About Dr. Symington

The Kingston Whig-Standard
Wednesday, March 29, 1989

Thanks from 500 million people
Queen’s professor honored for work in rehabilitation

By Murray Hogben
Whig-Standard Staff Writer

Not many people receive a certificate of thanks from 500 million people. But when Jean Caine presented a framed certificate yesterday to Queen's University's Dr. David C. Symington, a world-class rehabilitation specialist and founder and first chairman of the Eastern Ontario Regional Rehabilitation Centre here, she said:  "It comes with thanks in more than 100 different languages from one tenth of the population of the world — that's over 500 million people — who actually are living better lives and whose prospects of equal opportunity are better because of your work."

For the past four years — until last November — Dr. Symington was chairman of Rehabilitation International's medical committee, and also a member of the World Health Organization (WHO) expert advisory panel on rehabilitation.

He is also a professor of medicine at Queen's and senior consultant in rehabilitation for the provincial Ministry of Community and Social Services.

Mrs. Caine, Oakville-based North American vice-president of Rehabilitation International, told the small gathering at the Queen's Faculty Club yesterday that Dr. Symington was "very unusual man."

"He is a practical visionary, and they're not very common in this world. He can throw out these great challenges to us," she said, "and tell us this is what we should be doing to improve rehabilitation progress and then dare us to grab at it and make something of these dreams."

Mrs. Caine added that he was "a tireless worker, a cockeyed optimist a lot of the time I may say, and just a person whom you couldn't help but admire and try to copy and, sometimes, to be perfectly honest, a rather uncomfortable conscience about the rehabilitation community."

Dr. Stuart Vanderwater, associate dean of medicine a at Queen's, also thanked Dr. Symington on behalf of Queen's Principal David Smith for his great contribution. Rehabilitation International, the organization giving Dr. Symington and the university the award, was founded in 1922 and works closely with a number of United Nations agencies.

Dr. Symington will continue to serve with Rehabilitation international as a past-president, and he has also been asked to continue on for another year with the World Health Organization.

Asked in an interview before the presentation about the most striking thing he experienced in his four years as head of the medical committee, he said it was "the magnitude of the problem and the desperate plight of many disabled people."

As an example, Dr. Symington recalled changing a traveller's cheque in Jamaica. Working in the office was an attractive young woman with a below-the-knee amputation walking around with both knees on the floor because she didn't have an artificial leg.

He saw many people with similar amputations using only crutches — no artificial limbs. And disabled people often have to beg because they can't work, he added. "The USSR has a very big problem with disability," he also said. "Their attitude has been that disabled people have no potential — nothing to offer."

So while the Soviet Union has a member in Rehabilitation International, his medical come mission has been working hard for four years to get the Soviet Union involved in the field, he said.

And as part of the movement for greater independence in the Soviet republic of Estonia, he said, there will be an international rehabilitation conference on children's disabilities there this coming August and about 200 Soviets are expected to attend

The World Health Organization is looking at ways of improving rehabilitation services around the world, he said, particularly in countries which are developing as opposed to the developed world.

However, he added; "What I have found is that many of the lessons we have learned in the developing world need to be applied here."

He said that northern Canada, the Newfoundland outports and the Queen Charlotte Islands off the British Columbia coast are more developing than developed, so much can be learned abroad and applied there.