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As you wait in the patient room of Dr. Andrew Simone’s Toronto-based dermatology practice, you can’t help but feel a sense of anticipation. It has been months, years, or even decades since you began suffering that par- ticular skin condition, and yet many months remain from a dermatolo- gist referral had this walk-in clinic not existed. The patient room walls highlight Dr. Simone’s many accomplishments and achievements. A handwritten letter from Mother Teresa, images of impoverished children supported by the doctor’s charity, and various photographs of athletic triumphs in elite competitions. The sense that this doc- tor is the stereotypical embodiment of a prodigy, a truly exceptional and privileged individual from his youth, is however, broken by the audiology report posted centre stage on the wall detailing his deafness. It becomes quickly apparent that he is not the product of ideal circumstances and talent but rather an underdog who defied the odds to become an exemplar of hope and resilience.

broken image

Dr. Andrew Simone, founder of Canadian Food For Children

It was in Dr. Simone’s second year of medical school that he finally sought out a specialist’s opinion who con- firmed that he was, in fact, going deaf. The specialist told him to quit medicine since he “couldn’t use a stethoscope, talk to patients, or even answer the phone.” This would have been a difficult position for anyone, but especially for Dr. Simone who had married the love of his life, Joan Simone, earlier that year and the cou- ple were expecting a child. “I had no choice but to push on, I had a family to support,” as Dr. Simone outlined his decision to continue pursuing medicine in spite of the hearing specialist’s opinion. He was given clunky hearing aids to wear and had to sit in the front row from where he asked questions that sounded illogical or repeated those already asked because he could not hear. “I developed anxiety and depression during this time,” states Dr. Simone, throwing himself into his work to deal with the mounting pressure.

Despite his diagnosis of deafness, Dr. Simone worked his way to tying for first place in his program that same year. Unfortunately, not all of his classmates were supportive of the underdog. Yet, Dr. Simone never let negativity slow him down. The inspirational work ethic would carry on throughout the MD program as he graduated second in his class and won the prestigious Medal of Medicine award, all while having two sons before graduating. Still, the hearing loss would continue to shape how the newly minted doc- tor could practice medicine, unable to become a family physician as he originally dreamt of. The Dean of Medicine recommended pursuing training in dermatology instead. The field would require minimal reliance on hearing, as Dr. Simone explains that “99% of diagnosis can be made just by looking.” He com- pleted his residency at Harvard Medical School under the direct instruction of Dr. Thomas B. Fitzpatrick, who many consider to be the father of modern dermatology. Undeterred by the advice early on to give up because of his disability, Dr. Simone is celebrating his 55th year of practice. Dr. Simone has treated countless patients at his walk-in clinic, a practice designed to serve those who cannot access traditional dermatologists because of the lengthy wait times or the lack of a family doctor to initiate referrals.

The same resilience that makes Dr. Simone such a remarkable physician also makes him an exceptional ath- lete. The high schooler who was too short for sports has since completed four Ironman Triathlons and ran the Boston Marathon twice, continuing to complete routine 10K runs and swimming competitively. Yet, Dr. Simone’s greatest accomplishment is his ongoing humanitarian work, which starts at his accessibility-ori- ented clinic. Every Saturday, he and his staff begin seeing patients at 4:00 AM to accommodate disadvantaged individuals unable to take off work during traditional clinic hours. All the proceeds are donated to the Ca- nadian Food For Children (CFFC) organization, a charity he found- ed with his wife, Joan. Becoming an official charity in 1985 with the direct approval of Mother Teresa, CFFC sends food to the poor in more than 20 developing nations, including El Salvador, Uganda, and Sierra Leone. Such selfless com- mitment to those in need is echoed in the numerous recognitions Dr. Simone has received. For their humanitarian work, Andrew and Joan Simone were inducted into the Order of Canada, in addition to Dr. Simone receiving the Royal College’s Teasdale-Corti Humanitarian Award, Papal Cross, and Doctorate of Sacred Letters, to name a few.

“Dr. Simone’s story is one of hope and resilience, embedded with lessons that each of us can reflect upon when facing our own challenging times.”

Dr. Simone’s story is one of hope and resilience, embedded with les- sons that each of us can reflect upon when facing our own challenging times. He did not give up when others told him to quit, instead fo- cusing on the people who mattered most to him to become a top performer in medical school. He now views his deafness as a gift rather than a disability, reflecting back on a conversation with a medical school professor who stated that “a handi- capped person makes the best kind of doctor because they have empa- thy for their patients.” This story also underscores the idea that what may appear as setbacks, are setting the stage for greater opportunities tomorrow. Without his deafness, Dr. Simone would not have been pushed down the road of becoming a der matologist and all the incredible humanitarian work that accompanied it. His message to all the students dealing with challenges today is, “don’t give up, you have a contribu- tion to this world, just keep going!”

Edited by Rameez Khera & Lola Leving