“The gift of being deaf is I have very good eyes to see things.”
Dr. Andrew Simone receives the 2020 Royal College Teasdale-Corti Humanitarian Award
An 82-year-old Toronto dermatologist who has devoted his life to helping those in need is this year’s recipient of the Royal College Teasdale-Corti Humanitarian Award.
The award acknowledges and celebrates physicians who exemplify altruism and integrity, courage and perseverance in the alleviation of human suffering, and “Dr. Simone is the living embodiment of [these] principles,” says Sam Hanna, MD, medical director at Dermatology on Bloor.
A life of sacrifice
Together with his wife, Joan, Andrew Simone, CM, MD, DSL, FRCPC, decided in 1975 to dedicate his life to helping the poor and vulnerable in Toronto and in the developing world, especially children in need. “We changed our lifestyle and gave away most of our money and possessions.”
In 1980, a priest asked the couple to help Mother Teresa so they started accepting financial gifts from Canadians to send to her charity in India. In 1981, Mother Teresa sent the Simones a personal letter asking them to start sending food to the poor in Africa. “So we learned how to ship food to The Missionaries of Charity in eight countries.”
As this work grew, Mother Teresa encouraged them to start their own charity, which they called Canadian Food for Children. The charitable organization has grown over the years, now shipping five million kilos of food per year with the help of thousands of volunteers and large corporate partners.
“One of our donors is the Egg Farmers of Canada. They give us a half million eggs every year in powdered form. You mix it with water and make a scrambled egg,” says Dr. Simone. “They’ve given us that every year since we started. This is a wonderful protein food for the poor.”
Dermatology for those in need
Jennifer Beecker, MD, FRCPC, of the Canadian Dermatology Association, explains that Dr. Simone didn’t stop there. “Carrying this philanthropic calling further … between 1983 and 2008, [he] contributed his Dermatology services as a self-funded medical volunteer in developing countries such as El Salvador, Haiti, Zambia, Sierra Leone and Peru. The number of people around the world who benefited from his dermatological care over these many trips is astounding.”
With Joan’s support, Dr. Simone now operates a drop-in Dermatology clinic, attached to his Toronto home, six days a week. The goal is to better serve the marginalized by not requiring appointments. His focus is on the early detection of skin cancer. On Saturdays, he sees patients from 4 a.m. to 9 a.m. — the early hours are to help people coming from outside the city avoid heavy traffic.
The clinic’s team is well-equipped to serve patients who can’t speak English, with staff also speaking French, Spanish, Italian, Ukrainian, Polish, Arabic and Mandarin.
Hearing less, seeing more
Dr. Simone defies the odds. He has done all of these things despite only having five per cent of his hearing. He lost his hearing while in medical school at Queen’s University. At the time, he was told he could not become a doctor because he couldn’t hear patients, use a stethoscope or talk on the phone. His dean thought otherwise and advised him to become a skin specialist.
“The gift of being deaf is I have very good eyes to see things,” he says. “Ninety-nine per cent of Dermatology is looking and basically 95 per cent of the time, I know within 10 seconds what the patient has.”
Despite his disability, Dr. Simone finished second in his 1963 graduating class at Queen’s. He was awarded the Medal in Medicine. “Once I knew I lost my hearing I thought, ‘I’m not quitting.’ We had two little boys so I worked as hard as I could.”
The gift of perseverance
Now in his ninth decade, the doctor still does 10K runs and is a competitive swimmer. He has completed four Ironman Triathlons and two Boston Marathons.
“I believe that God gave me all my gifts and I do have the gift of perseverance. I have worked every day for 51 years without ever missing a day from being sick.”
In reflecting on his life of service, Dr. Simone has high praise for the hard work, dedication and sacrifice of his wife, Joan. “We don’t need savings or anything like that. We’re just happy that we have good health and can help the poor.”
Not surprisingly, Dr. Simone does not seek awards and recognition. He and Joan have however, received letters of gratitude from Mother Teresa, and been named to the Order of Canada and awarded the Papal Cross and Honorary Degree Doctor of Sacred Letters.
He and Joan raised 14 children and cared for 23 foster children in their Toronto home. Joan gave birth to 12 children and two sons are adopted. They have 34 grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
Dr. Simone and Joan have had a very happy life. Each summer, they camp for two weeks. Dr. Simone’s hobby is learning languages: Spanish, French, Italian, Creole (Haiti) and German.