Mentoring Eternal Optimism: Dr. Ehor William Gauk

Mentoring Eternal Optimism: Dr. Ehor William Gauk was produced in collaboration between the Alberta Local and International Education Association (ALIEA), Ukrainian Resource and Development Centre (URDC) at MacEwan University, and Shadow Light Productions Ltd in the spring of 2022. The film celebrates Dr. Gauk’s remarkable career in the field of pediatric neurology, leadership in Medical Project Osvita, dedication to Ukraine, and bright, colourful personality through stories shared by his family, friends, and colleagues.

The Gauk Residence in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan

Dr. Gauk was born on the shores of Wakaw Lake, Saskatchewan to William and Mary (nee Bayer) Gauk. He was preceded by his brother, Orest, and followed by his sister Gloria. The family moved around Saskatchewan living in the predominantly Ukrainian community of Yellow Creek before moving to Prince Albert. His childhood was full of experiences that illustrate life for a Ukrainian family on the Canadian prairies, including playing in snow drifts, working for the family cordwood and ice businesses, welcoming family from Ukraine displaced after World War II, and playing music.

Dr. Ehor William Gauk as a medical student at the University of Manitoba

When Dr. Gauk was four years old, he remembers meeting the local physician Dr. Michael Savitsky as he was receiving his annual immunizations. This experience triggered Dr. Gauk’s fascination with medicine and inspired him to pursue medical school later in life. Dr. Savitsky acted as a great mentor fostering Dr. Gauk’s curiosity and he even allowed a teenage Dr. Gauk to assist him with some medical procedures.

In 1954, Dr. Gauk began his life-long journey in medicine and began his studies in Medical School at the University of Manitoba. Right after he convocated in 1958, he joined the first official Canadian student delegation to the Soviet Union and travelled all around the former Eastern Bloc countries. Upon his return, he accepted an internship at University Hospital in Edmonton where he developed an interest in neurology and pediatrics. Over the next four years, he spent time in the Air Force as a physician with the Search and Rescue Squadron in Cold Lake to make additional income and interned at Children’s Memorial Hospital, Chicago, Hospital for Sick Kids, Toronto, and the National Hospital at Queen Square, London England.

Dr. Ehor William Gauk Headshot

In 1964, Dr. Gauk began working at the Baker Clinic at the University of Alberta where he found that his colleagues in pediatrics were happy to give him his patients with neurological conditions—his appointment books were quickly full. At this time, pediatric neurology was only emerging as a field. Dr. Gauk was the only pediatric neurologist on the prairies, one of only five in Canada, and was soon recognized as a founder in the field. Later, he would rise to the position of professor, attended several conferences, and brought many visiting scholars to the University of Alberta Medical School to give presentations. Over the course of his career, he both taught and consulted, both locally and internationally in Harbin, China and in Uganda. Thanks to his friendly nature (and a little bit of candy), he claimed that there wasn’t a child he couldn’t examine.

Dr. Ehor William Gauk, Orest Gauk, Bill Dymianiw, and Dan Reinbold with medical supplies for Medical Project Osvita

Dr. Ehor William Gauk and Dan Reinbold transporting medical supplies for Medical Project Osvita

Medical Project Osvita

Medical Project Osvita constitutes one of the most significant achievements in Dr. Gauk’s medical career. Dr. Gauk became involved in Medical Project Osvita through the initiatives of his colleagues Dr. Ernie McCoy and Dr. Claire Moisey. Dr. Moisey had been hired by Green Peace to help children affected by the Chornobyl nuclear disaster that occurred in 1986 and asked Dr. McCoy to join him as a consultant. The two began work on the project in 1991 and a year later, invited Dr. Gauk to join the team. Once the Medical Project Osvita team began working in Ukraine, it became apparent that investments in child and maternal health were of utmost priority. The team shifted their focus after severing ties with Green Peace and launched Medical Project Osvita—meaning education—under Dr. Gauk’s leadership to facilitate exchanges between Canadian and Ukrainian physicians and in the process improve the standard of medical care available in Ukraine.

The project was run from the University of Alberta from 1991-1997 and was funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and donations from the Ukrainian diaspora. It was one of many international development projects taking place in newly independent Ukraine with capital investment by Western government and professional investment by members of the Ukrainian diaspora and their colleagues. The project was structured for Canadian physicians to volunteer their time to go to Ukraine for two weeks to work with their Ukrainian counterparts while creating the opportunity for Ukrainian physicians to come to Canada for four months to work with Canadian physicians at the University of Alberta. Medical Project Osvita also facilitated advancement to laboratory technology, the creation of an updated library including textbooks, medical journals, and internet, and pathways for senior health care officials to travel to Canada. All together, 103 Canadian physicians travelled to Ukraine, 87 maternal-child health doctors traveled to Canada, and 27 senior Ukrainian administrative personnel became familiar with the Canadian healthcare system.

Dr. Gauk travelled to Ukraine around 20 times throughout his career with Medical Project Osvita and developed warm and live-long friendships with his many colleagues. Dr. Gauk has the magical ability to make strangers feel welcome and comfortable, and this quality allowed him to collaborate and build professional relationships with people from very diverse backgrounds. He considers many of the young doctors who he met along the way as sons and daughters, and they in turn see him as a father.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Gauk decided to stay busy by chronicling the story of Medical Project Osvita. He concluded that he could not tell this story without including the voices of his colleagues; therefore, he began writing emails and making phone calls asking those who took part in Medical Project Osvita to send him their recollections. The result is a forthcoming publication of The Medical Project Osvita Memoirs exploring various facets of this story from those who lived it. Collecting these stories was also an opportunity for Dr. Gauk to re-establish contact with his friends and colleagues—a very important activity for an individual who thrives on social activity.