Farzeen Foda

Senior News Editor


On Feb. 6, McMaster University welcomed a $30-million gift on behalf of the Marta and Owen Boris Foundation in support of stem cell research and better access to specialty health care.

Owen Boris was the founder of Mountain Cablevision, one of the few cable suppliers to the Hamilton Mountain area. With a firm belief in the betterment of the healthcare system, The Boris Family took it upon themselves to fuel some of the change that could revolutionize healthcare in Hamilton, shedding new light on healthcare standards across Canada.

The potential of stem cell research, a burgeoning area of biological science, was of considerable interest to Boris, and upon discussions with McMaster University, was confident that an investment in McMaster’s reputable Stem Cell Research Institute could bring healthcare one step closer to the change in healthcare he envisioned.

$24 million of the donation will go toward the establishment of the Boris Family Centre in Human Stem Cell Therapies, in conjunction with McMaster’s Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute.

The new centre will strive to translate the breakthrough research of the Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute into improved patient outcomes for debilitating diseases such as “leukemia and Parkinson’s disease, to name but a few,” said Jackie Work, daughter of Owen and Marta Boris.

Work, along with her brother Les Boris, announced the gift to an awestruck assembly of prominent members of the McMaster community.

The remaining six million dollars of the generous gift will support a “One Stop Shop specialty clinic,” to be located on the fourth floor of the McMaster University Medical Centre, comparable to the Mayo Clinic in the United States, noted Work.

The clinic “will bring together, in one place, a wide range of medical and healthcare professionals, reducing or eliminating wait times for specialty appointments and tests such as MRI’s  and provide coordinated and managed care for patients with complex medical issues,” she said.

Some of the funds will also support the establishment of two senior chairs. One in blood stem cells and the other in neural stem cells, as well as fellowships and technician positions.

Access to specialist attention is heavily hindered by long wait times, often prolonging life-saving treatment, an experience to which the Boris Family can certainly attest, “both of our parents had some vexing health issues and found themselves frustrated with the medical system,” said Work during her captivating speech.

She further explained, “that experience drove them, Dad in particular, to find a way to implement a more efficient and faster way to manage patient care,” referring to Boris’ desire to effect change in healthcare.

On April 9, 2011,  soon after discussions were underway between Boris and the University, Owen Boris passed away suddenly, leaving in his memory a philanthropic legacy that his family resolved to maintain in his honour.

The family impact of inadequate healthcare does not stop at Marta and Owen Boris. Their youngest son, Peter, passed away at the age of 43 after years of battling an alcohol addiction.

Soon after the passing of their younger brother and father, Jackie Work and Les Boris worked to continue the discussions around  their father’s vision through the Marta and Owen Boris Foundation.

Driven by the loss of their brother, the Marta and Owen Boris Foundation donated  six million dollars to St. Joseph’s Hospital to fund addiction research in May 2011. Later that year, in December, they donated five million dollars in support of an advanced surgical robot.

Upon outlining the challenges currently facing access to healthcare, Work explained the motivation behind the gift, in line with her father’s vision. “It is our hope that this will become the new model and standard for patient care, not only in Hamilton but across the country,” said Work.

Those in attendance at the  event held in the Jan and Mien Heersink Reading Pavillion in McMaster’s Health Sciences Library included other prominent philanthropists that have made their mark on McMaster University through their outstanding donations, such as Senator David Braley, and Michael G. DeGroote.

Braley, who donated $50 million to McMaster’s medical school shared insightful words of a true businessman, explaining that he does not simply donate, but makes investments, a sentiment shared by the Boris Family as the decision to contribute to McMaster came as an acknowledgement of the immense potential resting within the University.


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