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$1M donation to Paul Sugar Foundation

Gift in honour of late wife enables opening of end-of-life support centre

Newly terminally ill North Shore residents and their loved ones will now have a non-clinical place to go for emotional support thanks to a $1-million donation from a West Vancouver man who is paying it forward.

Denis Creighton was well aware of how Dr. Paul Sugar has a special way with the dying, long before his wife Joanie became sick with leukemia.

Sugar was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for his outstanding medical service in the field of palliative care and dedication to the North

Shore community for three decades. So when the time came in the spring of 2010, Creighton knew who to call.

“He (Paul) was just everything,” said Creighton. “He had a hell of a sense of humour. You could talk to him about medical politics, which I kind of enjoy. He was there.”

Creighton spoke to The News Wednesday from his bed at Lions Gate Hospital where the 85-year-old former lawyer is recovering from a bout of pneumonia. In May,

Creighton donated $1-million from the sale of his $5-million British Properties home to the Paul Sugar Palliative Support Foundation, in memory of Joanie.

Married just shy of 49 years, the couple was set up in San Francisco by mutual friends. Creighton recalls tracing up many stairs on a rainy night to Joanie’s penthouse apartment.

“I liked her,” said Creighton, of the moment he first saw Joanie.

They were married within the year and settled in West Vancouver soon after. The Creightons, who shared a mutual interest in theatre, music and socializing with friends, made many memories in the same home for close to 40 years. The couple actively volunteered and sat on the police and library boards in West Vancouver, among others.

“Our life was absolutely delightful,” said Creighton.

Joanie first became sick in 1999 with breast cancer, which later went into remission. “And then, dammit, in 2010 it came back again,” said Creighton.

May 13, 2010 was a “very unusual” day for Creighton. He entered the palliative care ward at Lions Gate to visit Joanie, and Sugar happened to be standing out front. “And he said, ‘Denis, I think this might be the day,’” recalled Creighton.

Sugar comforted Creighton as they walked down the hall together to Joanie’s room. Her laboured breathing almost sounded like snoring, recalled Creighton. “Paul said only one thing, he said ‘Joan’ quite loud. And nothing happened,” said Creighton. At that moment Creighton was the most lost he had ever been in his life. “To me, Joanie was my rock. She was just everything to me,” Creighton said.

After wandering around aimlessly for a couple hours Creighton returned to the room and saw a nurse gently placing a stethoscope over Joanie’s heart.

“And I said to the nurse, ‘Is she gone?’ The nurse took a couple seconds and she said ‘yes,’” said Creighton softly.

The memory of that day is all too poignant for Creighton, who today rests in his bed on the same floor but in the opposite wing. Creighton, who has no children, said he didn’t hesitate when he made the generous donation to the Paul Sugar Foundation.

“I thought, God I’ve got this money, I’m never going to use it all,” said Creighton. “Suddenly it just appeared: give Paul Sugar a million bucks.”  

Foundation president and co-founder Dr. Marylene Kyriazis said it was almost too good to be true when they got Creighton’s call.

The foundation was established a year ago with a mandate to fill the void between medical and emotional support for palliative patients and their families, while easing some of the financial burden. Support ranges from sourcing medical equipment to providing accommodation or transportation for patients or visiting family, but most importantly making all those going through the palliative process feel comfortable.

Creighton’s donation is the foundation’s largest to date — thereby enabling the Centre for Palliative Support to open its doors on Oct. 1 in Delbrook Plaza.

“It’s going to be huge help for us moving forward and will have a big impact for the whole North Shore community because they will need these services one day or at multiple points in their lives,” said Kyriazis.

The 1,000-square-foot centre will be a resource for palliative patients and their caregivers and is meant to be accessed at the start of a terminal prognosis, which can be a confusing and frightening time. At the centre, clients can connect with other people going through the same journey and lean on volunteers and counsellors for support.

“In order to help them get through every day with life when they know they are facing death,” said Kyriazis.