Dr. David McCann

Dr. McCann cared for most vulnerable

  • August 24, 2011

There was never a time Dr. David McCann didn’t believe and never a time he didn’t know what he believed. Until he died Aug. 8 after a short battle with pancreatic cancer, the McMaster University associate professor of family medicine and expert in disaster relief operations only believed more and more — in God, his Church, his family and the inviolable sacredness of life.

The 50-year-old doctor leaves his wife Donna and five children.

He also leaves a sort of second family in the Florida One Disaster Medical Assistance Team. McCann was its chief medical officer despite having moved away from Georgia to Hamilton, Ont., in 2007.

A dual citizen, Dr. McCann had joined the emergency response team not long after working with survivors of the 9/11 terror attacks. He responded annually to hurricanes in the United States and to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

The Dalhousie University-trained doctor taught at Mercer University School of Medicine in Macon, Georgia, and at McMaster University’s Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine. He lectured on disaster medicine at NASA and universities across the United States and in 2010 picked up a graduate degree in public health from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. It was a remarkably high profile career for a staunchly pro-life Catholic doctor.

The medical establishment didn’t always welcome McCann’s certainty on ethical questions surrounding abortion, sterilization, contraception, stem cell research and other matters, said Donna McCann.

“There were times (in medical school) when he had difficulties with professors because of what they were doing and what he would or wouldn’t do,” she said.

Dr. McCann was never angry that other doctors disagreed.

“He was more sad than anything,” his wife said. “Despite his standing up for the truth it would always seem that the other side would win. But he just kept going because he knew that eventually right would win out.”

But Dr. McCann’s version of being a Catholic physician went beyond the negatives of procedures or prescriptions he refused. In his disaster work, he was positively engaged in extending life-saving medicine to the most vulnerable.

It all began with Sept. 11. He caught a train to New York City looking to help in any way he could. He ended up making medical assessments and delivering initial counselling to traumatized New Yorkers near Ground Zero. From that moment he was hooked on disaster work, said Donna.

His 2010 trip to Haiti with Florida One DMAT deepened his commitment to helping the most vulnerable.

Dr. McCann threw himself into disaster preparedness and emergency medicine from the moment he arrived in Hamilton. He became the steel city’s deputy incident manager for emergency management services, and helped reorganize emergency preparedness in Hamilton during the H1N1 virus scare of 2009. In June, Hamilton made Dr. McCann its honourary EMS chief, and Hamilton’s public health department will name its new emergency operations centre in his honour.

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