I heard the sad news today about the passing of Dr. Cy Frank. Cy was President and CEO of Alberta Innovates–Health Solutions and a proud alumnus (MD’76) of the University of Calgary. This is a great loss. The news is particularly tragic since Cy was relatively young and full of energy and bright ideas. He was at the peak of his career – a career on the world stage as a clinician-scientist. He was passionate about innovation in technology as well as in health care systems.
I only met Cy a few times. Each time I did, he impressed me as a kind, brilliant and inspiring professional. I did participate in Cy’s 2002 induction as a Distinguished Alumnus of the University of Calgary – it was an honour for me to do so.
Since I didn’t know Cy well, I asked a colleague, Dr. Douglas Hamilton of the Cumming School of Medicine, to reflect and write a few words about his personal friendship with Cy. This is how Doug remembers Cy:
I met Cy in 1983. I had just finished my Masters in Engineering degree at the University of Alberta and had been hired to install all the mainframe computers in the University of Calgary’s medical research building as well as in parts of Foothills Hospital. Five computer terminals were to be installed in the lab of Dr. Cy Frank. I was pulling wires up above the ceiling tiles of Cy’s lab when I heard his voice, “I didn’t know the mice in this building spoke English”.
Cy took me for coffee and our friendship started. I told him I was interested in a biomedical engineering career and we spoke many times about how engineering could help medicine. One day he said, “Just become a medical doctor… we need engineer-clinicians”.
Consequently, Cy wrote many letters of reference for me and I was finally accepted in 1988 at the University of Calgary and began an MD/PhD program. He also wrote a letter of reference for me when I applied to the Canadian Astronaut program in 1992.
Cy Frank performed an orthoscopy on my right knee in 1993. I was given a spinal anesthetic since I wanted to watch the procedure. Cy was fine with that as he was going to use a new laser orthoscope that day. Unfortunately it wouldn’t turn on. Frustrated, he said, “Hami, fix it!” I was unfortunately numb to my nipples but Cy turned the laser unit around so that I could see it. When he opened the access panel I immediately saw that the safety interlock switch was broken.
Over the next 15 minutes I directed Cy how to bypass the switch with a paperclip and hemostats. He was so proud to have performed the surgery using a laser!
Over the decades Cy and I often discussed the challenges facing the Alberta medical system. I finished my fellowship in Internal Medicine and saw an employment opportunity to work as a flight surgeon for NASA in Houston, TX and Cape Canaveral, FL. Cy again wrote an excellent reference letter for me.
I moved my family down to Houston for 13 years but remained in touch with Cy. In 2011 he heard that my family and I were considering a return to Canada. Cy sent a very passionate email asking me to come back to the University of Calgary and get involved with the department of biomedical engineering and the Alberta health care system. When Cy took over Alberta Innovates-Health Solutions it was clear that he intended to use it as an instrument of change for Alberta Health. He had a unique vision for it that was unfortunately cut short.
Dr. Cy Frank was a friend, colleague, mentor, role model, world-class researcher and clinician but, more importantly, he was a kind, quiet gentleman who always smiled and always looked for the goodness in a person. We will miss him greatly.
“Friendship is the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person having neither to weigh thoughts or measure words, but pouring all right out just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful friendly hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping and, with a breath of comfort, blow the rest away.” – George Eliot
Goodbye my friend. Until we meet again.