Hospital honours doctor’s devotion to regional sexual assault centre

December 27th, 2012

KITCHENER — When St. Mary’s General Hospital opened a regional centre for sexual assault victims 20 years ago, the innovative approach was welcomed by Dr. Violet Shadd.

“It was such an improvement on the care we could offer to women, men and children, anyone who had been sexually assaulted,” Shadd said.

She joined the centre when it opened and stayed on through the decades as it expanded to include domestic violence victims and as it developed an expert team that provides specialized care, court testimony and community outreach and education.

Her dedication to the Waterloo Region Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Treatment Centre as its medical director has been honoured with the St. Mary’s Lackner Award for Medical Excellence. It is presented annually to a doctor who demonstrates excellence in patient care, innovation, compassion and commitment to the hospital’s mission and values.

The award is well deserved, said centre director Casey Cruikshank. “She has the passion and energy. “She’s very kind and she just knows her stuff.”

Shadd’s commitment comes from seeing how invaluable the centre is to the victims who come through its doors. In the past year, just over 400 people — 10 per cent of those children — came for support. That number rises a bit each year.

“It validates their concerns, which I think goes a long way to helping them heal from the trauma,” Shadd said.

A team made up of a nurse and social worker is always on call, arriving within 45 minutes when a person comes into the emergency department reporting an assault. People could be referred as well.

After being taken to the nearby centre, the specially trained nurse can examine the patient and collect forensic evidence.

Shadd comes in when the victim is a child because she has special expertise, and she has shared her knowledge in court and for investigations. The social worker offers counselling and can arrange for more in the community.

Patients may ask for evidence to be collected or police to be called, who can meet the victim at the centre where it’s comfortable. The centre — its current Queen Street location opened in 2009 — was designed to feel home-like with a sitting room that has comfortable chairs and decor.

Some victims ask about prophylactic medicine to prevent pregnancy and disease, including a drug to prevent HIV infection that became available within the past few years.

“They may just want to talk about it, be examined to make sure they’re OK,” Shadd said.

Regardless of the care people want, the goal is providing it in a safe and comforting environment.

“We need to be able to address these needs in a compassionate way,” Shadd said.

That’s a big change from the old way before the centre, when patients waited in emergency departments for a doctor to have time to do an examination. Sometimes that meant hours sitting in the busy waiting area or in a room with little privacy — all while coping with the aftermath of serious trauma.

“It was not the best way to treat them at all,” said Shadd, who treated many assault victims working in the Kitchener emergency departments.

When the centre first opened, there was a group of a dozen doctors who looked after victims. Then nurses began getting special training to be able to examine patients, collect evidence and testify in court, in consultation with a doctor when needed.

“It’s come a long way,” said Shadd, who’s 65.

Cruikshank said Shadd was integral in that growth.

“As the centre developed, she’s been a big part. We’ve always asked her for advice,” Cruikshank said. “We really will miss her.”

Shadd is retiring from the centre in a couple months, but she’ll continue with some medical care. She does medicals for Immigration Canada and volunteers around the world in medical clinics, including annual trips to Africa. Her husband died last year of cancer.

“I’m hoping to do more travelling and enjoy life,” Shadd said.

That travelling includes visiting her four grown children — living in Kitchener, Alberta, British Columbia and Australia — and her first grandchild, due to arrive in January.

“I can’t wait for that.”

Johanna Weidner, Waterloo Region Record