31 years ago, but Patricia still keeps the note his nurses sent to let her know how much they had liked Barry and how sorry they were to hear of his passing.

All these years later, she’s still not sure if they knew that Barry would sometimes slip away from his hospital room to join former police colleagues at a bar on Yonge Street.

“Barry treated his confinement to a hospital room as a lark,” recalls Patricia. “Anytime he could get away with things, he did.”

After his death, Patricia packed up her car and drove to Florida, hoping to outrun her grief. She lived and worked in the state for more than a decade before coming back to Toronto about 10 years ago. 

While some days the pain of loss is just as sharp as it was when Barry died, Patricia says she needs to feel that she’s helping others.

“I decided a long time ago I wanted to leave something in my will to St. Mike’s, even though I don’t have a lot,” she says. “I feel better when I give to the community I live in.”

To speak with one of our staff about a planned gift to St. Michael’s, please contact Sandra Smith, Philanthropy Officer, Gift Planning, 416-864-6060 ext. 2044 or

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