B.C. philanthropist Stephen Sander was on hand October 17 for the official opening of the South Shore Regional Hospital's new minimal invasive surgery (MIS) suite that he and his family helped pay for. Sander's original pledge of $1.2 million to the Town of Bridgewater enabled the new suite at the hospital.
"This moment has been a long time in coming, but it has come. And I'm so proud that I am here with all of you wonderful people," Sander, 86, told a small gathering at the Bridgewater hospital. Eight other members of the Sander family attended, as did hospital officials and members of the media.
Shortly afterward, Sander broke into an improvised song, chanting, "My home town is Bridgewater."
Born in India, in what is now Pakistan, Sander immigrated to Canada in the early 1960s, and was hired as a physical education teacher at the former Bridgewater Elementary School (BES).
In time, he left Nova Scotia and became a Vancouver real estate mogul. But he never forgot the encouragement and support he received from the people of the town Bridgewater, which he describes as his "second birth place."
Sander's company, Hollyburn Properties, named one of its flagship residential towers, The Bridgewater.
Sander recalled telling family members that if it wasn't for Bridgewater, he "'wouldn't be here.' It's true. I would be dead, long gone some where, cremated in India some place."
With his granddaughter, Lexy Bannister, standing beside him holding his arm, Sander described some of the highlights of his life that took him from being a school teacher to founder of a multi-million dollar property company. And he spoke of the importance of giving back to those who help one in life.
"The point is, if somebody gives you something. You've got to give three times as much. You ought to," insisted Sander.
Sander and his family contributed $1 million toward the hospital's $1.4 million MIS suite project, and $200,000 toward a playground for the current Bridgewater Elementary School. The Sander family have made similar contributions to hospitals in British Columbia.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Arleen Stevens said it's "not every day we're able to celebrate philanthropy of this calibre."
Stevens is the executive director of the Health Services Foundation of the South Shore, and she described the "perfect storm" that helped bring the new suite about. South Shore medical staff knew there was a need for an MIS suite, while "Mr. Sander wanted to make a gift to say thank you to the Town of Bridgewater, which played a milestone role of his life in Canada. He wanted to make an investment in our town.
"In fact, it was the talk of the town once he reached out to LighthouseNOW," said Stevens.
In October, 2017, Sander called LighthouseNOW from Vancouver and declared to the newspaper, "I would like to donate some money ... So I thought first of all tell you, and you can spread the word."
In time, that call would be followed up by one to Stevens from Sander's daughter, Karen, asking how their family could give to health care.
In his remark at the ceremony, Rob Zwicker, director of Nova Scotia Health Services for the Western Zone, told the Sander family they are helping to change health care in Bridgewater. "And we can't thank you enough."
According to Zwicker, since the hospital was able to do its first operation in the suite on April 28, there have been 158 laparoscopic surgeries on patients.
"So that's 158 surgeries that have meant minimal invasive cuts for our patients. We've reduced the incision sizes. It's meant more ergonomically-friendly equipment for our surgeons and our staff. And, you know, it will act as a recruiting tool. There's so many positives with this," said Zwicker.
Karen Sander told the gathering, "What you guys have done is truly remarkable, and I can see sparkles in so many eyes, like we saw in the playground yesterday with the children. We see the same sparkle in the eyes here. How wonderful it is for you guys to have this new equipment."
Sander's daughter said the ribbon-cutting opening ceremony wasn't just a celebration for their family. "It's a celebration for a whole community. It's a story that is truly remarkable, and it belongs to all of us," she said.