Alberta Cancer Foundation

Dr Bireswar Bose: A Story of Albertan Altruism

Bireswar Bose

By: Debby Waldman

Illustration by Dane Thibeault.

Dr. Bireswar Bose was a big-city man. He was born and raised in Calcutta, India, and, after graduating from medical school there, did further medical training in London, England, and Philadelphia, Penn. But, when it came time to practise medicine, he emigrated to Canada and settled in the rural community of Barrhead, Alta., moving into a house across the street from what was then St. Joseph’s Hospital and is now the Barrhead Healthcare Centre. 

For much of his career, Bose was one of three surgeons in Barrhead, recalls Bonnie Durling, a retired registered nurse who worked at the centre from 1979 until 2019.

“He was labelled a general surgeon, but, honest to God, he did everything,” she says, adding that cancer care was one of his specialties, but some nights he would work in the emergency department, only to be back in the operating room first thing the next day.

“He was just so knowledgeable,” Durling says. “He knew everything that went on in that hospital. And he would teach all the nurses. He was very patient with us.”

Humble, polite, precise and smart, Bose was the kind of person whom everyone looked up to, according to Durling. Durling says he mentored her late husband, Brent Wray, who trained in obstetrics and gynecology, and that he was as committed to teaching others as he was to learning. He often travelled to Edmonton to consult with other medical professionals and bring his knowledge back to Barrhead.

“He put Barrhead on the map,” Durling says, describing one of the research papers Bose wrote, which was about using amniotic membranes to treat burn wounds. “He taught the nurses to peel the membrane away [from the placenta] and preserve it in silver nitrate liquid, and when people would come into the hospital with burns, we would put the membrane over the burns and the patient would have no pain.”

From 1969 until he retired in 2002, Bose devoted his life to the centre, his patients, medical science and his wife, anesthesiologist Dr. Anita Roy, who had been his medical school sweetheart. The couple had no children, which gave him even more time to focus on her and the work that meant so much to him. 

Bose’s commitment to health in the Barrhead community continues to live on even though he died in 2018, a year after his wife passed away. In his will, he left approximately $1.3 million to the Alberta Cancer Foundation, half of it earmarked for breast cancer research at the Cross Cancer Institute and half to make life better for cancer patients in the Barrhead area.

“We are so grateful to Dr. Bose for his generosity to breast cancer research and the Barrhead community. Specifically for a small cancer centre like Barrhead, this gift is very significant,” says Christy Soholt, director of legacy giving at the Alberta Cancer Foundation. “With additional local health services as beneficiaries as well, Dr. Bose gave a significant portion of his estate to his community.”

The Alberta Cancer Foundation received the funds in installments from 2019 to 2020. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Soholt and her colleagues managed to meet multiple times with community representatives from the Ladies Auxiliary and Cancer Care Alberta to determine the best use for the funding so it can have the largest impact on patients living in the Barrhead and surrounding areas. 

Together, the decision was made to divide Bose’s gift to Barrhead into four programs, all of which are about to get off the ground. That includes the Dr. B. Bose Scholarship for Excellence for Barrhead-area students studying to become nurses or nurse practitioners; the Dr. B. Bose Nurses Education Program, for continuing education for nurses at the Barrhead Healthcare Centre; the Dr. B. Bose Fund for Equipment Purchase at Barrhead Community Cancer Centre, which funds equipment to enhance patient care; and a ride-share program to make life easier for the cancer patients who receive at least some of their treatment at the small cancer centre housed within the Barrhead Healthcare Centre.

The ride-share program, modelled after a similar program in Athabasca and titled the Dr. B. Bose Road to Home Program, will provide transportation for residents of Barrhead, Westlock, Fort Assiniboine, Swan Hills, Mayerthorpe and Sangudo who need to get to the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton for care not available locally, such as radiation and visits to specialists. Transportation to appointments and treatment in the city has been a significant barrier for some people. Sometimes patients didn’t get treatment because they had no way to get to Edmonton — either because they had nobody to drive them or couldn’t afford transportation. The Dr. B. Bose Road to Home Program will be staffed with volunteers who will be paid for mileage and have their meals covered if they’re in Edmonton for a significant amount of time.

In August 2023, the first round of funding was disbursed by the Alberta Cancer Foundation. “Dr. Bose left this amazing gift, and he cared so deeply about the people in this area, it is fitting that his legacy is going to help remove barriers and provide people with easier access to care,” Soholt says. 

“It’s clear by leaving this gift in his will, Dr. Bose very much valued the patients and staff in Alberta — specifically those in Barrhead. It’s our honour to work with the community to help fulfill his final wishes and make a big impact with his gift.”  

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