The only child of refugee parents who survived World War II, Dr. Arthur Slutsky knew he was lucky to be Canadian. “My mother, whose university education was halted by war, always said Canada was the best country in the world. She never stopped saying that.”
We can only imagine what her reaction would have been had she seen her son receive the Order of Canada, the nation’s highest honour for extraordinary contributions.
“I was in shock really,” said Dr. Slutsky. “My mother died a few years ago at 95. When I think of what she would say if she were here, I think it would be something like, ‘I guess he did alright then.’”
Dr. Slutsky’s big, booming laugh fills the sunny room.
He’s a world-renowned researcher, famed for his work in mechanical ventilation. Patients all over the world owe a debt to the infectiously curious physician who wanted to know why helping people breathe with a ventilator could sometimes lead to their death.
Dr. Slutsky’s research helped uncover the reasons underlying ventilator-induced injury, leading to the development of new therapies for patients with respiratory failure. The discovery of a new type of lung injury – which Dr. Slutsky’s team named biotrauma – opened up a new field of investigation for researchers around the world.
In a nutshell, he found that the physical stress of mechanical ventilation can cause the lung to release various mediators. These mediators can damage the lung, but even more importantly, can enter the circulation system and damage other organs, eventually leading to the death of a patient.
His work has been published in more than 500 peer-reviewed articles and has been cited more than 70,000 times.
But the path to medical greatness wasn’t a straight line.
Like many immigrants who know first-hand how quickly life can change, Dr. Slutsky’s parents wanted him to choose a career he could do no matter where he ended up. “My mom wanted me to be a doctor but when I saw the Grant’s Atlas of Anatomy, it was this giant tome with stick figure drawings and endless lines of Latin. I knew medicine was not for me!”
A great math student, Dr. Slutsky earned engineering degrees at the University of Toronto. But he soon realized medicine wasn’t such a crazy idea after all. Not long after, he found himself at McMaster University’s Medical School where he became intrigued with respiratory medicine. “It was an exciting time at the medical school. They were focused on critical thinking and high-level problem solving which I found really interesting,” he remembers. “But even better you didn’t need anatomy classes and there were no exams!”
A career in medicine was born. And what a career it has been.
“As a doctor, you have an impact on the patients you care for – thousands of patients over a career,” Dr. Slutsky said. “But as a researcher, your problem solving and ideas have the potential to impact millions of people.”
And he has.
By any measure, Dr. Slutsky’s contribution to medicine and patient care has been extraordinary. But a mother never forgets. “I’d become somewhat successful in my career and my mother would still insist I wasted all that time focused on math. I would tell her ‘Mom, the math helped me become a doctor and a researcher!’ But she didn’t seem to believe it.”
The Arthur S. Slutsky Scholar in Residence (SIR) Program.
In honour of Dr. Slutsky’s exceptional contributions to research at St. Michael’s Hospital, an internationally renowned scientist will have the opportunity for a one-year residence at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute.
Supported by this program, visiting scientists will provide research consultancy, mentorship and expertise to its scientists, staff members and trainees with the goal of advancing the research productivity of the Institute and reinforcing its reputation as a research powerhouse.
To give to this fund, contact Erin Baier at BaierE@smh.ca