Unity Health Toronto is receiving a large shipment of donated PPE from China

By Selma Al-Samarrai

A portion of the shipment is photographed here in St. Michael’s Hospital. (Photo: Dayna McDowell)

(April 20, 2020) – Unity Health Toronto is currently on the receiving end of a large donation of personal protective equipment (PPE) in what can only be described as a reciprocation of international solidarity.

The first part of this exchange occurred when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Wuhan, China hard earlier this year. Dr. Lee Errett, former Chief of Cardiovascular Surgery at St. Michael’s Hospital, knew he had to do something to help.

As a member of University of Toronto’s Global Surgery team and President of the Bethune Medical Development Association of Canada (BDMAC), a Canadian-based non-profit organization that initiates international cooperation in medical research and care, Dr. Errett started fundraising for medical supplies through WeChat, a widely popular messaging platform in China.

Within 11 days, his organization had fundraised $250,000. Global Surgery quickly assessed what was needed in Wuhan, and with these funds, three ECMO machines were purchased in Toronto along with numerous PPE in China. The ECMO machines, along with 20,000 N95 masks that Dr. Errett had personally donated, were delivered free from Toronto to Beijing thanks to Hainan Airlines. ECMO machines pump blood outside the body for oxygenation, allowing the lungs to rest and recover.

“We have been doing medical missions in over 160 cities in China for more than 20 years,” said Dr. Errett, now the George Robert Swan Chair in Global Surgery and a Professor of Surgery at the University of Toronto.

“When this catastrophe hit, we felt a gesture was needed. The N95 masks were for the frontline workers and the ECMO device were for the desperately ill patients. ECMO is used far more commonly in China with a 50 per cent success rate for patients left with no other options.”

Now that the COVID-19 pandemic precautions have reached Canada, Global Surgery was recently informed that their generous gesture was coming back. The Bank of China, the Chinese Government and other companies came together to donate an immense amount of PPE back to Global Surgery and BMDAC for Dr. Errett to distribute to Toronto hospitals. The shipment included 10,000 medical masks, 10,000 protective gowns, 10,000 latex gloves, 10,000 pairs of goggles and 50,000 respirator masks and much more on the way.

Dr. Errett with his Global Surgery colleagues decided to split the donated PPE between Unity Health Toronto, University Health Network and Michael Garron Hospital.

He said he picked Unity Health because of his history with St. Michael’s Hospital, where he still has privileges, and because he’s familiar with the intensive care units and the amount of good work that goes on inside them.

It was a donation gratefully received by Unity Health.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, ensuring our staff and physicians are adequately protected as they care for our patients is our number one priority,” said Dr. Tim Rutledge, President and CEO of Unity Health Toronto.

“Not only will this incredibly generous donation from Dr. Errett, Global Surgery and the BDMAC help us do that, but this kind of thoughtfulness shows that we really are all in this together.”

Dr. Errett said he never expected this type of response when he first offered to fundraise – he just wanted to help where he could.

“I think this really demonstrates both the value of friendship and what happens when you give without expecting anything back in response.”

All PPE and equipment donations are reviewed by the appropriate teams to confirm that they meet the hospitals’ specific clinical standards.