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A fighting chance

A generous bequest will give medicine and nursing students a fighting chance at success in the field of health care

by Krista Habermehl, MA'05 | November 24, 2014

Dr. H. Leonard Sussman and Mrs. Pam Sussman are supporting medicine and nursing students who are dedicated, determined and disciplined.

It was 1948 and Dr. H. Leonard Sussman, a practising neurologist and psychiatrist, was officiating a championship boxing match between two young students from his former senior school, Christian Brothers College, in Kimberley, South Africa.

Although Dr. Sussman had judged many such matches before, on this particular occasion he was struck by the fact that a rather inexperienced fighter was paired with a very skilled boxer. While the skilled boxer had all the right moves, it was the amateur – who made up for his lack of ability with strength of character, determination and sheer nerve – that caught his eye.

“Every time the fine boxer knocked this little punk down, he got right back up and said ‘hit me again’,” says Dr. Sussman. “Eventually, the fine boxer won the trophy, but it made me want to recognize the man who gave of his best, tried his darnedest, but never won a thing.”

And so, in honour of that spirit, he created a trophy specifically for the boxer who tried and tried and tried – but never won a championship.

In the same vein, Dr. Sussman, who retired at the age of 91 after a 69-year long career in neurology and psychiatry, and his wife Mrs. Pam Sussman, have made a bequest to Western to support students who demonstrate similar characteristics: dedication, determination and discipline.

Once realized, the bequest will provide for two continuing student awards – one in medicine and one in nursing – which will support students facing financial hardships.

“We felt the medicine award would give a student who would like to practice medicine the opportunity to do so,” says Mrs. Sussman. “I find it unconscionable that a student could go through basic medical training only to face an enormous amount of debt.”

In addition, the Sussmans felt it was equally important to support a nursing student because of the integral role nurses play, with doctors, in health care.

Dr. Sussman’s own mother was a nurse in WWI with St. John Ambulance and he sings the praises of the nurses he’s had the good fortune of working with throughout his lengthy career.

As with the medicine award, the Sussmans would like the nursing student award recipient to be determined and dedicated in the pursuit of their degree, in spite of financial hardships.

According to Western’s Dean of Health Sciences, Jim Weese, investing in nursing education in this way is a direct investment in the quality of health care in Canada.

“Gifts like these help us build upon our foundation of excellence and allow us to attract, support and inspire the best and brightest students,” he says.

The Sussmans firmly believe that a career in medicine is a lifetime commitment – not just a job – and that it takes a certain type of person to truly make a difference in the lives of their patients. It is their hope that this bequest will support those fighters who, much like the underdog boxer, may get knocked down, but never, ever give up on their dreams.

And what happened to that boxer? Dr. Sussman had the occasion to cross paths with the young man 10 years after the pivotal boxing match. Although he didn’t win any boxing matches, he went on to become a doctor. He had this to say to Dr. Sussman: “You changed my life. For the first time, someone realized that you can’t always be the winner, but you can give of your best in every respect.”

Editor's note: Dr. H. Leonard Sussman passed away in December 2014, shortly after the publication of this article.

This article appeared in the Winter 2014 edition of Impact Western
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