Significant gift to the Jewish General Hospital Foundation from Ricky Black and Sophie Marquis will help to maintain a vital resource for patients of all ages with complex rheumatology disease

“Research nurse” might not sound like a vital position in the Rheumatology Division at the Jewish General Hospital. But it is.

While the nurse, Christine Bergeron, does contribute significantly to the world-leading research done at the hospital, she has also become a crucial resource for rheumatology patients, particularly those with the most complex or rare cases.

“We treat patients who are very ill and we can make them better, but we are often treating them for not just months but years and even decades,” said Dr. Laeora Berkson, Chief of Rheumatology at the JGH. “The nurse makes an enormous difference to assist in their care and simplify their lives.”


Nurse Christine Bergeron (left) and Dr. Laeora Berkson of the JGH Rheumatology Division

While the position has been in place for several years, its funding has always been precarious. “It’s been paid for from grant to grant, for six months or a year at a time. It was always a worry how we could continue to support it. When Ricky Black first called me, we just had four months of salary left.”

At that point, Montrealer Ricky Black was known to Dr. Berkson only because she and her team had been successfully treating Catherine, the daughter of his partner Sophie Marquis.

It’s easy to hear Dr. Berkson’s awe and enthusiasm as she recounts the call from Ricky Black.

“He said he wanted to make a donation to the JGH Foundation for rheumatology. I thanked him very much and thought that would be the end of the call. Then he asked, ‘Do you want to know how much?’ I was stunned! All of a sudden, my headache about funding our nurse disappeared. My head was spinning with the possibilities. I am so deeply grateful.”

The significant donation is being made over 10 years so the long-term future of the vital nursing position is now assured. If the health system eventually funds the nursing position, the gift to the Foundation will allow innovations to further improve care.

Dangerous rare condition inspires donation

The impetus for the donation began when Catherine, now 22, experienced severe fatigue and pain in her neck. When an ultrasound showed inflammation in her blood vessels, she was quickly taken to the JGH Emergency Department where she was first seen by Dr. Berkson. Ultimately, Catherine was diagnosed and successfully treated for a serious rare blood vessel inflammation similar to Takayasu’s arteritis.

“From the minute we were there, all the support given to us was incredible,” Catherine’s mother Sophie said. “When you deal with a situation like that, you really need to be reassured, and that’s what happened.”

Ricky knows the JGH well as he was born there. For the past 30 years he has successfully helped grow the Montreal-based metal products and recycling company founded by his grandfather. “Philanthropy is really important in our family,” Ricky said. “I felt that given my situation in life – my age, my experience and the fact that over the last number of years, the business has grown – it has put me in a position now to do something.”

That important “something” is to work through the JGH Foundation to provide new vital support and impetus to the JGH’s Rheumatology Division, an area of medicine that too often goes unrecognized for the crucial role it plays.

“There are many misconceptions about rheumatology, including that all our patients have gray hair,” said Dr. Berkson. “That’s not true. Catherine’s illness illustrates three things about rheumatology: some of our patients are young, some have rare conditions, and that they need expert and experienced care and support, including sometimes access to international experts. We provide all of that.”

Leading research in rheumatology

The Rheumatology Division is also a leader in research, which is headed by Dr. Marie Hudson and to which research nurse Christine Bergeron contributes significantly. Dr. Hudson is a leading Canadian researcher in scleroderma and other rheumatic diseases. Most recently, she has aligned her research program towards oncology, one of the strengths of the JGH. Her rheumato-oncology program is highly innovative and dependent on departmental resources including a research nurse. “I believe that in an academic institution, there should be a study for every patient,” said Dr. Hudson. “Christine makes that happen. Clinical care feeds science.”

“Donations to the Foundation such as the one from Ricky Black and Sophie Marquis help us attract and retain talented researchers such as Dr. Hudson,” said Dr. Berkson.

Months after that first fateful call about the donation to the JGH Foundation, Dr. Berkson is still wowed. “We put up a plaque to recognize the donation and I smile every time I see it. It came at just a remarkable time and inspires us all.”

To make a donation to the JGH Foundation, please go to: