Public Health’s Eileen de Villa on medical leave

Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s public health chief and a key figure in the city’s fight against COVID-19, is stepping down until at least December 20 to undergo treatment aimed at eliminating precancerous cells.

De Villa revealed in a statement Tuesday that she will undergo surgery on Wednesday, but plans to return to lead Toronto’s 2,600-member public health team on December 20.

The bespectacled doctor, known for her trademark scarves and calm, reassuring demeanor, had a routine screening mammogram last summer “in line with current recommendations”, followed by tests that identified pre-cancerous cells.

“These cells need to be removed through surgery, which I have to undergo tomorrow,” she said. “Any further treatment will be determined after surgery.”

Dr. Na-Koshie Lamptey, deputy medical officer of health, will serve as the acting medical officer of health in his absence, leading the city’s pandemic response with Mayor John Tory and council. Joe Cressy, chair of the Toronto Public Health Board.

De Villa added that his story is “not unique”.

“Toronto women get news like this every day,” she wrote.

“I want you to know that I am receiving very good care and that public health in Toronto is in good hands…

“My message to Torontonians is simply this: Please take the time to participate in screening programs as recommended,” she wrote, adding, “I am grateful for taking the time to get tested as it makes me feel better. allowed for early detection and treatment.

Cressy, the chair of public health who has been leading the city’s pandemic response with the mayor since March 2020, said in an interview that “it’s in classic Dr. de Villa fashion that by sharing his own story, she used it as a teaching moment for Torontonians, and women in particular, to screen early. Even while undergoing her own medical procedure, she acts as the people’s doctor.

Cressy paid tribute to de Villa’s extensive efforts to keep Torontonians safe and healthy.

“There are more than 2,600 public health workers in Toronto who have been working day and night under relentless pressure, with the emotional weight of the city on their shoulders, for almost two years in a row – and no more than Dr. Villa,” Cressy mentioned.

“There is a heavy toll this pandemic has taken on public health in Toronto and Eileen has been our rock.”

Tory said in a statement that he has no doubt de Villa will make “a speedy recovery and I look forward to continuing to work with her upon her return…

“His professionalism and poise have been key to Toronto’s progress in the fight against COVID-19.”

In his absence, Tory said he looked forward to working with Lamptey, who updated the health board on Monday on the latest COVID-19 situation.

De Villa also attended the meeting on Monday and answered questions about the city’s vaccination efforts and other aspects of the pandemic response.

Others responding to the news understood the challenge she faced.

“I send my best wishes to Dr (Eileen de Villa) for a successful operation tomorrow and a speedy recovery,” the adviser wrote. Jaye Robinson (Ward 15 Don Valley West), who underwent treatment for breast cancer after being diagnosed in 2019.

Others highlighted the importance of de Villa’s message on testing.

Dr. Aisha Lofters, a physician and researcher at Women’s College Hospital and provincial primary care lead for cancer screening at Ontario Health, said family physicians know many people have fallen behind in their cancer screening tests. , including tests for cervical cancer, breast cancer and colorectal cancers.

“Part of that is because the system shut down – and appropriately – last year. We’re still catching up with that,” Lofters said, adding that it’s time to stop delaying routine testing.

“You can only put things on hold for so long before it becomes a problem, and there are people who are way behind and we know screening is an effective way to catch cancers early.

“We don’t want to create a whole new epidemic of chronic diseases and cancers that are delayed in diagnosis.”

Kimberly Carson, CEO of the Breast Cancer Society of Canada, said there has been a measurable drop in routine mammograms due to the pandemic, although the extent of the drop is not yet known.

“Our message to Eileen is that she did everything right,” Carson said. “She took care of her health, she caught it early; she followed her doctor’s advice. And the Breast Cancer Society of Canada certainly supports early detection. Early detection saves lives.

David Rider is Star’s City Hall Bureau Chief and a reporter covering City Hall and municipal politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider
Jennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto-based journalist who covers city hall and municipal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @jpags
Francine Kopun is a Toronto-based journalist who covers city hall and municipal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @KopunF

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